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Cinematic Underdogs: 5 Movies That Flopped at the Box Office But Won Over Audiences

From the early days of black and white silent films to the dazzling 3D movies of today, the film industry has experienced a remarkable transformation. What has made this evolution possible? A commitment to creating a safe, open, and welcoming space for exploration and experimentation. With a growing audience and changing tastes, the film industry has been able to take risks and push boundaries, leading to a more diverse and exciting cinematic experience.

The emotional need of an audience has changed so much in the last few decades that it redefined what we think of as “entertainment” and whether we can see movies only as a vessel of entertainment as nothing else. This is not to say that we have reached a utopic state, and there is no room for criticism or improvement regarding the industry or us as an audience. However, sometimes it is essential to acknowledge how far we have come to retain hope for the future that is yet to be.

A black and white picture of a cinema hall with movies on display.

In this journey of evolution, movies have been martyred along the way simply because the ambition of their vision did not match the time it was made for. Although it gained recognition along the way, it is hard not to feel the burden of responsibility to an audience not to give credit in due time, which led to an immeasurable loss of spirit for people whose marrow and bones the film was built on.

So, let’s take a look at 5 such movies that deserved much more than what we could offer-

1. Kaagaz Ke Phool

This movie was nothing short of bleeding poetry on a blank canvas. Guru Dutt will remain classic for turning pain (with real-life connotations) into marvels of art that refuse to leave your thoughts even after you have left the theatre. The latitudes of his longing and the boon of feeling too much in a fast-moving world where pretension and materialism is everything is something we see in Dutt’s films that remains timeless, even after a decade.

Although now taught in film schools, Dutt did not receive success with this film, after which he disheartenedly marked the end of his directorial endeavors, which is a loss that will always remain unparalleled. The union of Shanti and Sinha, two lost souls, who had nothing but their individual loneliness to offer to their union, which blossomed into love, and the subsequent tragedy of those two burnt people tasting the fire of loneliness again is something that is hard to get over after the 2.5 hours end on screen.

2. The Shawshank Redemption

Every cinephile remembers the scene of Andy going through a tunnel full of human waste and coming out of the other side in the rain, tasting freedom. Ironically, this scene can also be seen as an allegorical representation of the run of the movie as well. At the time of its release, it did not become an instant hit. With neither enough turnover to label it a profit nor a single academy award- hardly anyone saw the future redemption arc that the movie would have in film history.

It does make you want to believe in Andy’s words when he said- “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

3. Mera Naam Joker

This movie was probably Raj Kapoor’s most ambitious project. The brilliance of the movie reminds one of Pagliacci, from the Italian opera of the same name, a clown who would bring people laughter, even if it's at his own cost. It would not be far-fetched to call this Kapoor’s magnum opus.

However, this concept did not quite resonate with the audience, who were still cocooned in the comfort of what was known to them. Since the audience at that time refused to dip their toes into something so new and poignant, it was a massive flop. It seems so unbelievable, especially looking at the acclaim it has received since then and the place it now holds among the monuments of cinema. The tragedy of the story of Mera Naam Joker can be only paralleled by the fate it endured at the box office.

4. Fight Club

It is hard to believe that the movie that is almost synonymous with Fincher and his excellence massively flopped at the box office. With a powerhouse of performances from Helena Bonham Carter, Brad Pitt, and Edward Norton, the visuals of this movie are hard to get out of your mind after you are done watching. Especially the last scene of the whole world crumbling while Edward and Helena hold hands and stand is probably one of the most iconic movie scenes in history.

However, it failed to meet the expectation of Fox, the studio which produced it and had so many mixed reviews that it was seen as one of the most controversial movies of that year.

5. Fire

Putting the queer community on the big screen in 1996. One can already guess the fate that it would suffer. In a world where the LGBTQ+ community is still struggling to be seen as “normal,” this movie was way ahead of its time.

A poignant story of two sisters-in-law finding solace in each other after feeling dejected from everywhere else in life did not sit well with the Indian audience at that time. So much so that riots broke out in protest against this movie.

As we see this movie in today’s age, we cannot help but feel ashamed of our role as an audience. How not just an industry but a generation failed to give a community the bare minimum right of expression.

There are many movies that might have come to your mind as well that we failed to mention. Let us know in the comments and create a conversation around the films that deserved it in their own time.

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