5 ‘80s Box Office Bombs We Now Love

by Lisa Sadikman
Originally Published: 
'80s movies
Legend Production Company

When we reminisce about well-known ’80s movies, we most often think of Footloose, Risky Business, The Outsiders, The Breakfast Club, plus a slew of action and fantasy movies like Die Hard and The Empire Strikes Back. These commercial successes defined our coming of age and are our most likely go-tos for movie nights with the kids. Never mind that a PG rating in 1983 meant possible side boob, the S-word, and plenty of underage partying.

But what about the ’80s movies that were panned by critics and dismissed by the general public? Many of these lesser-loved movies found their way into our hearts with their fantastical, sometimes disturbing plot lines, funky humor, and awesome quotable lines. We might have seen these on the big screen, but it’s more likely these movies trickled into our lives a few years later when we caught them on television or rented the VHS tape at the local video store.

Here are five movies from the ’80s that flopped in theaters but have since ended up on our most-loved list:

1. Legend (1985)

Part of the ’80s mini-boom in fantasy movies, Legend stars Tim Curry, Mia Sara and — wait for it — Tom Cruise. Hot off the success of Risky Business, Cruise takes a risk of his own to play Jack, the shaggy-haired, forest-dwelling hero to Sara’s debut as a wide-eyed princess in peril. Despite the unicorns and love story, it’s a dark fairy tale with a disturbing focus on innocence lost — totally creepy. However, Curry is not to be missed in full-on, blazing-red prosthetics as Darkness. Unfortunately for Legend but lucky for Cruise, Top Gun was released three weeks later and would take the world by storm. Poor Jack never had a chance against Maverick and Goose.

Why we love it now:

It’s fun to watch a vulnerable Tom Cruise, albeit in a somewhat awkward role, fall in love with the dewy-eyed Mia Sara before she hit it big in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The epic sweep of the tale and the special effects are quite grand as well.

2. Better Off Dead (1985)

I adore John Cusack, so basically any movie he’s in is my favorite movie. Better Off Dead is no exception. It tells the story of high school student Lane Myer who is suicidal after his girlfriend, Beth, breaks up with him. Using black humor, surrealism (Lane’s doodles often come to life and speak to him), and an unlikely plot line, Better Off Dead is ultimately relatable: Who wouldn’t do desperate, crazy things to win back their true love? With a host of memorable supporting characters, like Johnny the crazy paperboy yelling, “I want my two dollars!” and the drag-racing Japanese exchange students who learned to speak English by listening to Howard Cosell, this movie is a keeper.

Why we love it now:

An imminently quotable ’80s movie, Better Off Dead tackles the darker side of the teen experience — suicide, breakups, bullying — with spot-on humor that somehow manages not to undercut the seriousness of the topics. Oh, and John Cusack.

3. The Princess Bride (1987)

I know it’s hard to believe, but The Princess Bride did only modestly well at the box office when it was released, only achieving cult status decades later. Today it’s hard to find an ’80s kid who can’t quote a scene or two verbatim. From “As you wish” and “Anybody want a peanut?” to “My name is Indio Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” there are just too many choice lines to list. Throw in the themes of true love and revenge, a (relatively) gentle giant, an epic dueling scene, Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, and a brand spanking new Robin Wright (can you believe she’s that seething bitch Claire on House of Cards now?) and you’ve got yourself an awesome movie.

Why we love it now:

There are too many reasons why we adore this grown-up fairy tale, but maybe the biggest one is the way it makes us feel: it pulls at our hearts, gets us to laugh out loud, has us cringing (Pit of Despair anyone?) and ultimately cheering. Plus, the soundtrack by Mark Knopfler is amazing.

4. The Dark Crystal (1982)

The Dark Crystal, an American-British fantasy, is a little, well, darker than your average family film, especially one brought to you by the creators of The Muppets. The elflike Jen must journey through a dangerous world controlled by an evil race in order to return a lost shard to a magical, cracked crystal. Doing this will supposedly restore balance to the world, but if he fails, the dark forces will rule forever…dum, dum, dum. With its slow moving plot and predictable quest, the movie received a lukewarm reception from critics. Even the intricate set design and innovative puppets couldn’t grab the public’s attention. Having the monster hit E.T. released around the same time didn’t help matters.

Why we love it now:

Even though the storyline is unoriginal, Jim Henson’s puppets are incredible, as is the set design. It’s cool to see this kind of low-tech creativity and puppet mastery in action and really appreciate it.

5. My Bodyguard (1980)

In an era when movie plot lines were more and more unlikely or ridiculously sex-crazed, My Bodyguard offers up a cast of relatively regular high school kids who face the relatively typical challenges of adolescence. That’s not to say My Bodyguard is totally believable, but the characters are. The crux of the movie is the friendship between the dweeby, slightly built new kid, Clifford, and the hulking, sullen Linderman who, while big in stature, is also a loser. Bullied by the alpha boy Mike Moody (played by Matt Dillon), Clifford, and Linderman team up to help each other and end up becoming friends.

Why we love it now:

It’s a total underdog movie with believable characters who make you cry at the end. You’ll feel better after you blow your nose and have some ice cream.

Without a doubt, there are many more under the radar ‘80s movies that are now cult faves. For now I’m settling in with my bowl of popcorn and rose-colored glasses to take in some old school Cruise and Cusack.

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