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The Artistic Classics … That Started as Flops

Moby Dick, “Mr. Brightside,” and It’s a Wonderful Life

June 2024


Many of our favorite works of art … started off as flops.

For instance, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick might seem like an obvious literary masterpiece today, but it was savaged by critics upon its releasei and only sold about 3,000 copies during Melville’s lifetime.ii

The novel only gained legendary status when it was embraced by New York’s literary set 70 years after its release.iii

A more recent example comes from the world of pop music.

With over two billion streams, The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” is one of the most popular songs of the 21st century.iv

But when the band initially released the song … no one cared.

“Mr. Brightside” failed to even make the charts upon its release as a single in 2003.v

After the band finally had a hit with a different song, “Mr. Brightside” was re-released in 2004 and its popularity exploded.

Even more remarkable: It was the first song The Killers ever

Perhaps the most shocking transformation from bomb to classic was It’s a Wonderful Life.

Now a Christmas staple, the movie didn’t start out universally beloved.

The film tanked in theaters, failing to earn back its $2.3 million budget.vii

It’s a Wonderful Life likely would have been forgotten … were it not for a studio mistake.

The film’s owner, Republic Pictures, failed to renew its copyright.

So, It’s a Wonderful Life entered the public domain in 1974.viii

That allowed TV stations to play it pretty much nonstop (for free) around Christmas and, somewhere along the way, America grew to love it.



  1. Moby Dick met with a chilly reception upon release and didn’t receive acclaim until 70 years after its release.  
  2. “Mr. Brightside” is one of the most popular songs of the 21st century … but failed to chart on its original release.  
  3. It’s a Wonderful Life only became a cultural touchstone after its copyright lapsed and it slipped into the public domain. 



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