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This is a subtrope to Vindicated by History. These are films that started as box office failures that would have been forgotten in the dust bin of history.

Through frequent airings on premium or basic cable channels because they're cheap, handy filler, they gather a devoted audience that sees its entertainment value despite the obvious flaws. Sometimes, these film bombed when they were first released and were just misunderstood at the time but a later time period and cable made them popular. This can also happen to a film if it gets featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and, in fact, is the cause of many a Missing Episode of said series; after a movie was MiSTied, it often gained in popularity, which raised the price for the rights beyond what Best Brains (or Rhino/Shout Factory) was able to pay.

An interesting effect of this process can happen when the TV rights to sequels of classic movies are cheaper than the rights to the original movie. Thus, while the original was already popular, for generations who grew up after its release their largest exposure to the franchise is often the sequels. Thus, for certain groups, otherwise detested sequels can be viewed through Nostalgia Goggles.

Vindicated by Video is the same concept with prerecorded video tape or discs – or whatever's replaced them. A film can also become popular in "alternative" or "repertory cinema" houses long after a lackluster first-run release; The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one prominent Cult Classic in this regard.

A Sister Trope to Vindicated by Reruns. Compare Critical Dissonance, Quality by Popular Vote. Better on DVD is the Television series equivalent.

Examples of Vindicated by Cable include:
  • Comedy Central seems to have rescued Accepted.
  • Adult Swim is where animated shows go to get reborn. In addition to its most famous example, Family Guy (as discussed below), it's perhaps the reason why Futurama got four DVD movies and a Comedy Central revival; Home Movies only lasted half a season on UPN but eventually got another three and a half as an Adult Swim original. This even applied to anime once - The Big O received terrible ratings in Japan but it was Cartoon Network that funded a second season.
  • The Princess Bride bombed at the cinema (mostly due to terrible marketing), but thanks to VHS and cable it became well known as a great movie.
  • The Wizard of Oz became the classic it is now for being screened over and over on the TV networks.
  • MD Geist got surprisingly good ratings on Syfy, and when 7chan was exposed to it through their "Channel 7" streaming TV service, the turnout was rather impressive. Sadly, the DVD is out of print and has been for ages. The DVD has been re-released by ADV Films, partly due to the Syfy turnout.
  • A Christmas Story: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the film began airing quietly on Superstation WTBS and Superstation WGN as a Thanksgiving movie, where it started to grow in popularity. Because it was a seasonal movie, the studio only ran it for a couple of weeks in December during its original release, so it owes all of its reputation to cable, video and word-of-mouth.
  • The Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol was a box-office disappointment when released. After being on cable for a few years, it went on to become a classic and considered one of the best adaptations of the Dickens story.
  • The Beastmaster: The film was a critical and box office failure upon its 1982 release, grossing just $3 million against a $9 million budget. However, it subsequently received significant cable airplay, notably HBO and TBS, where it became a TV mainstay and viewer favorite. Its replay was so common that some waggishly dubbed TBS "The Beastmaster Station", and HBO "Hey, Beastmaster's On". Some people might find it hard to believe, but in 1993, The Beastmaster was playing somewhere in the United States, every hour, for two months. This might not actually be a joke.
  • Flash Gordon: Its popularity in America was due in part to airings on HBO.
  • The film It's a Wonderful Life didn't make a whole lot of waves upon its release, having received mostly dismissive or negative reviews (with the notable exception of Time magazine, and even they complained that it was ultimately superficial and sentimental). However, after it was accidentally released into the public domain in 1974, it became a Christmas standard, and a new generation came to see it as a classic and one of the best films ever made. In this case, it was repeated airings on broadcast stations, not basic cable, that brought the film its new status, but the principle is the same.
    • Later, when showing this movie on nearly every TV channel had become a Christmastime tradition, it was discovered that not all parts of the movie were actually in the public domain—the musical score, in fact, is still under copyright. With this revelation, only those broadcasters willing to pay for the rights could show it, and viewers had to tune in to one of those few venues who did for their annual fix.
    • It's somewhat of an urban legend that Ted Turner built his media empire on repeated airings of this movie, though that distinction more properly belongs to some of the films already mentioned or mentioned below.
  • Road House: In The Nineties the number of cable channels exploded, all of which needed 24-hour programming. So the rights to lots of cheesy action movies were scooped up, and those movies put into heavy rotation. In particular, Turner (who owned TBS, the so-called "superstation") bought up the entire MGM film library, which just happened to include Road House. And it wasn't long before TBS discovered the movie was drawing phenomenal ratings; Perhaps Road House is the very reason TBS is a "superstation".
  • Xanadu: Thanks to premium cable, Xanadu exposed a generation of young girls who later made up a large fanbase for this movie.
  • The Last Dragon: An odd mix of mid-80s black culture and 70s chopsocky. A no show in theaters, it found a home on Saturday Afternoon movie blocks. And introduced us all to Sho'Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem, and Bruce Leroy.
  • Several of John Carpenter's films (Escape from New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, etc...) did much better on cable and home rental than in the theaters. Kurt Russell, who stared in several of said films (including the three mentioned), has remarked a few times that he wouldn't have a career if it weren't for such.
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a box office bomb in 1971, but went on to become a Cult Classic thanks to repeated showings on HBO (and later, TBS).
  • Hook barely made back its production cost in theaters, but it has become much better received on cable.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series was considered a Ratings flop in its original run, because Demographics were not applied at the time. This was exacerbated by the network responding to the ratings by placing the show in poor time slots. In The Seventies, Star Trek became a hit in reruns.
  • The Iron Giant failed at the box office thanks to Warner Bros. having no faith in the movie. Then Cartoon Network started doing 24-hour runs of it on Thanksgiving...
  • The Shawshank Redemption also failed at the box office despite some critical acclaim. Most of its success came from the fact that Ted Turner (who owned Castle Rock Entertainment at the time, and thus owned the rights to the film) loved this movie and made sure it was run almost every weekend on TNT and TBS and it slowly picked up a fanbase and is now considered one of the finest films of all time. It was also Vindicated by Video: since it got many Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) and was already available in VHS at the time, a lot of people decided to rent it.
  • Family Guy was actually brought back as a result of this trope, after which it got the probably inevitable Hype Backlash.
  • Since it couldn't compete with Disney's The Little Mermaid, All Dogs Go to Heaven was a failure in cinemas. However, home-video rentals made this movie a Cult Classic among adults and consequently a popular entry in the Don Bluth canon.
  • Cats Don't Dance was a box-office flop, buried in an Easter-weekend release with scant advertising (and a barely promoted Subway tie-in). At the time, the only people really talking about it were the animation community (who went on to award it the Annie for Best Picture) and the Furry Fandom. Eventually, the film did become a Cult Classic after its subsequent video release, and airings on Cartoon Network.
  • Treasure Planet has also been getting a much better rap outside of theaters then it did in theaters, where it was a box office bomb.
  • Somewhere in Time was unsuccessful at the box office. Later cable showings increased its popularity to the point that it had a significant cult following, unusual for a pure romance, along with movie tourists who made yearly pilgrimages to the real-life Frozen in Time Mackinac Island in Michigan to get the full experience of the film.
  • Eddie and the Cruisers is one such film vindicated by cable. It was a major and critical flop when it came out in 1983. When it Showtime started to show this on that channel. There, it picked up its cult fandom. Its popularity was such the studio made a sequel, Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives. Unfortunately, the movie was considered pretty bad and director of the first film wanted nothing to do with the sequel.
  • Cult Classic Psychonauts is well, a Cult Classic. A Steam sale however managed to boost it to that week's number one (By revenue), beating out quite a few new releases. It generally occupies the top-seller space on Good Old Games when there isn't a sale going on.
  • You could say this was the case for countless cartoon shorts from The Golden Age of Animation. After movie theaters stopped running cartoon shorts, series such as Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry went on to become Saturday morning staples and rose to even higher popularity than in their heyday, to the point where many people will be surprised when you tell them the cartoons came out in the 1940's.
    • "What's Opera, Doc?" was not recognized as a great cartoon when it was released in 1957, nor was it nominated for an Academy Award. Warner Bros. did not even submit it for consideration.
    • The Three Stooges went through a very similar process as cartoon shorts did as well.
  • The 1980 live action movie version of Popeye also gained Cult Classic status thanks to HBO, as did the Camp, glitzy, all-star movie musicals Tommy and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
  • The Legend of Billie Jean was a box office bomb during its original release, but started to gain popularity as it began to play on syndicated networks years later.
  • Unlike many other classic comedies, the films starring the team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey were not shown on television during the Baby Boomer generation, which resulted in virtually no one having any clue who they were after Woolsey's untimely death in 1938. In the '80s and '90s, stations like TCM and AMC began to show Wheeler and Woolsey's movies for the first time in decades- if it weren't for cable, Wheeler and Woolsey's films would've been completely forgotten decades ago. OK, so they're still not very well-known at all, but among vintage film/comedy fans, Bert n' Bob have a very small but very loyal following, so this trope definitely counts despite the fact that they remain obscure to the general public.
  • Strictly Sexual is a 2008 comedy that history would have forgotten...except for the fact that it is the most watched movie available for free on through some bizarre twist. It still frequently ranks in the most popular movies of the week. Ditto for Saints And Soldiers, Sex And Consequences, and Kama Sutra.
  • Mike Judge is one of the kings of this trope. Office Space is the quintessential example, with tepid box office numbers at best, only becoming a Cult Classic after being shown ad nauseum on premium cable (and, later, Comedy Central). Idiocracy bombed similarly in theaters, a victim of zero to no promotion by the distributor, 20th Century Fox (all the Take Thats in the film at the Fox network probably didn't help Judge). Thanks once again to cable, the film seems to be well on its way to this trope if it's not already there.
  • Oh, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, was there a weekend afternoon movie block you weren't on in the '80s?
  • Citizen Kane. While it had received much critical acclaim and many Oscar nominations (though it didn't win many of them), during its release, it was far from a box office hit, due largely to William Randolph Hearst's media empire refusing to promote it. It quickly dropped out of the public eye until RKO released its catalogue to television networks.
  • Withnail and I.
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery had already recouped its budget on the box office, but went so well in video that the sequel was greenlighted.
  • Troy is a nascent example of the trope, as it did so-so at the box office and was critically savaged, but has developed a devoted fanbase since being released to cable and video, possibly in retrospect compared to later films like 300.
  • Let the Right One In was an average performer in theatres (despite grossing over $750,000 and playing for five months in one New York theatre) but amassed a large following through DVD and on demand rentals.
  • Black Dynamite was a flop at the box office due to poor marketing and a distributor change a few months before release but got noticed through DVD and airings on the Starz network, which led to an animated series being greenlighted by Adult Swim.
  • The Great Santini was a flop when it was first released due to Warner Bros. not knowing how to handle the film (it was tested in some markets as a war film and others as a drama). Then the film began heavy rotation on HBO, which finally got people to notice how good it really was. The cable airings were also credited for getting Robert Duvall an Academy Award nomination for his performance.
  • Sort of happened with Love and Basketball. Not that it bombed when it came out, but it probably would not be nearly as popular among African-American youth (some of which were only 4 or 5 when the movie came out) if it weren't for the constant repeats on BET. The movie even becomes a trending topic on Twitter when it's on.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's UHF just seemed to fit better on the small screen. Ironically, it didn't have to be this way. The movie got such an amazing reception by test audiences that Orion Studios decided to put it in direct competition with other movies in the summer of 1989, which included Tim Burton's Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, Ghostbusters II, Licence to Kill and Honey I Shrunk the Kids. UHF ultimately got lost in this shuffle. As Al would sing in the commentary, "Orion! Orion! Is bankrupt now!".
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show isn't this trope exactly, but is close enough. The film flopped in the initial release, but became a cult classic when it was shown as a midnight movie. To date, RHPS has grossed over $130 million and has played in theaters continuously since the middle 1970s.
  • Trading Places was a box office hit, but it might've fallen into obscurity if not for yearly airings around Christmas time.
  • Wing Commander was a bomb at the box office, but video rental income has made good the production costs, and given its regular airing on cable channels (particularly non-US ones) even has something of a genuine fandom.[1]
  • Step by Step: Although only getting average (at best) ratings, reruns of the 1991-1998 sitcom spent nine years on ABC Family's schedule – far longer than reruns did in syndication.
  • Grease 2 was a box office flop, but became a cable favorite through the early-middle 1980s.

"Vindicated" by Mystery Science Theater 3000:

  1. as opposed to a So Bad It's Good one