MovieChat Forums > Labyrinth (1986) Discussion > Why was this a flop in '86?

Why was this a flop in '86?


Given the overabundance of fantasy films during the mid '80s, it seems weird that Labyrinth took longer to click with audiences. Then again it seems reasonable that some people may have been taken aback by the film's dark content. Anyone who saw Dark Crystal four years prior would have immediately been drawn to this. I'm curious to see everyone else's opinions on here.

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I can't really say for sure as I was just a baby when this film came out, but I think ultimately Labyrinth is a hard film to categorize, it doesn't really fit in a box.

Its not really a 'kid film' even though kids could watch it just fine, but its theme is a bit more mature then an average kiddie film and its got David Bowie and all his sexual magnatism playing a villian who seems to have some romantic interest in the much younger protagonist.

But then its not dark enough to be a 'adult film' either as its got singing muppets and Jim Henson humor.

So to whom is its audience?

I think that might have been the problem, much like the character of Sarah being caught between childhood and adulthood so is this film caught in the middle between being a pure kiddie film and something more mature.

If anything I think the film speaks more profoundly to teenagers, especially teenage girls as they can identify with the character of Sarah and understand her dilemma better then little kids who are too young to understand, and adults who have forgotten what its like to go through puberty.

So my guess would be that audiences came into the film expecting one thing and got something different then what they expected, and misleading marketing can kill a film faster then lightening.

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Quite agreed. I'd watch this film a dozen times over but it is nevertheless a seriously flawed film that was too grandiose. Henson should have decided for it to be either a fun and humorous Sesame Street kiddie film or a dark and somber grownup film but not a little bit of both. The two themes clashed rather than meshed. Once a viewer sees this, he/she will tell their friends not to bother and the film ends up a bomb at the box office.

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The two clashing themes are what make it so unique. I'm glad neither was sacrificed.

Let's be bad guys.

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Yes, it's a better film because it has such a strong sense of identity which wouldn't have been possible if they made it fit into a neat little box.

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I saw it in the theaters in 1986 when I was 18 going on 19 (summer after FR year of college). I liked it a lot, but I recall thinking it was hopelessly a "tweener" film doing some things very well but the majority so-so because...who was the target audience? I think, honestly, Henson was not sure but had a lot of great visuals and ideas and they got squished together leaving a muddled mess, but with some outstanding pieces. I think, with time and appreciation, the mixed genres and mis-targeted audience reality makes the movie highly enjoyable and very unique. So, kind of like Blade Runner and The Thing (of 1982), but NOT to the same level, it took time to garner a solid fan base and greater appreciation.

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I wasn't even born in the 80's but I remember seeing this on TV in the early 90's when I was little. My parents rolled their eyes when I said I wanted to watch it. My parents who were in their 20's in the 80's said it was a fantasy film for kids and that it was a little dark. To answer your question, I think it was a flop because it was deemed a kids movie, yet it had mature elements to it. Not to mention this movie came out at a time when fantasy films like this weren't afraid to be a little mature because kids weren't as coddled back then as they are today. My mom thought this was a dumb film in the 80's and my dad never cared for it. As a kid I found it a little scary. When I was an older kid (10-16) I liked it so much I've probably memorized the whole music score.

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My childhood reaction was similar to yours. The first time I watched it I found it a bit scary or maybe just creepy, though I still enjoyed it. The Fire Dancers (they are trying to take of Sarah's head) and the Dumpster Woman obviously up to not good and scary looking. Also the Helping Hands were a big freaky and yet funny.
Then I got a little older and it was the best and I still count it as one of my favorite all time movies.

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[deleted]

I'm just realizing what a weird kid I was, this is the 2nd time i've read a similar comment on a kids movies i used to watch. I loved this flick and was never scared of it. Same with drop dead fred, clifford, neverending story, etc, basically any kinds movie that people will say used to freak them out. I loved weird flicks like this even back then, and I see why. The effects are top notch, the voice acting fits very well, the characters are a lot of fun, and the journey keeps things moving nicely through just about the whole movie.


'Get yourself a real dog. Any dog under 50 lbs is a cat and cats are pointless' - Ron Swanson

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I was alive when this came out and I don't remember it being a flop at all, although I know it is considered to be one. Everyone I knew loved it and we'd take it in turns to rent it each week. Growing up around Monty Python humour meant that this film was like a Python movie for kids, with added amazing songs and puppetry! I understand people might feel this doesn't mesh but we understood this to be a film directly targeted at our demographic of 10yr olds who love a fantasy tale. The Princess Bride which had similar humour and had the same target audience.

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Funny, I turned 6 in 1986, and I don't remember it coming out at all.

I saw it in the late 80s, or maybe very early 90s on TV and I loved it. As my did my family. (Adults and children.)

Maybe it just wasn't publicised or known about? I had never heard of it until it came on television. The next time it came on, we videotaped it off the television to keep.

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I was 5 that year but never heard of it at all until 1990, when I was 9, at which time I only saw a tiny bit of it at somebody's house. I also had no idea at that point that it was Bowie, not even knowing who Bowie was either then! It wasn't until 9 more years after that, 1999/age 18, (though by which time I had for a few years known full well of David Bowie :-d) that I was properly introduced to the film by a friend, with no turning back in fandom :). I know I was little when it first came out but I would definitely remember hearing of it if I had at that time.

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I find it odd that Labyrinth is regarded as a flop simply as I saw it in the UK, Christmas 1986, and, if memory serves, it was quite a big hit, had a big Royal premiere... bearing in mind that Labyrinth was a summer US release! Yes, younger readers, sometimes it could take half a year for a film to get released across an ocean back then!

What the heck, time certainly told on this movie and now it's regarded as a bit of a classic!

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Well, it did earn less than half its budget back when it ran in theaters. That's pretty much what a flop is.

Seize the moment, 'cause tomorrow you might be dead.

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Yeah, PC, you're absolutely right, I was just rambling on from my personal perspective. I would hope that multiple DVD / Blu / etc re-releases (not to mention newer media sales) would have dragged it into profit. And, heck, it regarded as something of a classic nowadays, so that's something!

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To OP. People were too busy watching the awful Karate Kid Part II, Back to School, The Golden Child, Legal Eagles, Cobra, Police Academy III (!) , Poltergeist II, Short Circuit, The Money Pit, Gung Ho, Nothing in common, Jumpin' Jack Flash (!) , Wildcats, Iron Eagle, Friday the 13th Part VI, The Delta Force, Howard the Duck (!!) , Raw Deal, Psycho III, Critters among other bad or worse movies which somehow faired better at the box office in 1986.

Seriously. How did utter crap like:
Cobra
Police Academy Part III
Jumpin' Jack Flash
Friday the 13th Part VI
Howard the Duck
The Delta Force
Raw Deal and
Psycho III

...do better than Labyrinth at the box office?? Because people back in 1986 didn't have better taste than they have today.

No opinions. Just Boxofficemojo facts and the boxoffice numbers from 1986.

Seriously, there's a crapload of bad sequals in 1986 people wanted to see for some reason. Karate Kid II, Police Academy III (WHO ever found them funny??) , Poltergeist II, Friday the 13th Part VI and Psycho III.

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It had an aire of creepiness to it that turned some people of. The bulge in David's pants and the young girl being grabbed by all of those hands and the pissing midget. It was a good movie, but was not for kids or people with sensitive ears and eyes.

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Yeah I love the fantasy elements to it. It must be the reason

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Maybe I shouldn't comment because the first thing I want to say is was 27 when it came out and I had no interest in it whatsoever. I kinda like Bowie but not enough to go to a kid movie. I wouldn't mind viewing it on free TV someday, but the whole presentation didn't appeal to me. Something is off about it, live people and puppets.

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