18 Movies That Defied Expectations and Surprised Everyone

Many highly anticipated movies flop on release, disappointing viewers and underperforming at the box office. Occasionally, this happens in reverse, with films no one thought could succeed and ending up being surprisingly good. Here are the movies that defied expectations to become popular.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios.

With Guardians of the Galaxy being one of Marvel’s lesser-known properties, not much was expected from this movie. Box office predictions, while decent, fell far short of the eventual tally. With a cast of unknown characters and an offbeat storyline and tone, it surprised everyone by becoming a massive success and starting a new Marvel franchise.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl 

Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures.

The first movie in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, The Curse of the Black Pearl, is a swashbuckling fantasy based entirely around the attraction at Disney theme parks. This tenuous premise and initial lack of interest in the movie led to low pre-release expectations. These were quickly defied on release when it became the fourth-highest-grossing movie of 2003 and was followed by four sequels.

Get Out 

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Although expectations for Get Out weren’t low, it’s safe to say that no one expected it to do quite as well as it did. It grossed $255.4 million against a $4.5 million budget, making director Jordan Peele the first black writer-director to do so with their debut movie. The mix of social commentary and creepy atmosphere made it a huge success with audiences and critics alike.

The Blair Witch Project

Photo Credit: Artisan Entertainment.

Before its release, critics hadn’t heard of The Blair Witch Project. Despite one of the earliest viral marketing campaigns, it never got that much attention from the press. This changed when it became a sleeper hit after its release, eventually grossing $248.6 million. It also reinvented the standards for horror and is frequently credited with starting the trend of found-footage movies.

The Hangover 

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Hangover was released in 2009 after a wave of gross-out humor movies through the noughties. This alone should have made it forgettable, but The Hangover took the clever approach of skipping the party and focusing on the aftermath. The main premise is that none of the characters know what happened the night before and spend much of the movie looking for their friend, who is supposed to be getting married. A fresh new plot ensured this movie made its mark and was successful enough for two sequels.

Edge of Tomorrow 

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

This sci-fi movie flew under the radar before release, with potential viewers dismissing it as another bland outing for the genre. On release, the combination of tight plotting and humor won audiences over, with critics praising the new take on a time loop and the aliens’ design. It finished its run with a box office total of $370.5 million.

The Greatest Showman 

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The Greatest Showman is a musical about the life of circus impresario P.T. Barnum, who creates a circus full of misfits that becomes a wild success despite the scorn of the locals. The opening weekend of The Greatest Showman was not encouraging, grossing just $9 million out of a predicted $21 million. But it grew in popularity over time, eventually spending 219 days in release for $435 million, with many viewers praising its feel-good charm and seeing it multiple times.

A Quiet Place 

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The post-apocalyptic horror movie A Quiet Place stars Emily Blunt and John Krasinski as parents trying to raise their children in a world overrun with extraterrestrial monsters. Despite initial predictions of the opening weekend gross hovering around $20 million, A Quiet Place debuted to an impressive $50.2 million. It was met with nearly universal critical acclaim on release, and a sequel was released in 2020.

Little Miss Sunshine 

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The tragicomedy Little Miss Sunshine follows a family on a road trip to California so that their daughter can participate in a child beauty pageant. Made on a small budget of $8 million, it eventually grossed $101.1 million from moviegoers who loved its quirky charm and surprisingly dark story.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures.

Welcome to the Jungle is the third installment in the Jumanji series and a direct sequel to the 1995 original. It sees a group of teenagers get trapped inside a video game version of Jumanji. Despite the studio itself only predicting a $45 million debut for the six-day opening and low expectations from audiences, it grossed $71.9 million this time and received praise from critics.

Crazy Rich Asians 

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy about a woman who is surprised that her boyfriend belongs to one of the richest families in Singapore. Expectations for this movie were pretty low, with many feeling the subject matter and romantic plot made it a high-risk effort by the studio. But their gamble paid off, with Crazy Rich Asians performing well at the box office, leading to two more sequels in the works.

Pitch Perfect 

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Telling the story of an all-girl, a cappella group competing at the Nationals against a group from their college, Pitch Perfect seemed to be a niche movie at first. Still, it managed to attract a wider audience with its charm and humor. A sleeper hit, it received generally positive reviews and has since had two sequels.

Mamma Mia!

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Despite critics expressing concerns over a musical rom-com based purely on ABBA songs, Mamma Mia resulted in a surprisingly entertaining movie that performed well at the box office. Fans liked the ensemble cast and the fun spirit of the movie enough that a sequel called Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again was released in 2018.

District 9 

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The sci-fi thriller District 9 had a relatively small budget to play with and even less for marketing. Despite a moderately successful viral marketing campaign, it remained relatively obscure when it arrived in cinemas but ranked first on its opening weekend, eventually racking up a gross of $210.8 million.


Photo Credit: Sony Pictures .

The comedy movie Zombieland is a road trip with a difference. The characters are on their way across the country to find a sanctuary from the zombies roaming the world. Although it was only predicted to gross around $40 million, it enjoyed positive critical and audience reception, finishing at $75 million.

The Lego Movie 

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Audiences and critics alike were wary of a movie based entirely around a toy line. Still, The Lego Movie proved them wrong with a witty script and likable characters that resonated with audiencesCapturing the fun of playing as a child, this adventure comedy added a poignant story to attract all ages.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

With the original Mad Max movie dating back to 1979, critics were skeptical about Fury Road’s ability to hold up to this and still add something new. These fears were quickly dismissed when the movie was released, and audiences loved it for its gritty story and intense action scenes.


Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Considered a return to form for director M. Night Shyamalan, Split is a story about a man with dissociative identity disorder, resulting in him having 23 distinct identities. He kidnaps three teenage girls and holds them captive underground, swapping identities to help and hinder them. Initial box office projections for the opening weekend averaged around $22 million, but Split outperformed them all, grossing $40.2 million.

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Sophie Baxter

Writer & Blogger

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