Too much time and effort in Cinemaland is wasted turning film into a game of winners and losers; Movie X made Y dollars so it matters more than Movie Z. And though a film is way more than its box-office total, some of the best movies released in 2016 failed to meet their financial expectations.
When those financial expectations aren’t met, it can trigger a domino effect, impacting the way people write about those movies. If something doesn’t light up the box-office charts, editors often encourage their staff to write about other stuff. If there’s not a lot of interest, the thinking goes, then there’s probably not going to be a huge amount of traffic. And if there’s not going to be a huge amount of traffic, why bother?
Because, frankly, good movies deserve championing no matter how big or small their audience. So today, as one of our last pieces celebrating the best movies of 2016, we’re taking some time to honor of the unsung gems of the year, films that didn’t connect with crowds — yet. The cream always rises to the top; it just takes a little longer sometimes.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Domestic Box Office to Date: $38.9 million
You’d think — or at least the executives at Paramount must have thought — that pairing Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, two of the most attractive people on the planet, would be a sure-fire box-office hit. You’d also think that the rumors surrounding Pitt and Cotillard’s on-set relationship, and Pitt’s subsequent breakup from Angelina Jolie, would fuel curious gawkers looking to see the film that produced all that tabloid drama. It didn’t happen. Instead the reported $85-million movie earned back less than half of that in the U.S. Viewers missed one of the better spy pictures in recent years, with Pitt and Cotillard smoldering at each other through the end of World War II, until a report surfaces that she may be a secret German spy. Pitt’s performance was a little distant, but Allied’s period production design and costumes were amongst the best of the year. At least Allied outgrossed The Walk, Zemeckis’ even better film from last year about Philippe Petit walking between the towers of the World Trade Center. People may not be showing up for these films, but there might not be anyone in Hollywood better at blending genuine human drama and large-scale effects than Robert Zemeckis. — Matt Singer
Allied is now playing.
Everybody Wants Some!!
Directed by Richard Linklater
Domestic Box Office to Date: $3.4 million
Okay so apparently everybody doesn’t want some. All the way back in 1993, when the average movie ticket cost $4.14 and Richard Linklater was still a relative unknown coming off his first cult film, Slacker, Dazed and Confused made a respectable $7.9 million at the U.S. box office. More than 20 years later, Everybody Wants Some!!, a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused from a Linklater coming off one of his biggest hits and most critically acclaimed pictures, made less than half that amount. For whatever reason, audiences didn’t flock to Linklater’s portrait of a college baseball team; they missed one of the filmmaker’s funniest films, and one of his most perceptive warts-and-all depictions of masculinity. It took years, of course, and lots of VHS and DVDs to turn Dazed and Confused into a teen movie classic. It seems inevitable that Everybody Wants Some!! will follow a similar trajectory. — MS
Everybody Wants Some!! is currently available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.
Kubo and the Two Strings
Directed by Travis Knight
Domestic Box Office to Date: $48.0 million
Kubo and the Two Strings might not technically qualify as a flop, but this stop-motion fantasy cost $60 million and only earned $48 million, making it Laika Entertainment’s lowest-grossing film to date. While the studio’s previous films (Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls) became solid word-of-mouth hits, Kubo never quite found its audience. It could have been the competition from other big animated family films this year, or the whitewashing controversy regarding its cast. Nonetheless, Kubo was still one of the most stunning achievements in years. With jaw-dropping visuals, it told a beautiful story about moving beyond loss to find inner strength and faith. Kubo dealt with some pretty weighty topics for a PG movie, with poignant messages for kids and adults. Hopefully those who missed it on the big screen will give it a chance on VOD. — Erin Whitney
Kubo and the Two Strings is currently available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.
The Light Between Oceans
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Domestic Box Office to Date: $12.5 million
Three of our best actors give three great performances in The Light Between Oceans, a $20 million period drama that made only $12.5 million in the U.S. It follows a couple, played by Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, who adopt a baby found at sea and later learn its mother (Rachel Weisz) has been searching for her lost infant. This kind of heavy subject matter doesn’t always translate to massive financial success, but the way Cianfrance’s film explored grief and guilt from multiple perspectives was exceptional. Weisz should be getting some awards season recognition for her standout work in the film. The Light Between Oceans is no Manchester By the Sea, but it’s worthy of more credit than the box office numbers show. — EW
The Light Between Oceans will be available on Blu-ray on January 24.
Directed by Jeff Nichols
Domestic Box Office to Date: $3.7 million
Surely we’re living in #blessed times when Jeff Nichols can release two films in the same year. Loving, a historical drama based on the true story of an interracial couple’s legal battle in the 1950s; and Midnight Special, a low-key sci-fi drama more in keeping with Nichols’ previous efforts, this time with a slightly bigger budget. You can probably guess which one was the awards season favorite, but you probably wouldn’t guess which one made more money in theaters. (Hint: They’re the same movie.) Of the two, Midnight Special was far more compelling and visually interesting, even with a deflated third act that went straight to Tomorrowland. Is Midnight Special’s underwhelming box office unfortunate? Sure. But it probably should have been expected. The film was marketed as an elusive sci-fi drama that might leave a lot of mysteries unanswered. (Which it did, until it didn’t.) And if the internet has taught us anything, it’s that people love answers. — Britt Hayes
Midnight Special is currently available on Blu-ray and Digital HD. It’s also currently streaming on HBO GO and HBO NOW.
The Nice Guys
Directed by Shane Black
Domestic Box Office to Date: $36.2 million
Shane Black’s films are typically undervalued in their time, so it’s not entirely shocking that so few people flocked to see The Nice Guys. Still, you’d think that having a big Marvel movie under his belt (thanks, RDJr!) and a cast headlined by Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe would be more than enough to put butts in seats. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Maybe a noir comedy was a little too alienating for some (despite a great marketing campaign that pushed the film’s humor), or maybe audiences have cooled on Gosling, who had just come off a year-long acting hiatus he had taken to avoid that very problem. Or maybe audiences aren’t motivated to see big-budget studio movies when words like “superhero” or “alien” aren’t involved. Whatever the case, it was disappointing that so many people slept on The Nice Guys, especially when most of them were already complaining about the lack of good Hollywood movies this year. At least we can take comfort knowing that Black’s next film, a Predator sequel, will be a hit — right? — BH
The Nice Guys is currently available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.
Ouija: Origin of Evil
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Domestic Box Office to Date: $34.9 million
Ouija: Origin of Evil will be available on January 17.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone
Domestic Box Office to Date: $9.4 million
Everyone can recite the words to at least one Lonely Island song, but the comedy hip-hop trio’s latest feature film tanked at the box office. Popstar has everything you could ask for from an Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer movie: Hilarious media and pop culture jokes (like Rolling Stone’s poop emoji rating), tons of great celebrity cameos, original songs, and a spot-on TMZ parody. It may not be as funny as some of the official SNL spinoff movies, but it’s wacky, raunchy, and energetic in just the right ways. No movie where Seal gets attacked by wolves should be a flop. Shame on you, America. — EW
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is currently available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.
Queen of Katwe
Directed by Mira Nair
Domestic Box Office to Date: $8.7 million
Of the many inspirational biopics from this year’s Toronto Film Festival, Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe was the one I expected to break out during the fall movie season. It stars two of the top talents of recent years, Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo, tells an uplifting story about a sports underdog, and has just the right amount of heartwarming Disney charm. And yet this well-reviewed film about a Ugandan chess player was Disney’s lowest grossing movie of the year, earning only $8.7 million. With its delicate balance of hardship and humor, and impressive performances from Nyong’o and newcomer Madina Nalwanga as chess champion Phiona Mutesi, Queen of Katwe deserved better. — EW
Queen of Katwe is still playing in select theaters.
Directed by Todd Phillips
Domestic Box Office to Date: $43.0 million
Todd Phillips had an impressive string of four straight $100 million hits over the last decade, but that came to a screeching halt with War Dogs, a pitch-black comedy based on an outrageous true story about a pair of Miami buddies who fell into the world of international arms dealing. One of the film world’s preeminent chroniclers of idiot bros, Phillips was a perfect choice to bring the misadventures of Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz to the screen, and he made War Dogs amusing and horrifying in equal measure. If there was any justice in the world, War Dogs would have made way more than either of the terrible Hangover sequels, and Jonah Hill would be in the Oscar conversation for his intricate performance as Efraim. But as War Dogs effectively shows, there isn’t much justice in this world. — MS
War Dogs is currently available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.