13 Biggest Box Offices Surprises of 2013

Smaller movies were big-ticket items at this year's cinematic race. From 'Gravity' to 'Instructions Not Included', we look at the releases that surprised everyone.
Barring the fact that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty makes over $100 on in its second weekend, it's (nearly) safe to say that 2013's biggest surprises at the box office are behind us. And boy, were there some huge shockers in store for audiences this past twelve months. While most of the big tent pole pictures performed as suspected, it was the smaller budget movies that made a real impression on moviegoers this year. Now, we take a look at 13 movies that no one thought too much about before their release. Some people thought a couple would bomb all together (hello, World War Z). It's the 13 Biggest Box Offices Surprises of 2013

1Gravity


Gravity
Tagline: Don't Let Go. Why it Surprised Us: With a simple premise (two astronauts lost in the dark recesses of space), Gravity became the water cooler conversation starter of 2013, and has the honor of being one of only two movies to hold down three #1 weekends in a row. No small feat in what has become an overcrowded market place that sees tons of new releases jockeying for position every single given week of the year. With a hefty $145 million price tag, this sci-fi thriller certainly was a gamble for Warner Bros., especially since it had to rest solely on the charm of its two leading actors. Luckily, they had the biggest box office draw at their disposal in Sandra Bullock (she's on this list twice, by the way), and George Clooney, who isn't too shabby either. While director Alfonso Cuarón has directed one of the more beloved installments of the Harry Potter franchise with Prisoner of Azkaban, he isn't exactly a household name when it comes to crowd-pleasing blockbusters. That all changed with this, a movie that was greatly helped by critics. It is one of the biggest moneymakers of the year. It is the sixth highest grossing movie of the year. And best part of all, no one saw it coming! Budget: $100 million. Domestic Gross: $252.9 million. Worldwide Earnings: $642.2 million. Money in the Bank: $542.2 million.


2World War Z


WWZ
Tagline: Brad Pitt. Why it Surprised Us: The tagline could have just as easily been 'Zombies'. Because it was a combination of the walking dead and its leading man that made this seemingly doomed thriller a hit. Panned by most critics, the movie stays true to the themes of the book, even failing to give us a traditional beat structure. But that didn't bother mainstream audiences who enjoyed the video game ease of its hero's journey, as this former U.N. worker bounced from one location to the next, never really threatened by the fact that most of humanity has been turned into an army of flesh eaters. The movie opened to bad word of mouth, and months of speculation that it was going to suck. And suck hard. Heavily reported reshoots and a massively ballooning budget, plus the fact that Brad Pitt wasn't getting along with his director, all pointed towards box office failure. But the Hollywood icon jumped on a private jet, hitting small town after small town in support of pre-opening screenings, showing a genuine excitement for the project. That certainly helped push it into the number ten spot for 2013. Most fans were waiting for a substantial bomb of megaton wattage. But World War Z went onto surprises us all, proving that the entire world has an insatiable appetite for biters at the moment. Sometimes, there's no accounting for taste. Budget: $190 million. Domestic Gross: $202.3 million. Worldwide Earnings: $540 million. Money in the Bank: $350 million.


3The Conjuring


The Conjuring
Tagline: Based on the case files of the Warrens. Why it Surprised Us: Small budget horror is turning huge profits, but there is such a glut of garbage, it's hard to tell what will hit and what will ultimately disappoint. Ed Warren and Lorraine Warren were quite literally household names back in the 70s, especially if that family followed Saturday afternoon fare like In Search of... or stocked up on tabloids at the local grocery store. Here in the Teens, though? Not so much. But director James Wan and his writing partner Leigh Whannell proved that Insidious was no fluke, delivering hands down the scariest movie of the year. Some people expected another 'ghost seeks revenge' thriller with a predictable, lame ending. But they were shocked to find something new, and terrifying, even if the script was working from a decades old story that has been swimming around for years. Most horror fans walked into The Conjuring with their arms crossed, daring the movie not to suck. Most walked away rejuvenated by the genre. Budget: $20 million. Domestic Gross: $137.4 million. Worldwide Earnings: $316.7 million. Money in the Bank: $297.


4Now You See Me


Now You See Me
Tagline: The closer you look, the less you'll see. Why it Surprised Us: A lot of people saw this movie, not realizing a lot of other people saw this movie too. It may surprise even you to see it included here. When doing research for this list, it certainly surprised us that the movie had moved bank. Mainly because this crime thriller comes on like a generic movie-of-the-week. But it so obviously did something right. It was as though the characters sprang to life, pulling one of their staged illusions on the box office. With a $75 million budget, its $117 domestic take isn't that spectacular, but this is one of those rare and beautiful creatures that plays to all regions of the world, earning even more overseas than it did here. Magic is universally loved! Add that to the fact that it has a stellar ensemble cast, great action sequences, and a solid story, and you have a hit! Those that fell in love with it brought a lot of repeat business. When the summer season started, this wasn't on too many cinemagoers must-see list. Even though, we have a feeling that some of you who didn't see it our doubting us. Its what people in the business like to call a sleeper hit. Behold the true definition. Heck, a sequel has already been greenlit. No one saw that coming! Budget: $75 million. Domestic Gross: $117.7 million. Worldwide Earnings: $351.7 million. Money in the Bank: $276.7 million.


5We're the Millers


We're the Millers
Tagline: Drug Dealer. Stripper. Runaway. Virgin. Why it Surprised Us: Like Now You See Me, you may be surprised to learn that this comedy was more than just a substantial hit, but the true definition of a blockbuster, earning quite a bit of money past its $37 million budget. It stuck around for a long while, becoming a top ten box office mainstay throughout August and September. No one expected much from this by-the-numbers comedy, and critics weren't impressed. That just goes to show how much Middle America likes watching a spider bite a penis. Some have complained that Jason Sudeikis has not lived up to his post-SNL potential, but having this arrive alongside the hit Horrible Bosses puts Sudeikis at the top of the R rated game (both movies are getting sequels). He clearly has a name, cause it wasn't the concept that sold this home to the masses. People expected a few laughs, but no one expected it to be the biggest money making (not top grossing, those are two different things) comedy of the year. Surprise, surprise.Budget: $37 million. Domestic Gross: $150.3 million. Worldwide Earnings: $269.1 million. Money in the Bank: $232.1 million.


6The Heat


The Heat
Tagline: Action's never been so hot. Why it Surprised Us: Was this a surprise? Really? The surprise here is how quietly this one rose to the top, becoming the #1 comedy of the year, just a few steps in front of We're the Millers (it made less money against its budget, though). We didn't really hear anyone talking about The Heat. It wasn't the water cooler conversation starter that Sandra Bullock had with Gravity. Those who don't pay attention to the box office wouldn't be shamed for thinking this one just came and went without a whimper. I've heard some who just outright thought it bombed. It just wasn't a noisy affair. Director Paul Feig was coming off of Bridesmaids, which had gargantuan word of mouth. It only made $10 million more than The Heat, though, so this certainly can't be considered a disappointing follow-up. The film also has Melissa McCarthy, who proved this year that she can carry a movie on her own. She's not a fluke. The Heat came with all the makings for a nice, pleasant summer comedy. The real surprise here is how quietly it rose to blockbuster status. And yes there will be a sequel...And a spin-off! Budget: $43 million. Domestic Gross: $159.5 million. Worldwide Earnings: $229.9 million. Money in the Bank: $186.9 million.


7Identity Thief


Identity Thief
Tagline: She's having the time of his life.Why it Surprised Us: This is the third biggest comedy of the year behind The Heat and We're the Millers. It proved that Melissa McCarthy could fly on her own, and that Jason Bateman was still a draw, despite some substantial disappointments at the box office in recent years. Still, no one thought it would become the first true breakout hit of 2013, nor did anyone think it would reach blockbuster status. Blame it on a piss poor box office opening for 2013. There was certainly a comedy drought at the beginning of the year, and people wanted to laugh. It also slid in nicely for the hugely disappointing bomb The Hangover Part III. Maybe the biggest deciding factor was Rex Reed's hate filled review which called McCarthy a hippo. The woman is a genuine joy both on and off screen, and people certainly felt the need to rally around her and show their support. Did they add a little heft to those box office receipts? (No pun intended...) Maybe. It's a tough call to make. Despite its overlong running time, people liked it. And a sequel is in the works. Yes, it was a definite surprise to see how big Identity Thief truly became. Budget: $35 million. Domestic Gross: $134 million. Worldwide Earnings: $173 million. Money in the Bank: $138 million.


8Mama


Mama
Tagline: A mother's love is forever. Why it Surprised Us: January is no longer a dumping ground for bad cinematic fare. In recent years, it's become a launching pad for low budget horror and dance movie franchises. Mama doesn't look like anything extraordinary, or out of the ordinary. Its posters and trailers promised the same type of ghostly scares that have become commonplace in the colder months. But Guillermo del Toro must have done something right, as this wasn't the first low budget horror movie to rack up big bucks at the start of the New Year. Texas Chainsaw 3D (granted, a franchise title), had already made $34 million off a $10 million budget a few weeks before. Audiences weren't exactly dying for a horror fix. Maybe its because this title arrived with a bit of esteem. And it was a more mature, dignified outing for the horror connoisseur. Having Jessica Chastain in the cast, as she came out of an Oscar high point in her career didn't hurt either. There was nothing about this movie that screamed blockbuster, but it hit hard and fast, earning a substantial amount past its budget. Mama was one of the big horror wins of 2013. It shouldn't be too long before we get a sequel. Budget: $15 million. Domestic Gross: $71.6 million. Worldwide Earnings: $146 million. Money in the Bank: $131 million.


9Lee Daniels' the Butler


The Butler
Tagline: One quiet voice can ignite a revolution. Why it Surprised Us: Harvey Weinstein used Warner Bros. lawsuit against the movie, which claimed it couldn't carry the title The Butler, to his advantage. How much did that actually help the movie at the box office? We're not sure. Though, no one expected this to show up in late summer, and dominate the final weeks of the season box office. It was the winner week after week, becoming the only other movie besides Gravity to hold down three consecutive #1 weekends. Blame it on a lack of other releases. Maybe. But this wasn't your typical summer fare. It seemed more reserved for Fall's Award season. There, it may have gotten lost in a glut of far superior releases. People were quite literally shocked that this movie had the legs it did. Will it's earlier than expected release date hurt its Oscar chances? Perhaps so. But, so what? It made bank at the box office. Most awards season fodder fails to register in the hundred million market place. A true shocker, indeed. Budget: $30. Domestic Gross: $116 million. Worldwide Earnings: $161. Money in the Bank: $131 million.


10Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa


Bad Grandpa
Tagline: Johnny Knoxville. Why it Surprised Us: The true surprise here is that we didn't even know this movie existed until a few months before its release date. While we'd heard rumors that another Jackass: The Movie was in the works, Johnny did a pretty good job of keeping this one a secret. And it was a true piece of punk rock pop comedy that shocked and pleased its core audience, extending its fingers into quite a few other demographics. It was nice to see old and young alike embrace what he's done here, and the movie became more of a phenomenon than Paramount expected (which has, quite honestly, ruined our chances at getting a sequel simply because of the set-up). Its not a surprise that a Jackass movie made money. It's the way in which it all came together that made us take a step back. Budget: $42 million. Domestic Gross: $110.5 million. Worldwide Earnings: $141.9 million. Money in the Bank: $99.9 million.


11This Is the End


This is the End
Tagline: Ending summer 2013. Why it Surprised Us: At first glance, most thought this was some weird vanity project. And that its stars would choke to death on their own hubris and an avalanche of inside jokes that most of us just wouldn't get, no matter how much of a Hollywood insider we color ourselves to be. The surprise came when this proved to not be the case. The party was an all-inclusive one, and didn't rest solely on the characters being 'celebrities'. It was more about survival amongst a group of friends, and we, shockingly, could relate. It also carried a cute message about being a better person in life. The biggest shock came in the fact that this is one of, if not the funniest comedy of the year. It has big laughs. Huge. They come so fast, and hit so hard, you had to see the movie twice just to catch every perfect line and set up. No one saw that coming, and quite frankly, a great number of 'Apatow' fans thought this group of actors had seen their best days. That obviously wasn't the case, as the movie continues to be a huge hit on the home circuit. Budget: $32 million. Domestic Gross: $101.4 million. Money in the Bank: $93.3 million.


12The Purge


The Purge
Tagline: Survive the night. Why it Surprised Us: This was touted as the surprise of the year. The big shocker. That a movie with a $3 million budget could hit at number one and make nearly $90 million in profits. It's that $3 million that gets us though, as everything above earned back more against its budget. Still, no one expected The Purge to becomes the blockbuster hit that it did. It has a fun, B movie premise, but most critics called it a failure. That didn't stop the kids from flocking to see it. It has a sense of primal urgency swimming around its core, and it harkens back to a glorified era at the Drive-In, delivering true, gaudy summer entertainment the likes of which we don't often see nowadays. And it's had legs ever since its release. It didn't just come in, make a quick buck, and leave. Despite what the reviews may have told us, average moviegoers were enthralled, and now a franchise is launched, with sequels on the way. It is one of the few phenomenons of the year. No one expected that before its release. No one really cared, again, because of that $3 million budget. It could have opened at #4, stayed awake for a weekend, made $7 million and disappeared. Producers would have still been happy. The Purge is the gift that keeps on giving. And it should prove to knock it out of the park when all the receipts are tallied form the home market. The Purge isn't going away any time soon.Budget: $3 million. Domestic Gross: $64.4 million. Worldwide Earnings: $89.3 million. Money in the Bank: $86.3 million.


13Instructions Not Included


Instructions Not Included
Tagline: Life doesn't care if you're ready. Why it Surprised Us: Now this is the true surprise of the year. This little movie came out of nowhere, with no known cast members (at least here in the States), and no promotional push, carrying a slightly bigger budget than The Purge, and it, too, became a phenomena. It seemingly dropped from the sky, has a foreign language soundtrack, and it still managed to be a bigger hit than a lot of the so-called summer tent poles. It only goes to prove that the Latin Market should not be ignored here in the states. Budget: Less than $5 million. Domestic Gross: $44.4 million. Worldwide Earnings: $85.5 million. Money in the Bank: $80 million.

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Comments (7)

  1. RyanMoran

    i knew gravity was going to have big box office but never thought mama would or we are the millers movie look dumb

    9 months agoby @RyanMoranMitaFlag

  2. Bawnian©-Dexeus

    Gravity performed just like Avatar where the word of mouth mostly included "the visuals".

    9 months agoby @bawnian-dexeusFlag

  3. CelluloidDreams

    "World War Z" was over blown crap!! One of the "Worst films of the summer" of 2013!.

    "The Heat" was ok...not that funny...got stale....

    I was very surprised by "Now You See Me"...

    9 months agoby @2movieguysFlag

  4. thedude-abides

    The first three I wouldn't consider surprises; all three I anticipated having significant box office success. The rest I could care less about.

    9 months agoby @thedude-abidesFlag

  5. The Real Goku

    @balanorange oh I know. Just putting in my 2 cents

    9 months agoby @therealGokuFlag

  6. B. Alan Orange

    These aren't favorites, by any means. This is based on box office. Only God Forgives didn't move any money during its theatrical run. Prisoners actually earned $72 million against its $46 million budget. It made money, but it landed beneath Instructions Not Included's $80 million, and we didnt want to blow past 13 entries on the list.

    9 months agoby @balanorangeFlag

  7. The Real Goku

    Gravity was a major bore in my opinion. "Prisoners" and "Only God Forgives" were my favorite of 2013

    9 months agoby @therealGokuFlag