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Box Office Bombs You Have To Watch On Netflix Right Now

Streamers get a lot of flak these days — much of it arguably deserved. While these disruptive and unwieldy amalgamations of tech and entertainment have changed the film and television industry forever, they have also been charged by consumers and creators alike with dishing out lackluster TV residuals, prematurely canceling or entirely removing certain projects, and even refusing to release finished works in favor of getting a tax write-off. These days, it can be hard to see how they have any positive impact on the entertainment industry at large — except in perhaps one way.

Every year, so many films come and go theatrically that it's impossible to see each one. Whether due to poor marketing, unfortunate timing, or tough competition, even spectacular projects can fly completely under the radar before crashing in the crowded graveyard of box office bombs. Now with streamers like Netflix, however — where any bored subscriber can watch films for no extra cost — these underseen financial misfires have a chance to be revived as cult classics. All that stands between you and finding one of these hidden gems now is a Netflix subscription and decision paralysis — fortunately, Looper is here to help you out with the latter.

Dumb Money (2023)

Ironically, Sony Pictures couldn't turn a story about a historic financial windfall into one of their own. But that doesn't make the story any less fascinating.

Directed by "I, Tonya" filmmaker Craig Gillespie (and based on a book by author Ben Mezrich, whose previous work served as the basis for another Sony hit, "The Social Network"), "Dumb Money" chronicles the story of eccentric pop-investor Keith Gill (Paul Dano). In early 2021, Gill — via his online aliases "Roaring Kitty" and "DeepF***ingValue" — captured the attention of hedge fund managers and aspiring billionaires alike when he began emphatically championing GameStop stock. Gill's followers carefully tracked his movements through his personal Twitter feed and his posts on the Reddit forum r/WallStreetBets, which itself created a culture of independent investors excited to do battle with Wall Street itself.

As we noted in our review of "Dumb Money," the film does suffer from its proximity to the historical event itself. For example, less than a year after the film was released, Gill returned to the public eye with a controversial move that some financial outlets have posited may turn him from the film's Robin Hood-like hero into a cynical market manipulator ready to exploit his followers. But with Dano, Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman, and America Ferrera leading the charge, "Dumb Money" remains an enjoyable (if fleetingly relevant) story of revolution. It was unfortunately their lack of involvement in the marketing (due to the 2023 Hollywood strike) that led it to make just $20.7 million against a budget of $30 million.

Mortal Engines (2018)

A lot of the movies on this list have earned our respect not by being necessarily well-received critically or even well-written, but simply for representing the sort of massive swings you never see Hollywood take anymore. But arguably no swing in Hollywood history has been as glorious in both ambition and failure as 2018's "Mortal Engines."

If nothing else, it deserves a spot on this list for the fact that the a studio had the sheer audacity — less than three years after the critically acclaimed "Mad Max: Fury Road" barely made a profit — to dump up to $150 million in a self-serious post-apocalyptic movie about cities on wheels that eat each other. And honestly, if you're looking for a more detailed synopsis than that, you're not operating on the level you need to be in order to enjoy "Mortal Engines." It was obliterated by "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" at the box office, and only earned $83.6 million worldwide.

Emily the Criminal (2022)

Four words: Aubrey Plaza crime thriller. Need we say more? The "Parks and Rec" breakout has led a fair number of bizarre feature films since she left Pawnee, Indiana, from the no-nunsense comedy "The Little Hours" to the demented zom-com "Life After Beth." But 2022's "Emily the Criminal" sees her at the center of a grounded, tense, and fast-paced descent into the dark underworld of Los Angeles.

Without spoiling too much, Plaza's titular character begins her Walter White-esque arc as a relatively normal young woman struggling to make ends meet and pay off egregious debts with the little money she earns from her day job. Tragically, she's effectively barred from bettering her circumstances thanks to a previous criminal charge — which, of course, ultimately leads her to commit even worse crimes.

"Emily the Criminal" was released on August 12, 2022, a particularly crowded week that saw it competing against new releases "Fall" and "Mack and Rita," as well as powerful holdovers "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Thor: Love and Thunder." Despite decent reviews, it only grossed $2.1 million against a $2 million budget.

Phantom Thread (2017)

Of all the films on this list, none received the same level of critical acclaim as "Phantom Thread." Celebrated auteur Paul Thomas Anderson's 20th century romantic drama was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture. It also served as Daniel Day-Lewis' final film before retirement (although he was also nominated for best actor in a lead role, he lost to Gary Oldman for "Dark Hour").

Day-Lewis played a fictional 1950s fashion designer named Reynolds Woodcock, whose passion for dressmaking is only matched by his creative neurosis. It's a classic tale of an obsessive genius grasping at the seams of his world for some great semblance of meaning, and it's elevated by Anderson's and Day-Lewis' own devotion to the craft of filmmaking.

Released on Christmas Day, 2017, "Phantom Thread" found itself in competition with both behemoth blockbusters (including "Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi") and newly released awards contenders "All the Money in the World" and "Molly's Game" — both of which out-grossed "Phantom Thread" and were represented alongside it at the 2018 Oscars. In total, "Phantom Thread" grossed $47.8 million, against a budget of $35 million.

Total Recall (2012)

Yes, 2012's "Total Recall" is widely considered one of the worst, most toothless and thematically traitorous remakes ever made. And, no, it's nowhere near as good as Paul Verhoeven's original film. But it's still one of the most fascinating movies you'll find on Netflix.

For fans of the 1990 "Total Recall," the 2012 version is an endlessly arresting case study in Hollywood's mentality regarding reboots-slash-remakes in the early 2010s. These days, audiences are fed an endless slew of so-called "soft reboots" — stories meant to appeal to longtime fans of a franchise while being 100% accessible to new audiences. In 2012, however, Hollywood would seemingly start production on a remake by completely throwing out everything but the logline — then brainstorming how they could twist that as well. The film also shows off a rare side of Colin Farrell, as Hollywood tried — as they have a surprising amount of times — to sell the charming, dramatic powerhouse as a plug-n-play action star.

Despite 2012 being the 7th highest-grossing year for the U.S. box office, it had some legendary bombs. "Total Recall" — with its $198 million haul against a $125 million budget — didn't even crack the year's 10 biggest failures, edged out by duds like "Dredd," "Cloud Atlas," and infamously "John Carter."

Blackhat (2015)

Say what you will about "Thor: Love and Thunder," but Chris Hemsworth deserves props — even though he doesn't always get them — for being every bit as artistically daring and hungry as his fellow "Avengers" co-stars. While you're probably aware that Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo found breaks in their busy Marvel Cinematic Universe schedules to make movies like "Her" and "Spotlight," you're probably not aware that Hemsworth also worked with auteur filmmakers on audacious projects, such as 2015's "Blackhat." 

Directed by Michael Mann of "Heat" and "Miami Vice" fame, "Blackhat" features Hemsworth as an imprisoned hacker who works alongside the FBI to track down the perpetrators of a devastating cyber attack. The film itself drew a polarized response from the critical community, and many felt Hemsworth — then known for playing a stoic strongman with the physique of a god — had been woefully miscast as a shut-in computer nerd. Even Hemsworth himself has somewhat disavowed his work in the film.

But his feelings aside, "Blackhat" is a rare opportunity to see Hemsworth play firmly against type in a thriller that's otherwise pretty engaging. At the time, it was drowned out by other adult dramas like "American Sniper" and "The Imitation Game," and only grossed $19.6 million against an ambitious budget of $70 million.

The Son (2022)

Speaking of Marvel actors in adult dramas, "The Son" features arguably a career-best performance from none other than Hugh Jackman. Notwithstanding his excellent work in "Logan" and "Prisoners," "The Son" tests Jackman by relying almost entirely on the acting ability of him and his scene partners (which, admittedly, some might count against the film as a whole). He plays a newlywed who is forced to confront sins he committed in a previous marriage when his estranged son (Zen McGrath) is thrust back into his life in a dangerous state of deep depression. As emotionally cathartic and/or challenging as the film may be, it deals with heavy themes and shouldn't be watched lightly.

When it received a wide release in January 2023, "The Son" faced a rough uphill battle. Though Jackman's performance in the film drew praise and successfully landed him in contention for major awards, "The Son" had already been dismissed by most critics as a futile exercise in misery. This would be a tragic diagnosis for most films, but was especially damaging paired with competition from successful flicks like "Avatar: The Way of Water" and "M3GAN." It opened to a deadly $213,287 gross before closing out at $3.6 million worldwide.

Flushed Away (2006)

While we're at it, how about a "Hugh Jackman box office bomb" double feature? If you thought previous entries on this list suffered from tough competition, wait until you see the slate of films that sent 2006's "Flushed Away" swirling down the toilet. Not only was it up against new releases in "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" and "Borat," it also saw potential audience members drawn to holdovers "Saw III," "The Prestige," and "The Departed." Even ignoring the box office implications of releasing a peculiar children's animated film during this specific window, the cultural impact of even one of these films and/or their respective franchises would easily render anything lesser completely irrelevant.

Still, "Flushed Away" remains a strangely entertaining movie for those that enjoy all-ages adventures, and especially for those that experienced the film themselves as children. Jackman lends his voice to a domesticated rat who gets sucked down a toilet drain and stranded in a brutal, lawless world in the London sewer system. It also features the voice talents of Kate Winslet and Ian McKellen, the latter of whom won an Annie Award for his work. Nevertheless, against a baffling production budget of $149 million, "Flushed Away" could only muster $178 million total.

The Great Wall (2016)

Also known as "The Matt Damon White Savior" movie, "The Great Wall" faced landmark levels of controversy leading up to its release in early 2017. Many felt uncomfortable that, on the heels of "Doctor Strange," Hollywood was bankrolling yet another story that appeared to be about a white dude going to an Asian country and discovering that he's now the most special person on the continent. Once people found out that this wasn't necessarily the plot of the film — and that it was actually a joint project between American and Chinese studios meant to help each benefit in the other's country — there was even some pearl-clutching about how it's really Chinese propaganda (perhaps, but in the same ways that films like "Independence Day" and "Transformers" can be considered American propaganda).

In other words, critics came up with a lot of seemingly strong arguments for potentially interested audience members not to spend their money on the film — and when the dismal reviews started rolling in, they had little reason to second-guess. The film debuted in third place domestically, behind holdovers "The Lego Batman Movie" and "Fifty Shades: Darker." Against a budget of $150 million, it made just under $335 million, resulting in an estimated loss of $75 million split between studios. But if you can shut your mind off to some valid exterior criticism and some interior ridiculousness, "The Great Wall" is a stylish action-slash-monster movie that can add a little excitement to a night indoors.

Ender's Game (2013)

In 2013, Lionsgate — whose previous efforts to launch franchises from popular young adult books resulted in massive hits like "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games" — was angling for another feather in its cap via an adaptation of the best-selling science fiction novel "Ender's Game." Though its source material is a fair bit older than the above series, the studio filtered it through contemporary tastes with action-focused trailers, a "Star Trek 2009" visual aesthetic, and a cast that included both YA favorites Asa Butterfield and Abigail Breslin as well as established Hollywood legends like Harrison Ford and Viola Davis.

The one thing Lionsgate couldn't update, however, was the book's author, Orson Scott Card — who had not updated his own views on the LGBTQ+ community since "Ender's Game" was published in 1985. Derogatory comments of his inspired a boycott of the film which, combined with the film's poor box office performance, is one of the reasons why we never got an "Ender's Game" sequel. Against a budget of $110 million or more, it only grossed $126 million. Controversies aside, the ideas proposed and the questions raised by "Ender's Game" still make it just as psychologically engaging as it is visually thrilling — and on a streamer already light on sci-fi movies, it's one of the best available to subscribers.

Land of the Lost (2009)

If you're looking for a box office flop about a guy getting stranded in a world inhabited by dinosaurs, you can either watch Adam Driver's Jurassic bore "65" (which, as you can read in our review, we do not recommend sitting through) or you can watch the 2009 Will Ferrell comedy "Land of the Lost." While this film didn't receive much kinder reviews from critics than "65," it does feature a classic early 2000s Ferrell performance that will comfort those nostalgic for his heyday.

In his role as the fictionally disgraced "quantum paleontologist" Dr. Rick Marshall, Ferrell is joined by the likes of Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone from "The Lonely Island," and Leonard Nimoy (unfortunately, disgraced news personality Matt Lauer is also there, but only for a few moments). "Land of the Lost" only made $68.7 million against a budget of $100 million, which seems lofty for a Will Ferrell comedy even in the direct aftermath of "Step Brothers." Then again, maybe he could have carried it across the finish line if it hadn't had to compete with another newly released comedy — Todd Phillips' "The Hangover."

Starship Troopers (1997)

If you haven't seen "Starship Troopers" yet, it's possible you've avoided it like the plague after hearing the internet's loudest cinephiles constantly and vocally pat themselves on the back for understanding that it's a satire. That doesn't take away from the fact that the film is actually one of the best satires of nationalism and propaganda ever made; and that it's just a spectacular movie all around.

The film follows an intergalactic military squadron that defends the interests of the United Citizen Federation, the ruling body of an Earth where military service is revered above all else and jingoism is central to the global civic religion. (If this sounds familiar to gamers, it's because it served as the not-so-subtle inspiration for the popular satirical game "Helldivers.") Unfortunately, the critical community at the time didn't quite comprehend what the film was going for, and panned it as fascist propaganda. As a result, it only made $54.8 million against a budget of $105 million.

Dune (1984)

For some readers, we've saved the best for last: David Lynch's notoriously divisive swing at "Dune," the Frank Herbert novel which is surely on its way to becoming the defining sci-fi franchise of the 2020s (thanks to Denis Villeneuve's lauded two-part adaptation). Though it didn't receive favorable reviews at the time, the film has since gained a cult following thanks to both Lynch's enduring status among film buffs, the popularity of Villeneuve's films, and its distinctly '80s approach to a story that even today feels unadaptable in a single feature-length movie.

Numerous critical autopsies have been performed to better understand why "Dune" bombed at the box office, with the core cited reasons being poor marketing coupled with a harsh critical response. It also opened against "Beverly Hills Cop," a $13 million film which grossed well over $230 million — that's around $680 million in 2024. "Dune," on the other hand, only grossed about $31 million against a budget of $40 million.

But as is the case with every film on this list, judging this movie by its box office performance alone would not only be a disservice to the film, but a disservice to yourself, as you may be missing out on a cinematic experience unlike anything else you've ever seen. Either way, Netflix already has your money — so you might as well make the most of it, at least until the end of the month.