Comedy Box Office Bombs That Are Actually Worth Watching

David Wain’s “Wet Hot American Summer” is a summer camp-set comedy featuring future stars Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, and Amy Poehler, to name but a few. It premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival but failed to attract a distributor, the first of many hurdles the film would soon face. Wain discussed the disappointing experience with Entertainment Weekly a decade later. “You could have heard a pin drop in the audience when we screened it,” he said. Wain revealed that he eventually received a “lowball, ridiculous, insulting, pathetic offer” from USA Films. With no other options, he accepted. “It opened at the Empire [AMC] cinema in New York on 42nd Street, which has I think 25 screens and we were in number 25. It’s like the little TV room next to the janitor’s office.”

The film made less than $300,000 in ticket sales, nowhere near its already frugal budget of $1.8 million. The limited reach was coupled with scathing write-ups from reviewers, with one Salon critic calling it “a thoroughly inept piece of moviemaking.” Veteran critic Roger Ebert was also unimpressed, expressing his distaste through parody lyrics of Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” Everyone hated it at the time, but, viewed through the lens of nostalgia, the film slowly gained a cult following. As “Wet Hot American Summer” reached more people through its DVD release, viewers fell in love with its absurdity and offbeat humor, and you will, too.

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