Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera
Because of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical and the many film versions it has been made into, The Phantom of the Opera is one of the most well known and beloved stories of all time. However, when Gaston Leroux published the original story in 1909, it was one of the biggest literary flops in history. The story was virtually forgotten for 16 years until, in 1925, Universal Studios decided to use it as a film subject.
Before the film was released to the general public, it was almost literally torn apart by the critics. Universal made a total of three different versions of the film, each with a different storyline. However, when The Phantom was finally released, it became one of the biggest box office successes of that year.
There has since been a renewed interest in Leroux’s original story and it has been made into the longest running Broadway show in history as well as eight different films.
Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life
There is no particular reason why It’s a Wonderful Life bombed. It was just a run-of-the-mill flop. When the film premiered on December 20, 1946, it was met with lukewarm reviews and far from substantial box-office success.
However, it was not long before the film’s lasting power began to show. The film is now number 20 on the AFI’s list of Top 100 American films and is considered by many to be the number one Christmas movie of all time.
George Bizet’s Carmen
Even people who don’t like Classical music are familiar with Bizet’s Carmen. Several of its tunes, including Toreador and Habanera, are continually used for television commercials, figure skating music, and more. The opera even inspired the Broadway and, later, film hit Carmen Jones. Carmen is the fourth most performed opera at the Metropolitan Opera (having received almost one thousand performances since 1884) and the fifth most performed opera in North America. However, anyone who had been at the opera’s premiere would not have thought it would become so popular.
When Carmen received its first performance on March 3, 1875, the audience hated its music and the critics condemned its sexually explicit story. The opera narrowly escaped being closed after its fourth performance. When Bizet died in June of that year, he thought that his masterpiece was a complete failure. However, after his death, several composers, including Wagner and Tchaikovsky, expressed admiration for the work. Carmen was later taken to Vienna (a production the Bizet had intended to oversee himself) where it became a success. The opera made a triumphant return to Paris in 1883. It is unfortunate that so many artists are not appreciated until after their deaths.
Mel Brooks’ The Producers
Mel Brooks’s first film, The Producers (1968), was an absolute flop mainly because of his overly intellectual humor. Many people, particularly the critics, thought that he was seriously condoning the actions of Hitler (never mind that fact Brooks and four other cast members are Jewish). In fact, the film was initially banned in Germany. Brooks did not become a success until Blazing Saddles was released in 1974.
In 2001, Brooks turned The Producers into a musical. It immediately grossed more than three million dollars and won a record 12 Tony Awards.
The 1968 film is now considered a comedy classic and is ranked number 11 on the AFI’s list of Top 100 Comedies.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) was condemned for being too long, not having enough suspense, and having a leading man, James Stewart, who looked too old to be a lover. Vertigo lay virtually forgotten for almost 30 years (as a matter of fact, Vertigo was considered one of the “5 Lost Hitchcocks”). During the 1980s, the film was reevaluated, as well as re-released, and was finally hailed as a masterpiece. Many now consider it to be Hitchcock’s finest film.
Vertigo is ranked number 9 on the AFI’s list of Top 100 American Movies.
Pogue, David and Scott Speck “Opera for Dummies”
2010 World Almanac