Many of the best films ever made were flops. Don't believe me? Here's a quick top 10 of films that were failures on debut: The Wizard of Oz (1939), The General (1926), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Blade Runner (1982), Night of the Hunter (1955), Once upon a Time in America (1984), Brazil (1985), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Children of Men (2006), and let's not forget Citizen Kane (1941), which for most of the past 50 years has been considered the best film ever made. From 1962 to 2012, it topped the critics' poll conducted each decade by the British film magazine Sight & Sound.
It would be tempting to cite this list as evidence that audiences know nothing, but I would be on thin ice. Many critics hated these films too. No one knows anything, as William Goldman famously wrote about the movie industry. That is its strength: people have to keep trying.
Movies fail for different reasons, and they become successes in the same way. The only constant is that for a movie that flopped to become a success, the movie needs time and a way of finding an audience. That sounds obvious, but before the advent of television and home-video players, it was difficult to see the great movies of the past, whether they were hits or misses.
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