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Classic Movies That Barely Broke Even

In the fickle world of Hollywood, a movie's popularity doesn't always translate to success. In fact, over the years many beloved films were barely able to cover their own budgets. Because marketing costs aren't included in a film's budget, this means that several of these cinematic greats likely actually lost money once the numbers were all added up. Let's take a look at some "hit" movies that barely broke even at the box office.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

It's become one of the most-loved films in cinematic history, but The Wizard of Oz wasn't a financial success at first. Although very well-received, it was also MGM's most expensive production to that point, and against a budget of $2.8 million, MGM initially only made $3 million at the box office—barely enough to pay for the production and marketing. The studio didn't actually turn a profit on the film until theatrical re-releases started a decade after its initial release.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Another family classic, It's a Wonderful Life has made its way into the cultural lexicon via annual holiday showings on TV. Even though it's now one of the most acclaimed films ever made (and it garnered five Oscar nominations at the time), it wasn't a success at the box office. With a budget of $3.18 million (plus marketing costs), the movie's initial $3.3 million take wasn't enough to recoup costs. It actually fell into relative obscurity until its copyright expired in the '70s and networks started to air the movie during the holiday season, which resulted in its current widespread popularity.

Hello, Dolly! (1969)

While today it's considered one of the best movie musicals of all time, when Hello, Dolly! was released in 1969, it wasn't a hit right out of the gate. Musicals were falling out of style at the time, which hurt the film's initial popularity. Even though it was based on a smash Broadway production and featured an all-star cast including Barbara Streisand and Walter Matthau, the film's big budget and huge publicity push meant it barely broke even despite ending up in the top five highest-grossing releases of the year.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Perhaps one of the most iconic films of the later 20th century, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory introduced audiences to the wonderful world of Wonka and his sweet creations. Even though the film eventually achieved cult classic status, viewer response to the movie during its theatrical run was lukewarm at best: Willy Wonka's budget was $3 million, and the original box office receipts only totaled $4 million. That amount would increase tenfold over the next several decades with TV broadcasts, rentals, merchandise, and a 1996 theatrical re-release that netted $21 million more.

Blade Runner (1982)

The first of many films to be made from the works of Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner is widely considered to be one of the best science fiction films ever made, and its enduring fanbase made it one of the first movies ever released on DVD. But during its theatrical run in 1982, it received an underwhelming reception, making $33.8 million at the box office—only about $5 million more than its $28 million budget.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Director Quentin Tarantino burst onto the scene with his directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs, in 1992. The neo-noir film has become a cult classic, and is still considered by some fans of the director to be the best film Tarantino ever made— but it came very close to losing money during its theatrical release. Despite its rather frugal budget of only $1.2 million, Dogs barely managed to recoup costs (especially with marketing added in), pulling in $2.8 million.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Even though Dazed and Confused seemed to have a lot going for it, it never really got off the ground with theatrical audiences. Despite a charming cast that included future stars Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck as well as supermodel Milla Jovovich, the stoner coming-of-age film didn't reach its cult audience until it hit the home rental market. With a $6.9 million budget, Dazed and Confused was only a modest success with $7.9 million in box office receipts.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Based on a Stephen King novella, The Shawshank Redemption is yet another critically acclaimed film that fell flat with moviegoers at first. Even though it garnered several Academy Award nominations and earned glowing reviews from critics, Shawshank initially only brought in $28 million in theaters domestically, barely enough to cover its reported $25 million budget. It was only when the movie premiered internationally that the numbers began to pick up speed, finally topping out at $58 million in gross revenue.

Hugo (2011)

The most recent film on our list, Hugo tells the tale of a French orphan living in a railway station during the 1930s. The fantastic tale, adapted from author Brian Selznick's beloved The Invention of Hugo Cabret, won the widespread admiration of critics, walking away with 11 Oscar nominations (and notching five wins). Yet even though the film was widely acclaimed, it was only a modest success at the box office. With a massive budget reportedly between $150-170 million, the $185 million in ticket sales it ultimately drew were far less than the studio had hoped for.