There's nothing quite like the movie theater experience. Even in an age when convenience is prized above all, it can still drive us to leave the comfort of home for a few hours.
Many films benefit greatly from the theater experience. It's not just the massive screen and the overpowering speakers, though that undoubtedly plays a factor. There's an element of community in sharing a room with an excited crowd, having waited months for what you're about to see.
Unfortunately, the box office has a way of burying some of the most interesting films of any given year. Audiences flock to theaters for spectacle, but may be wary of more original and ambitious stories. Some of the greatest films of all time have slipped through the cracks, only to be re-discovered after their theatrical releases.
It's a Wonderful Life may be regarded as a Christmas classic today, that wasn't always the case. Despite several nominations and a win at the Academy Awards in 1947, the movie was a commercial flop that bankrupted its production company. Director Frank Capra once claimed that the film's failure essentially ended his career in Hollywood. The FBI even regarded the film as Communist propaganda, due to its depiction of a villainous banker. In 1974, the rights holders allowed the film to lapse into public domain. Once television stations could air the film for free, it became a staple of Christmas entertainment.
Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott's sci-fi noir classic, also proved to be a disappointment upon release in 1982. After a negative test screening, the film was heavily altered for theatrical release, against the wishes of Scott and the film's star, Harrison Ford. For the next decade, two versions of the film were available: the Theatrical Cut, and the slightly more violent International Cut.
The film's reputation improved after the original cut was shown at several film festivals. In response to the film's growing popularity, the studio commissioned the vastly superior Director's Cut in 1992, released in theaters and widely seen on VHS. Scott later re-edited the film again to produce the Final Cut, which was released on DVD.
Video sales, while not as widely reported as box office figures, can be an important factor in a film's ultimate success. While it's now unthinkable that moviegoers could somehow resist going to a Batman movie, 2005's Batman Begins was only a modest success at the box office. The film's popularity was eventually proven by impressive DVD sales, paving the way for the incredibly successful sequel, The Dark Knight.
This all goes to show that a film's legacy is not defined by its box office performance, but the passion it inspires in those that see it. First impressions can be misleading, and sometimes audiences and critics simply aren't prepared for something new. Perhaps the box office flops of today will be studied in the film schools of tomorrow. Only time will tell.