The 10 Biggest Box-Office Surprises of the 21st Century


Playing the box-office game is a tricky business. Audience tastes are subjective and always changing; one minute, they can support underdog movies; henceforth, they would ignore any blockbusters currently playing. No movie is safe, no matter how many big stars or flashy characters it has.

However, some films defied every oddity and prediction and came out on top of the box-office machines. Whether because they caught the zeitgeist or because they caught lightning in a bottle, these films have been unexpected box office triumphs, equaling the forces of other, seemingly stronger IPs and, in some cases, surpassing them.



10 ‘Get Out’ (2017)

Daniel Kaluuya looks shocked and cries out.

Jordan Peel successfully transitioned behind the camera with 2017’s spectacular horror thriller Go out. Movie star Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a young man who is about to stay with his white girlfriend’s family for the weekend. However, things take a twisted and dangerous turn when Chris discovers not all is as it seems.

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Go out deftly mixes thrill with nuanced social commentary, resulting in a relevant and biting nightmare of psychological horror. The film was an unexpected box-office success, grossing $255 million worldwide on a meager budget of just $4.5 million. Go out also a critical darling, earning Peele the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay at the 2018 ceremony.

9 ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ (2002)

Ian and Tula smiled and posed for photos at My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Image via Golden Circle Film

Romantic comedy in 2002 My Big Fat Greek Wedding remains a compelling and inspiring success story. This film was written by and stars Nia Vardalos as Tula, a Greek woman who begins a romantic relationship with Ian Miller, a handsome non-Greek schoolteacher.

Rom-coms were moderately popular at the box office, but had somewhat limited appeal and hardly ever generated big numbers. However, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was an unexpected smash hit, grossing $368 million worldwide on a meager budget of just $5 million. This film spawned an unexpected trilogy and gave every rom-com hope that they too would do well at the box office.

8 ‘Bad Boys For Life’ (2020)

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith as Marcus and Mike in Bad Boys for Life
Image via Sony Images

January is known as the dead month at the box office. Studios send their bitches to die embarrassingly slow deaths in January, but every now and then, a film rises to the occasion and defies the curse of the month. Will Smith And Martin Lawrencelong awaited Bad boy for life do just that.

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The film grossed $426 million worldwide against a production budget of $90 million. Even more impressive is the fact that Bad boy for life aired months before the COVID-19 epidemic started, meaning it made most of its money before the international lockdown started. A sequel is currently in development, and with these numbers, it’s not hard to see why.

7 ‘Thrown away’ (2000)

Tom Hanks on volleyball, Wilson on Castaway.

There was a time when an actor’s name was enough to get a film to the top of the box office charts. Tom Hanks was a movie star, and the overwhelming success of his 2000 survival drama Eliminated prove it. Directed by Robert ZemeckisThis film follows Chuck Noland, a FedEx executive who is stranded on a desert island after his plane crashes.

Eliminated received universal acclaim from critics, with Hanks receiving his fifth Oscar nomination for his efforts. The film was also a huge success, grossing $429 million worldwide against a production budget of $90 million. The days when a movie star could deliver these numbers alone are long gone, but it’s interesting to look back and see how much power these actors had.

6 ‘American Sniper’ (2014)

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle aims a sniper rifle in American Sniper

Bradley Cooper cemented his serious actor personality and received his third consecutive Oscar nomination for Clint Eastwoodwar drama American sniper. Adapted from Chris Kyle’s eponymous memoir, this film chronicles Kyle’s sniping career during four tours in the Iraq War.

Still confused to think American sniper was a huge box office success, but it was. The film grossed $547 million worldwide against a production budget of $58 million. American sniperA success primarily in North America, which makes sense given Eastwood’s themes and approach to the story.

5 ‘Mama Mia!’ (2008)

Amanda Seyfried as Sophie Sheridan in Mamma Mia
Image via Universal Studios

Never underestimate the power of ABBA’s music. 2008 Musical Mama Mia! star Amanda Seyfried as Sophie, a young woman about to get married. Wanting to find out more about his identity, he sends invitations to his mother’s three teenage lovers, hoping to find out which of them is his biological father. Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin FirthAnd Stellan Skarsgard also stars.

Mama Mia! received lukewarm reviews but was a spectacular box office success, grossing $694 million worldwide against a production budget of $52 million. The film is the second highest-grossing musical, surpassed only by live-action Disney The beauty and the Beast.

4 ‘The Hunger Games’ (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in The Hunger Games (2012)
Image via Lionsgate

Jennifer Lawrence Rise to international stardom with Gary Ross‘ 2012 dystopian action film Hunger Games. Adapted from the 2008 eponymous novel and set in a dystopian USA, the plot centers on Katniss Everdeen, a teenager from an impoverished district who is forced to compete in the deadly televised event known as the Hunger Games.

Although high hopes are based on success Twilight Saga and the novel’s built-in fan base, hardly anyone would have expected this novel to become such a big hit. Hunger Gamesgrossed $694 million worldwide against a production budget of $78 million. This film was launched with great success Hunger Games series and tricking Hollywood into thinking YES is the future of franchise storytelling. Unfortunately, future adaptations of YES proved unsuccessful, with only Katniss topping the box office charts.

3 ‘Frozen’ (2013)

Ana and Elsa hug in Frozen
Image via Disney

Disney Frozen is a bona fide phenomenon. Loosely based on the work of Hans Christian Andersen Snow Queen, the film centers on Elsa, a young woman with the power of ice who exiles herself in fear. When his kingdom froze, his sister Anna embarked on a perilous journey to bring him back.

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Thanks to great animation and a very catchy soundtrack, including the legendary hit “Let It Go,” Frozen can’t be helped. The film was a box office juggernaut, grossing a massive $1.2 billion worldwide while carrying a $150 million production tag. Frozen reminding audiences of Disney’s true power, proving the Mouse House is still at the top of the Hollywood food chain.

2 ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ (2022)

Maverick looks to his right and grins at Top Gun: Maverick
Image via Paramount Pictures

Cinemas need time to return to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic; if yes, it’s thanks to big hits like Top Weapon: Maverick. Tom Cruise returns to the role that made him a star, with a plot centered around Maverick’s efforts to train a new generation of Top Gun pilots, including the son of his late best friend, Goose.

Top Weapon: Maverick arguably the biggest film of 2022. Critically acclaimed and wildly received by audiences, the film exceeded all expectations and became the second highest-grossing film of the year, with a worldwide gross of $1.4 billion. Mavericks captured the zeitgeist in a way few other movies can, cementing Cruise as the ultimate movie star and proving that audiences will flood theaters for the right movie.

1 ‘Avatars’ (2009)

Jake Sully in his Na'vi form looks off into the distance at the Avatar.

As a rule of thumb, it is never wise to gamble James Cameron. Widely regarded among the great filmmakers of all time, Cameron revolutionized the action and sci-fi genres with films of his ilk Aliens And Terminators. However, Cameron’s pinnacle of achievement was in 2009’s Avatars, a film that broke box-office records to become the highest-grossing film of all time.

Avatars grossed $2.7 billion worldwide during its original theatrical release, an extraordinary feat that would have taken him a decade to surpass. Quite a lot has been said about how Avatars leaving no mark on the cinematic landscape. However, released last year Avatar: Waterway proved naysayers wrong, with the film grossing $2.3 billion worldwide and confirming that Cameron is indeed king of the world.

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