21 Sundance hits that tanked at the box office

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As the independent film festival’s lineup is announced, we look back at some of the most notoriously buzzed about flicks — which were DOA at the box office everywhere else

Buried (2010)

Buried seemed like some film-school experiment. When an American truck driver stationed in Iraq wakes up to find himself buried alive inside a coffin, he has only a lighter and a cell phone to meet his captors’ $5 million ransom before he runs out of oxygen. Sundance audiences swooned, and not only because the truck driver in question was soon-to-be Sexiest Man Alive Ryan Reynolds. Lionsgate forked over approximately $3.2 million for the claustrophobic thriller in 2010, and although critics ultimately approved, Buried grossed only $1 million domestically — though it fared well abroad. —Jeff Labrecque

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Image Credit: Cathy Kanavy

Hamlet 2 (2008)

As the story goes, 10 minutes into the premiere screening of the outrageous comedy — starring Steve Coogan as a sad-sack high school drama teacher who stages a musical sequel to Shakespeare’s great tragedy — the Focus acquisitions team were on the phone with president James Schamus, asking for permission to start bidding. Next came the inevitable bidding war, this time between Focus, Summit Entertainment, Weinstein Co., Lionsgate, and Warner Independent. Focus emerged the victor, coughing up $10 million. But in a perfect illustration of how excitement in the high altitudes of Park City almost never survives the trip back down to sea level, Hamlet 2 grossed $4.9 million in theaters. —Missy Schwartz

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American Teen (2008)

Nanette Burstein’s documentary about five high schoolers from small-town Indiana arrived in Park City with so much buzz that even those allergic to the words teen drama were curious. The movie enjoyed a rapturous response, and soon the doc’s stars — dubbed the Geek, the Jock, the Princess, the Heartthrob, and the Rebel — were the toast of the fest. After a cluster of eager buyers circled the film, Paramount Vantage beat out the competition with a bid just under $1 million. Which is about what the film ended up making in theaters. Despite an aggressive marketing campaign, Teen grossed a disappointing $942,441. Guess Paramount failed to realize that audiences could get their fill of adolescent docudrama for free on MTV. —MS

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