The Walt Disney Company is known for churning out movies and television shows that attract wide audiences. The company has been defying expectations since 1937 when a film that was being ridiculed as “Disney’s folly” went on to become the very first feature-length animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” But not every Disney classic started that way. Several of Disney’s films struggled at the box office before finding an audience through re-released, home video release, or airing on television as a part of Disney programming. Let’s look at some box office failures that later found their audience.
In 2002, Disney released “Treasure Planet,” the latest film from the duo of John Musker and Ron Clements who had directed “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Hercules.” The pair loved Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and wanted to make a futuristic and technologically advanced adaptation. Unfortunately, “Treasure Planet” didn’t wow audiences. The film lost $30 million at the box office.
However, it has become a cult classic that is often brought up as a film Disney should remake as a live action film. DVD and home video sales led to the film making its budget back that way. It may have struggled at the box office (I was so bored watching it that it remains the only film I’ve ever walked out of the theater before it finished), but it also has its fans that absolutely love it.
“Encanto” was released during that weird period where theaters were open, but films were getting shortened release windows and pandemic restrictions were discouraging customers from going to the movies. Produced on a budget of $150 million dollars, “Encanto” only made $257 million at the box office. When advertising budgets are factored in, it appears it needed to make $300 million to break even. Of course, it was only in theaters for 30 days before being added to Disney+.
And that is where “Encanto” found its audience. Kids have been singing “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” since its release. It has become one of Disney’s most well-liked and imagination inspiring films despite technically failing at the box office.
Disney’s second ever animated feature used innovative animation techniques to tell the story of the puppet who wanted to become a real boy. In 1940, the film only made $1.6 million at the box office, despite costing $2.6 million to make. The major reason for its failure was World War II closing off the overseas markets.
But “Pinocchio” found its audience through re-releases when the overseas markets were open again. Plus, VHS and DVD releases once home video became common led to massive sales for Disney.
In an earlier article, I wrote about “The Rocketeer” as a potential film that deserved a sequel, however, the reason it never received a sequel is due to its disappointing box office results. Released in 1991 on a $40 million budget, “The Rocketeer” only grossed $46.7 million. Still, this film has a lot of nostalgia from audiences.
Fans have clamored for another film in the series since its release. Much like the other films on this list, “The Rocketeer” found its audience through home video sales.
THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE
Released during the 2000s, “The Emperor’s New Groove” is a funny film during a less than stellar time for Disney at the box office. Disney was experimenting with different animation styles as it recognized the diminishing returns of the Disney Renaissance films would eventually be unfeasible to continue. “The Emperor’s New Groove” was a unique take that unfortunately only made $170 million on a $100 million budget.
However, it is one of those films that audiences highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it. It has a solid score on Rotten Tomatoes and found its audience even though it didn’t blow away the box office.
Those are five films that found their audiences after failing at the box office. There are several others we will be looking at over time. Which ones are your favorite?