All These Movies Turned Out Way Better Than Expected

It’s always exciting when a movie with a ton of buzz behind it — like Guardians of the Galaxy or Interstellar — turns out to be as good or better than expected. Going into a movie with low expectations though, and leaving with a new all-time favorite is an even better surprise. There are films every year that most people haven’t seen or heard of, but are lauded with praise and awards — those are called “Best Picture” nominees.

But some movies manage to defy expectations and become both financially successful and audience favorites with limited budget and promotion. Here are ten movies that turned out to be way better than anyone ever expected.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

I don’t think anyone in 1993 was excited when they heard that the white guy from In Living Color was going to star in a movie about a pet detective. Yes, he was funny as Fire Marshall Bill, but even 12-year-old me knew this guy wasn’t meant to carry a movie. How wrong we all were. Not only did it end up becoming the most successful comedy of the summer and have critics around the world professing their hatred of it, but it pushed Jim Carrey into the elusive $20 million pay check bracket a year later. It’s without a doubt the only time a movie that involved a man talking with his ass achieved such epic success. Budget $15 Million, Box Office $107 million.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

Kal Pen and John Cho might not have racked in Ace Ventura money with their story of two stoners in search of those “White Castle burgers with those little, itty-bitty grilled onions that just explode in your mouth like flavor crystals” but the movie still made a respectable profit. Considering the amount of bad comedies that come out every year, there’s no reason that this film shouldn’t have gone straight to video and been left abandoned in the back of Blockbuster store. Yet it persevered, and through the power of Neil Patrick Harris and DVD sales, went on to spawn two sequels and a now-in-production animated series. Budget $9 million, Box Office $23 million.


Outside of Sylvester Stallone’s inner circle and the greater Philadelphia area, nobody expected much of the movie Rocky. Mostly because they hadn’t heard of it. The film was shot in just 28 days and didn’t exactly get a ton of promotion, but none of that stopped audiences from pouring in to see the rags to riches story of Rocky Balboa. The film of course went on to become the biggest film of 1976, sweep the Oscars, and usher Rocky back into the ring five more times. Budget $1 million, Box Office $225 million.

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire essentially was the Rocky of 2008. The film had Danny Boyle at the helm, but it was about a poor kid on a game show and not a movie about sprinting zombies “umm, who wants to see that?!” The movie had no recognizable stars, but reeled in audiences around the world with its feel-good story, and cleaned up at every awards show. I’m pretty sure the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards are the only awards show that it wasn’t included in that year. Budget $15 million, Box Office $378 million.


Not only is Saw one of the most successful horror franchises, but it’s one of the most commercially successful movies period. The movie didn’t receive much promotion — I think I remember seeing one or two posters for it and that was it — but steamrolled through the box office on word of mouth. There was really nothing like that first film at the time, and while its torture has become a bit redundant with all the sequels and copycats, the original was horror smash most audiences didn’t see coming. Budget $1.2 million, Box Office $103 million.

Mean Girls

SNL movies typically seem to be the scourge of the box office, critics hate them and ticket-buying audiences seem to dislike them only somewhat less. Mean Girls wasn’t the typical SNL movie, though. Yes it was written by Tina Fey, had Tim Meadows, and was produced by Lorne Michaels, but it wasn’t a 4-minute sketch drawn out to 90 minutes of retread jokes. There was also post-Freaky Friday, but pre-dear-God-what-is-wrong-with-her Lindsay Lohan. The movie’s box office intake is nothing to scoff at, but the real testament to the movie’s success is that 10 years later the internet is still using the movie’s quotes and GIFs. Budget $17 million, Box Office $129 million.

10 Things I Hate About You

There’s no reason this movie should have been as good as it turned out to be. It seemed like there was a new teen comedy/horror movie coming out every week in the late 90s and most of them were straight up terrible. Yet somehow this one wasn’t. It’s not a flawless movie by any means, but I’ll be damned if I’m not drawn in for at least 10 minutes or so by that dreamy Heath Ledger when I come across it channel surfing. Budget $17 Million, Box Office $53 million.


I don’t think most people expected Zombieland to be bad, but I also don’t think they expected it to be as enjoyable as it is. Woody Harrelson is fine actor and plays great in comedies, but he was really the only one carrying the movie from a star power perspective. Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, and Abigail Breslin were still all up-and-comers and Bill Murray’s cameo was kept a secret until the film’s release. Add in that the movie was following on the heels of another zom-com hit, Shaun of the Dead, and Zombieland didn’t exactly have the strongest hand. The movie proved to be an incredibly successful and fun film, providing both scares and laughs, and of course a sequel that’s on the way. Budget $23 million, Box Office $102 million.

Super Troopers

Like Dazed and Confused and Harold and Kumar, Super Troopers did decent at the box office, but really waited until the video release to unleash its full power. The movie was made by struggling actors who scrapped what money they could to put the film together before securing distribution cash with Fox Searchlight. The movie could have easily become a forgettable stoner comedy, but instead went on to become a cult classic. And little known fact that I just made up, syrup manufactures reported a surge in sales after the film’s release. Budget $1 million, Box Office $23 million.

Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite is the most commercially successful comedy of all time — and it has no cursing and was written by Mormons. Nobody in Hollywood saw that coming. The film of course went on to spawn an animated series and provide enough “Vote for Pedro” merch to take up an entire wall of Spencer’s Gifts. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen Napoleon Dynamite, but I remember going into it not expecting much and leaving the theater spouting “gosh” and “Tina, you fat lard” like everyone else. Budget $400k, Box Office $46 million.

This of course just a sampling of films that turned out better than expected. Which did we miss? Which movies surprised you and were more enjoyable than expected?