10 Box Office Flops That Became Streaming Hits

The box office landscape is a cruel and unforgiving place, wherein each week, certain films enter and do battle for the prize of a larger number than everyone else in the ring. Money isn’t everything when it comes to making, watching, and discussing movies, but the ongoing battle for the box office has been of interest to those in the industry and those outside it who just like movies. Movies are creative, sure, but they’re also made to make money; that’s just how it seems to be for the foreseeable future.



Still, one of the most exciting or unusual things to happen within the realm of the box office lately is the idea that something can flop in theaters but prove successful on streaming services. Before the 21st century, this might’ve happened to movies that picked up bigger audiences through TV airings, and in the 2000s/early 2010s, such a thing could happen with DVD/Blu-ray sales. But in the 2020s, it’s the streaming landscape where second winds for box office flops are possible. The following movies demonstrate this to some extent, and given streaming services haven’t been around for long (in the overall scheme of things), there is a bias below toward newer films.

10 ‘The Suicide Squad’ (2021)

Budget: $185 million, Box office: $168.7 million

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn pointing two guns at offscreen threats in 'The Suicide Squad'
Image via Warner Bros.

Even before the Guardians of the Galaxy films, James Gunn was a filmmaker with ties to the superhero genre. He wrote the oddball The Specials (2000) and then directed the exceedingly violent and darkly comedic Super (2010) before going on to do two Guardians of the Galaxy movies at Marvel. Before the third, he pivoted to DC and also directed The Suicide Squad, doing so successfully enough to be appointed the head of a rebooted DCEU going forward.

The Suicide Squad took some of the ideas and characters from the less-than-great 2016 Suicide Squad and improved them all, effectively pulling a “Hey Jude” by taking a sad song and making it better. Unfortunately, a release date during 2021 meant COVID restrictions were a factor in its disappointing box office, and perhaps some didn’t have faith in another Suicide Squad movie. Thankfully, positive word of mouth carried the film to more success on HBO Max, reportedly being watched in nearly 5 million households in its first three weeks of release.

The Suicide Squad

Release Date
July 28, 2021


Watch on Max

9 ‘The Last Duel’ (2021)

Budget: $100 million, Box office: $30.6 million

Matt Damon and Jodie Comer talking in The Last Duel
Image via 20th Century Studios

The Last Duel was always going to be a tough sell, and even if it didn’t have some confronting subject matter at the core of its story, it was still going to face an uphill battle for box office glory. It runs for close to 2.5 hours, has a medieval setting, and effectively tells one story of a horrific crime followed by an intense struggle for brutal justice from three different perspectives with small but notable changes each time.

It’s fantastically acted by all involved, and it’s a spectacle to look at, benefiting from the big screen (and you can see where the $100 million went). The story, the genre, the length, and the whole ongoing pandemic during 2021 meant it didn’t even earn a third of its production costs (to say nothing of what the marketing costs might’ve been). At least it was held up after its streaming release as something genuinely compelling and decidedly more popular overall.

Watch on Hulu

8 ‘Lightyear’ (2022)

Budget: $200 million, Box office: $226.4 million

Buzz Lightyear and His Crew of Star Command Cadets in Lightyear (2022)
Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“Just what the hell is Lightyear?” is a question most people were likely asking themselves in the lead-up to the release of this Pixar film. Sure, everyone knows the character of Buzz Lightyear (the guy behind only Woody when it comes to Toy Story characters and their screen time), but Lightyear – the 2022 movie – was a baffling one, technically being a film that existed inside the Toy Story universe, and a movie Andy watched that made him want a Buzz Lightyear toy… or something.

That’s despite it not really feeling like the kind of movie that would’ve come out in 1994 or 1995, nor being the kind of thing that would’ve likely thrilled a young boy at that time, to be perfectly honest. Anyway, it was a strange film and didn’t generate a ton of interest, with Pixar likely hoping the recognizable name would bring in box office earnings. It may have made more than it cost, but not by much, and losses (likely due to marketing costs) were estimated at more than $100 million. At least Lightyear got some eyeballs on it after its Disney+ release, going neither to infinity nor beyond, but getting watched quite a bit nonetheless by viewers at home.


Release Date
June 17, 2022

Angus MacLane

Watch on Disney+

7 ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ (2021)

Budget: $190 million, Box office: $159.2 million

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as Neo and Trinity looking in the same direction in The Matrix Resurrections
Image via Warner Brothers

Nothing in The Matrix series has quite topped the action and imagination on offer in the original 1999 classic, but no one will argue the sequels aren’t – at the very least – interesting. The Matrix Reloaded amped up the action and complex storytelling in equal measure, while The Matrix Revolutions ended up being a perplexing and ambitious trilogy capper. Nearly 20 years later, a fourth film – perhaps the oddest yet – was released: The Matrix Resurrections.

Befitting its title, a landmark sci-fi series was brought back to life (as were some key characters), and put back onto the big screen… only to be met with little by way of box office revenue. Again, it might’ve been a COVID thing, because enough people were curious enough to check it out on HBO Max for it to be decently successful there (even if an alarming number of at-home viewers pirated the movie).

The Matrix Resurrections

Release Date
December 15, 2021


Watch on Max

6 ‘West Side Story’ (2021)

Budget: $100 million, Box office: $76 million

Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez dancing in 'West Side Story'
Image via 20th Century Studios

Steven Spielberg’s take on West Side Story had some big shoes to fill, considering how much of a classic the Best Picture-winning original film from 1961 is. Thankfully, 2021’s West Side Story had plenty of visual spectacle and compelling performances to offer, with certain tweaks to the story (and much-needed larger changes made to the approach of casting) making it feel like a more up-to-date and better-balanced version of the older film (which, let’s face it, was probably still progressive for its time).

2021’s West Side Story got the same level of acclaim as 1961’s – perhaps more – but it didn’t set the box office on fire by any means. If COVID can’t be entirely blamed (Spider-Man: No Way Home did excellent numbers near the end of 2021), then maybe it was more that not enough people wanted to pay money for a ticket to see a somewhat old-fashioned musical. Still, it did decently on streaming, perhaps partly thanks to the seven Oscar nominations it received (including one for Best Picture).

West Side Story

Release Date
December 8, 2021

Steven Spielberg


Watch on Disney+

5 ‘Mulan’ (2020)

Budget: $200 million, Box office: $69.9 million

Liu Yifei in Mulan
Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Few movies were hit as hard at the box office as a result of COVID-19 as Mulan, the live-action remake of the animated movie of the same name from 1998. Its release was initially scheduled for early 2020, but a pandemic gradually increasing in intensity led to delays, before it eventually got a theatrical release in some territories and Premier Access on Disney+ in other places (essentially, an extra fee to pay on top of subscription costs to access the film).

This unique release does make Mulan look like one of the worst box office flops of all time, going by the sheer amount of money lost. It underperformed to some extent through its premium release model, but did at least generate more money from Premier Access than it did at the traditional box office. $200 million (plus marketing costs) was always going to be an uphill battle to recover and then profit from anyway, but at the end of the day, it did fare better on streaming than its theatrical release.


Release Date
September 4, 2020


Watch on Disney+

4 ‘Strange World’ (2022)

Budget: 180 million, Box office: $73.6 million

Image via Disney

Strange World got a strange release from Disney, hitting theaters in some regions (but not all), and then finding itself available to stream just one month after its initial theatrical release started. The budget was estimated to be as high as $180 million, with the story revolving around a family of explorers who journey to an unusual and sometimes even incomprehensible planet on a desperate mission.

The general consensus seemed to be that Strange World was not bad, but also not particularly great, and seemingly not exciting enough to attract the family audiences it was probably intended to, at least at the box office. Within the realm of streaming, this sci-fi/adventure movie did a good deal better, topping the charts on Disney+ for some time after its streaming service debut in late 2022.

Watch on Disney+

3 ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ (2021)

Budget: $150 million, Box office: $163.7 million

LeBron James and Bob Bergen as Tweety Bird in Space Jam: A New Legacy
Image via Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

A sequel to the beloved (be it ironically or unironically) 1990s film that was Space Jam was a long time coming, with a second film ultimately coming to fruition by 2021. That sequel was Space Jam: A New Legacy, and even if it had been released in a year when COVID-19 wasn’t a factor, it still could’ve ended up being a box office disappointment, especially after it got ravaged critically, to put it mildly.

It was one of numerous titles that got released theatrically and on streaming simultaneously, a rather ambitious COVID-era plan by Warner Bros. Pictures and HBO Max. It barely made back its production budget at the box office, as such proving to be a disappointment by that metric, but was a good deal more popular among those who opted to watch it on streaming.

Space Jam 2 / Space Jam: A New Legacy

Release Date
July 8, 2021


Watch on Max

2 ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ (2020)

Budget: $200 million, Box office: $169.6 million

Wonder Woman bears her lasso of truth
Image via Warner Bros. 

2020 was a strangely empty year for fans of superhero movies, and an almost unprecedented one by Marvel standards at least, considering there were no MCU movies released that year (all getting delayed thanks to the pandemic). One of DC’s heavy hitters, however, snuck in at the end of 2020, that film being the follow-up to 2017’s surprisingly great Wonder Woman: Wonder Woman 1984.

It was another one of these big releases that had a rather staggering budget of $200 million, and theatrically, it failed to break even. However, it was heralded as being a surprising streaming success, being one of the most-watched movies on streaming services for its time (and since there was any sort of tallying of such numbers). As part of the old DCEU, it remains to be seen whether there’ll be another Wonder Woman movie within the same continuity, but one can’t rule it out entirely, especially if Wonder Woman 1984 was deemed this much of a winner on streaming.

Wonder Woman 1984

Release Date
December 16, 2020

151 minutes

Watch on Max

1 ‘Turning Red’ (2022)

Budget: $175 million, Box office: $20.7 million

Mei, Priya, Abby and Miriam in Turning Red
Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Unlike some other box office flops that weren’t particularly great, it does feel as though Turning Red deserved better financially than what it ultimately got. This high-energy, unique, and largely funny/heartwarming coming-of-age Pixar movie follows a young 13-year-old girl who’s in a family that has a strange hereditary condition that sees her turning into a giant red panda whenever she gets into a heightened emotional state.

Due to COVID-19 (once more), it didn’t get released theatrically in many areas, and went straight to Disney+, ensuring its box office gross was just a fraction of what it cost to make. However, strong reviews and the Pixar name attached to it helped it remain popular on streaming nonetheless, so even if it wasn’t profitable in the traditional sense, if you look at the film and its release a certain way, it was probably a success… maybe… hopefully… Streaming really has complicated this whole box office thing, hasn’t it?

Turning Red

Release Date
March 11, 2022

Domee Shi

100 minutes

Watch on Disney+

NEXT: The Highest-Grossing Western Actors, Ranked

#Box #Office #Flops #Streaming #Hits

Leave a Reply