It's not rare for great movies to tank at the box office. And it's really not rare for offbeat, often cheaply made films to rake in little to nothing despite being fantastic. In the spirit of highlighting some of those, here are 11 films from 2014 that critics loved but have made under $1 million in the US so far.
Box Office: $841,201
The most commercially successful movie on this list (not that that's saying much), Force Majeure is about a Swedish family's trip to the French Alps, where an avalanche launches them into panic. The snowfall itself doesn't hurt anyone but the emotional fallout runs the risk of destroying a marriage. The New York Times' Stephen Holden calls it "brilliant, viciously amusing takedown of bourgeois complacency, gender stereotypes and assumptions and the illusion of security." It's not yet out on demand but is still playing in art house theaters.
Box Office: $123,926
This Australian horror film concerns a widow whose six-year-old son veers out of control when he becomes convinced a demon from a pop-up picture book (the titular Babadook) is tormenting him. "She loves this boy but his existence is eating her alive," New York's David Edelstein writes. "Any parent who has ever been pushed to the brink and heard an alien voice coming out of him or her — a voice that sounds like it’s from the pit of hell — will understand who and what the Babadook is." The film's out in select theaters and also available on all major streaming rental sites.
Ernest & Celestine
Box Office: $262,075
The English dub of this French-Belgian animated film features Forrest Whitaker as Ernest, a grumpy bear who befriends an orphaned mouse. Lauren Bacall, in one of her last roles, voices an orphanage matron. "Film stories about grouchy old curmudgeons redeemed by plucky young orphans are a dime a dozen," The Dissolve's Tasha Robinson concedes, but "none of them take the familiar trope off the familiar path so far as Ernest & Celestine." It's available for rent on all major sites.
Stranger by the Lake
Box Office: $325,196
This French thriller follows the relationship of Franck and Michel, who meet at a cruising spot (the titular lake) and find themselves suspects in a drowning death there. "Stranger by the Lake is the sexiest and most elegant thriller in years," Michal Oleszczyk of RogerEbert.com says, "and it's a damn shame it stands so little chance of traveling beyond the niche of a 'gay film' it will probably get squeezed into." It's currently streaming on Netflix.
Box Office: $54,915
Jack O'Connell (Skins, Unbreakable) plays a 19-year-old who is transferred from a juvenile detention facility to an adult prison — the same one as his estranged father (Ben Mendelsohn: Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises). "This is an unsparing picture, one whose violence, though deftly handled, is bone-crunchingly rough," the Village Voice's Stephanie Zacharek writes. "Yet its emotional contours are surprisingly delicate, thanks, in large part, to O’Connell’s performance." The film is available for rental on iTunes and YouTube.
Box Office: $647,280
Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of the most acclaimed experimental filmmakers ever, known for surrealist cult films like El Topo and The Holy Mountain. So perhaps it was inevitable that his vision for a film adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune (in the mid-70s, a decade before David Lynch would successfully adapt it) wasn't going to get the necessary studio funding. But that vision was absolutely fascinating, and included a dream cast featuring Salvador Dalí and Orson Welles and a score cowritten by Pink Floyd. This documentary, by Frank Pavich, chronicles the failed project, similar to Lost in La Mancha's portrait of Terry Gilliam's failed attempt to adapt Don Quixote. "As a documentary on the origins and backstory of the unfilmed film, Jodorowsky’s Dune is unsurpassable," writes the Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov. The film is available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play, among other sites.
Fifi Howls from Happiness
Box Office: $13,614
This Farsi-language documentary tracks the life and work of Bahman Mohassess, a renowned Iranian artist who lived in exile in Italy from the Iranian Revolution until his 2010 death. "The film rarely leaves the subject’s Rome apartment, yet it never feels static," Time Out New York's Keith Ulrich writes. The film's available on all major rental sites.
Box Office: $258,384
Blue Ruin is a revenge thriller about Dwight (Macon Blair), a homeless man who plots revenge when informed that someone he has history with is about to be released from prison. "[Director Jeremy] Saulnier is unquestionably channeling the history of American crime cinema here, from film noir to Clint Eastwood to the Coen brothers, and this pulse-pounding, mordant and surprisingly moving breakthrough earns those comparisons," Salon's Andrew O'Hehir writes. The film is streaming on Netflix.
Box Office: $97,170
This Romanian drama concerns an affluent Bucharest woman (Luminita Gheorghiu) who tries to connect with her son (who wants nothing to do with her) by trying to keep him out of jail after he kills a 14-year-old boy in a car accident. "As the film progresses, it deepens, because we can see that Cornelia has nothing to cling to but a love for a son she is finally forced to recognize is unworthy," Christian Science Monitor's Peter Rainer judges. It's currently streaming on Netflix.
Abuse of Weakness
Box Office: $31,611
French director Catherine Breillat is bracingly direct about sexuality, even by art film standards. Her 1999 film Romance featured unsimulated sex scenes, and 1976's A Real Young Girl was so explicit it was effectively banned for over two decades, only seeing commercial distribution in 2002. Her latest film is about a filmmaker (Isabelle Huppert) who is bilked out of a small fortune by a con man after having a stroke — which actually happened to Breillat after her 2004 stroke. The Boston Globe's Peter Keough calls it "one of her best movies, in which she explores without jargon or shock tactics some of her trademark topics: sex, power, money, ambition, and loneliness." The film is now streaming on Netflix.
The Dance of Reality
Box Office: $293,680
2014 was a big year for Alejandro Jodorowsky. Not only did his failed adaptation of Dune chronicled in an acclaimed documentary (see above), but his first film in 23 years was released, a highly autobiographical work about his childhood in 1930s Chile and his relationship with his abusive father. "Jodorowsky is, at best, a functional visual stylist," the AV Club's Ignatiy Vishnevetsky writes. "However, his ability to transmute childhood fears and emotional pain into funny, allegorical tableaux makes for a captivating — and at times surprisingly touching — movie." The film can be rented or purchased on Amazon.
- Writer Dylan Matthews
- Editor Matt Yglesias
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