14 Successful Movies No One Saw Coming

  • Your Summer Obsessions badge

We sure didn’t see that coming.

Sometimes, great things can come from the most unexpected places, and that goes for movies as well.

Disney/Orion / Via YouTube

Even the most popular and acclaimed films faced doubts about their success. But though all the odds were stacked against them, many movies triumphed in theaters and became the beloved stories that we know today. Thus, here is the list of 14 Great Movies Nobody Thought Would Succeed.

14. John Wick

Lionsgate / Via YouTube

At a time when Keanu Reeves mostly starred in box-office bombs, John Wick seemed like it would be a generic action flick for him to add to his filmography. The movie’s premise of a hitman seeking revenge against Russian gangsters for the death of his dog seemed pretty silly. But no one was laughing once they saw Baba Yaga shooting his way through countless mobsters like a one-person army. Well choreographed and beautifully shot, John Wick spawned many successful sequels, and the titular hitman has become one of Reeves’ most adored characters.

13. Ouija: Origin of Evil

Universal / Via YouTube

Since the first Ouija film was such a critical failure, no one really thought a prequel would be any better. However, director Mike Flanagan, who went on to frighten audiences with The Haunting of Hill House, surprised everyone by delivering a genuinely terrifying film that featured terrific performances and paid homage to classic ’70s horror films.

12. 21 Jump Street

Columbia Pictures / Via YouTube

Reboots have garnered a nasty reputation over the years, so no one thought this film would be a comedy hit, especially since this was before Channing Tatum had established himself as a funny actor. But all those doubts had vanished once audiences saw the hilarious chemistry between Tatum and Jonah Hill, and 21 Jump Street proved itself to be a clever and gut-busting comedy that will never fail to make you laugh.

11. The Lego Movie

Warner Bros. / Via YouTube

At first, it seemed like this entire film would be just one big commercial for Legos devoid of real quality. But just like with 21 Jump Street, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller astonished audiences by presenting them with a hilarious, heartfelt, and insightful blockbuster that’s fun for all ages. Also, you gotta love Will Arnett as Batman.

10. Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel Studios / Via YouTube

Who would’ve thought a film about a talking tree and a gunslinging raccoon would be so popular? Back before this film was released, Hollywood hadn’t fully embraced the weirdness of comic book movies. That’s why many people, including James Gunn and Chris Pratt, thought this would be the MCU’s first bomb. Ultimately, this film made bank and proved to the world that Marvel Studios could make a great film on just about anything.

9. The Exorcist

Warner Bros. / Via YouTube

Because the film lacked any A-list stars and had suffered a hellish production that went way over budget, Warner executives never imagined The Exorcist would be so successful. However, it became a worldwide phenomenon once the studio marketed the fact that people had lined up to see it only to end up fainting or vomiting. For decades, this film was the highest-grossing R-rated film ever made, grossing $441 million worldwide against a $12 million budget, and is widely considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, if not the greatest.

8. Get Out

Universal / Via YouTube

Ten years ago, if you told someone that one of the guys from Key & Peele would become an Oscar-winning horror director, they would’ve thought you were joking. Before Get Out, it was hard to believe that Jordan Peele, a person who specialized in sketch comedy, could transition into directing quality horror. But when the film was finally released, everyone was surprised by how smart and well-crafted Peele’s movie was. Overall, Get Out became one of the most successful and original horror movies in recent years, and it helped jumpstart Peele’s career as an auteur director.

7. Wonder Woman

Warner Bros. / Via YouTube

After the disastrous reception to Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman, many people had lowered their expectations for the DCEU and its film on Wonder Woman back in 2017. However, critics and audiences were later blown away by how amazing Patty Jenkins’s superhero blockbuster really was, and it became the highest-grossing film ever directed by a woman.

6. Sonic the Hedgehog

Paramount / Via YouTube

This one seemed like another video game movie doomed to fail after the scathing response to Sonic’s early design. While the film’s release was postponed by a few months so the filmmakers could recreate the protagonist, audiences fell in love with the blue blur once he raced to theaters, and Sonic the Hedgehog helped prove once and for all that video game movies can succeed.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Disney / Via YouTube

You wouldn’t have thought a movie based on a Disney World ride would be a source of cinematic success. Since pirate films had lost their popularity and Johnny Depp had not yet proven himself to be a successful leading man, many people believed this film would bomb at the box office. However, audiences adored Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, and The Curse of the Black Pearl became one of the highest-grossing films of 2003, leading to one of the biggest movie franchises in history.

4. The Terminator

Orion Pictures / Via YouTube

Long before James Cameron had established himself as a blockbuster icon, many people didn’t have faith in The Terminator, as they thought it would be just another B action movie. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger thought this film would be so “low profile” that it wouldn’t leave a dent in his career if it failed. It wasn’t, and it didn’t.

3. Apocalypse Now

American Zoetrope / Via YouTube

Francis Ford Coppola’s war masterpiece notoriously had so many production issues, that the director thought his movie would fail. On top of a typhoon destroying sets, Marlon Brando arriving on set too overweight for his role, and Martin Sheen almost dying from a heart attack, Coppola had to pay millions of his own dollars for the film. All this fear and pressure even led to the director threatening to commit suicide on three different occasions. But despite the hell that everyone involved with the production went through, Apocalypse Now went on to become one of the most beloved films in cinema.

2. Jaws

Universal / Via YouTube

There were many reasons why this film shouldn’t have been as good as it turned out to be. The mechanical sharks used in the film kept breaking down, and the production went over budget and behind schedule. In fact, Steven Spielberg claimed all the stress he endured while directing this film gave him PTSD. Jaws could’ve been another failed B-movie that sunk the young director’s career. But by taking inspiration from Hitchcock, Spielberg managed to cut costs by filming from the shark’s perspective, and the suspenseful sequences this created helped make the movie a jaw-dropping success.

1. Star Wars

Lucasfilm / Via YouTube

You might find it hard to imagine, but there was a time when people thought Star Wars would actually fail. Before its release, many people associated with the production saw it as nothing more than a regular kids’ film that they couldn’t wrap their heads around. Even George Lucas himself thought it would be beaten at the box office, so he fled to Hawaii during the opening week to avoid any negative press. But all the naysayers were proven wrong once the film premiered and launched a pop-culture juggernaut.

Do you agree with this list? Are there any other surprisingly successful films that I missed? Please let me know in the comments section below.

TV and Movies

Get all the best moments in pop culture & entertainment delivered to your inbox.