Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem isn't the first movie that's had to claw its way out of distribution limbo. (Hell, it isn't even the first Terry Gilliam movie that's faced that particular challenge.) Here are five other films that were shelved or abandoned in North America only to find their freedom - and their audience - in spite of that judgment.
1. Bonnie And Clyde (1967)
Nearly five decades on, Arthur Penn's groundbreaking examination of the Depression-era crime couple as mutually enabling psychopaths is an acknowledged classic. But at the time of its release, Warner Bros. thought it was a turkey, pegging Warren Beatty's passion project as drive-in fodder. A number of critics felt the same way - most famously the New York Times' Bosley Crowther, who railed against its savagery. Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert both went to bat for it, enabling Beatty to push for a re-release tied to an Oscar campaign several months later. Box office success followed, as did 10 Academy Award nominations, and wins for Estelle Parsons's supporting performance and Burnett Guffey's cinematography.
2. Brazil (1985)
The Zero Theorem isn't the first movie Terry Gilliam has had to pressure a distributor into releasing. His visionary 1985 adventure - set in a Kafkaesque world of bureaucracy run wild, where a minor functionary (Jonathan Pryce) is drawn into an elaborate rebellion by his dream girl (Kim Greist) - so puzzled the executives at Universal Studios that it was shelved indefinitely once Gilliam delivered his final cut.
Brazil might have been lost to history if its creator hadn't arranged a special screening for the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, who promptly named it their best picture of 1985. Gilliam seized on the brief burst of publicity by buying an ad in Variety asking Universal president Sid Sheinberg when he planned to release the film.
Universal dumped it into theatres in February 1986, just in time to capitalize on the film's Academy Award nominations for best original screenplay and best art direction.
For more on the epic battle of Brazil, check out the Criterion Collection's special-edition boxed set, which features Universal's terrifying alternate cut of the film and a fantastic documentary recounting Gilliam's fights to preserve his original vision.
3. Idiocracy (2005)
Let's have no illusions: Mike Judge's Idiocracy is a shadow of its former self. It's the only film on this list that can't be seen in its original state. The movie that 20th Century Fox dumped into theatres on Labour Day weekend 2006 is a mess of half-developed ideas and abandoned subplots that might as well have the words "re-edited in post-production" blinking over top for its entire running time. And yet the central point of Judge's unfrozen-man satire - that stupid people will eventually outbreed intelligent people, take over America and ruin the world - is so powerful that it survives the hot mess of a movie that surrounds it.
A total dud on first release, grossing less than half a million dollars, Idiocracy found its audience on disc, burrowing into pop culture's unconscious. Less than a decade later, its biting insights into reality shows, celebrity worship and identity politics seem more relevant than ever. I mean, you just know Rob Ford would water City Hall's plants with Brawndo if he could.
4. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Before it wowed TIFF audiences and Oscar voters, Danny Boyle's energetic tale of a Mumbai scrabbler (Dev Patel) who overcomes a horrible childhood to rescue the woman he's always loved (Freida Pinto) was going to go straight to DVD as a result of Warner Bros.' decision to shutter its Warner Independent Pictures label in 2007.
Boyle convinced his friends at Fox Searchlight Pictures (which had released 28 Days Later..., Millions and Sunshine) to rescue the movie and plan a theatrical release, starting with the fall festival circuit. The result was a People's Choice Award at TIFF, a dazzling $140 million North American gross and eight Academy Awards, including best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay.
Success doesn't get much sweeter than this.
5. Snowpiercer (2013)
You could fill a bunker with movies that Bob and Harvey Weinstein acquired for North American distribution and then left on a shelf for years, but Bong Joon-ho's post-apocalyptic juggernaut is one of the few that beat the Miramax/Weinstein Company system.
A smash hit in South Korea last summer, Bong's English-language actioner - starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Song Kang-ho, Octavia Spencer and Ed Harris, all of whom have strong fan followings - was acquired by Harvey, who immediately insisted on cutting 20 minutes out of it. (This is something Harvey has attempted to do with almost every movie he's acquired since the 1990s; as far as I can determine, it has never improved a movie.)
After months of negotiation, the Weinstein Company relented and dumped Bong's 126-minute cut into the market via its "boutique label," Radius - guaranteeing it a minimal theatrical release and modest returns.
Still, by the time you read this, the movie will have earned $4 million on North American screens and is on track to make far more than that on demand. More importantly, people are seeing Snowpiercer as it was intended to be seen.