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The 10 Biggest Box-Office Sleeper Hits of 2013

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | December 22, 2013 | Comments ()


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Now You See Me — $117 million ($350 million worldwide) on an $80 million budget ($270 million in profit) — A quiet hit over the summer, the caper with the mid-level ensemble was targeted at adult audiences, who are often slow to get to the theater, but word-of-mouth and some crowd-pleasing magic kept this humming along in theaters all summer long.

We’re the Millers — $150 million ($269 million worldwide) on a $37 million budget ($232 million in profit) — Released near the end of the summer after the superhero blockbusters faded into the background, Rawson Thurber’s comedy with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis quietly dominated the comedy marketplace for several weeks in August and September and even through October, despite initially being dismissed as the movie where Jennifer Aniston strips.

Mama — $71 million ($146 million worldwide) on a $15 million budget ($131 million in profit) — Mama benefited greatly from Guillermo del Toro’s name attached to the producer, and its international draw allowed it to corner the horror market through most of 2013’s first quarter.

This Is the End — $101 million ($125 million worldwide) on a $32 million budget ($93 million in profit). The Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy (with cameos from half of Hollywood’s comedic actors) got demolished in its opening weekend by Man of Steel ($116 million to $20 million), but despite a small international draw, This is the End coasted along quietly from June until September, then bounced again in the box-office rankings with a re-release that pushed it over $100 million.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa — $100 million ($102 million worldwide) on a $15 million budget ($87 million in profit) — Johnny Knoxville’s super low-budget prank comedy managed to put up $100 million quietly because Jackass movies are the movies we all see but never admit to anyone else.

Warm Bodies — $66 million ($116 million worldwide) on a $35 million budget ($81 million in profit) — Despite very little star-power, the quirky romantic zombie-com hung around theaters for all of February, and despite no real international draw, managed to double its money overseas.

Evil Dead — $54 million ($97 million worldwide) on a $17 million budget ($80 million in profit) — Another low-budget horror movie with no real stars, only a recognizable title, Evil Dead managed to put up solid numbers on a scant budget because it was the rare horror remake that was actually good.

Instructions Not Included — $44 million ($85 million worldwide) on a $5 million budget ($80 million in profit) — The Mexican comedy drama that most of you have never heard of exploited the Hispanic market in the United States, and despite being a Spanish-language film, actually did better in the US than internationally.

Prisoners — $61 million ($118 million worldwide) on a $46 million budget ($72 million in profit) — Like Jake Gyllenhaal quietly successful End of Watch in 2012, Prisoners succeeded thanks to great acting and a strong script that generated solid word of mouth, turning this devastating film into a quiet success.

42 — $95 million (no international release) on a $40 million budget ($55 million in profit) — Studios are often reluctant to release movies these days with no international appeal, and baseball movies are already a hard sell (42 is now the second most successful baseball movie ever at the box office), but the $95 million pull is a testament to solid, earnest storytelling, and the power of the central character in the film, Jackie Robinson.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • BWeaves

    Despite these movies making some money, I was under the impression that most of them were not hits. Also, I tend to think of a sleeper as something that wasn't promoted out the wahzoo. I think of a sleeper as a movie that the audiences discover themselves and make a hit. Most of these don't fall into that category to me.

  • Walt Jr

    Just rented "The Millers" last night. Great comedy. Surprised me, as I'm not an Aniston or a Jason Sudeikis fan.

  • axis2clusterB

    I watched it yesterday, not expecting much because I usually don't like comedies. I was surprised when I laughed so hard I hurt myself, and then made the manpanion watch it with me.

  • Jiffylush

    I love seeing Evil Dead on this list, I am honestly still surprised how good it was. Hopefully with this kind of return we will see more like it.

  • Jim

    I hope Aniston took a percentage - making a nice chunk of change really is the best revenge. (Or perhaps mailing a pair of dollar-store panties to the critics with a card reading "U Lose - Luv Jenn"?)

  • Berry

    With a name like that, I would have expected 42 to be Douglas Adams biopic or something. (And I'm sure I'm the first one EVER to make that joke. Mini-wave in celebration of me!)

  • Maddy

    I want that movie!

  • John W

    42 made almost $100M domestically? That's impressive.

    Mama and Evil Dead were good horror flicks, I'm happy they were successful.

  • Davis

    These aren't sleeper hits some of them are garbage but not sleeper hits they were being heavily promoted with big stars

  • St

    This is not about promotion. This is more like no one expected them to get so much money few weeks/months before release. Who could have thought that Now You See Me would get $117 million. No one. It could have premiered with some 20 millions and then get 45 overall. Thats why its sleeper hit.

    Same with We’re the Millers, Mama, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, even Prisoners. No one expected them to get the money they got.

  • Maddy

    Now You See Me has some solid acting and action, but I think it has the most ridiculous ending I've seen in a movie for ages.

  • St

    The whole movie was ridiculous crap. It made so much money and I thought it was some very good movie. And at first they tried to give reasonable explanation of all those tricks. But then they stopped caring about it and whole movie became some fairytale with no gravity or reality rules.

    Not to mention that ridiculous and stupid ending that was completely unbelievable and made no sense. And just ruined movie for everyone. Not for a second that actor was believable as big bad villain that orchestrated it all.

  • Maddy

    I was worried about spoiling it for people, but I feel like it's such a stupid and unbelievable twist that I almost don't care. I really like Mark Ruffalo but that character is so unbelievably terrible even before they reveal his motivations, and then even dumber after it. I think I audibly groaned in that end scene with Morgan Freeman. I don't have anything against twist endings, but it has to make sense in retrospect and on a second viewing, not just be there to be shocking. I feel like I've spent more energy being frustrated about this than this movie really warrants but there you go.

  • TimeTravelMan

    The worst thing were the magic tricks. They were all CGI and it ruined most of the fun. Also is it really a sleeper hit since it is a big budget movie?

  • Guest

    +1. It was worth it though for Mélanie Laurent.

  • Maddy

    Very true. And Isla Fisher even though she didn't get much to do. Most of this pretty great cast was pretty under-utilised actually

  • Maya

    What does "mid-level ensemble" mean? Didn't that movie star (*checks Wikipedia*) Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and the Cuter, Non-annoying Franco Brother? Seems more than mid-level to me.

  • From a Hollywood bankability perspective, yes a mid-level cast with no one actor who has been able to carry a blockbuster on their own.There's a lot of depth in that group but it is by no means top heavy, actually an excellent casting job to get the best talent for the dollar.

  • Maya

    Good point, wasn't thinking of that. I thought Dustin meant mid-level in a more "no one that great/no Pajiba favorites" way, which struck me as odd.

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