Top 10 Sleeper Hits

Script written by Tiffany Ezuma. Hollywood often blows millions of dollars advertising their films – but not in the cases of these movies. In this video, WatchMojo.com counts down our picks for the top 10 sleeper hits. A sleeper hit is a movie that didn’t have a huge opening, or one that was either not promoted much or promoted very subtly by its studio with sneak previews and that sort of thing, and that went on to have huge mainstream success. These are not to be confused with cult hits, which also gain huge followings but are more underground successes. Special thanks to our users mcapack, Mattyhull1 and clarky2140 for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Tiffany Ezuma.

Top 10 Sleeper Hits


Hollywood often blows millions of dollars advertising their films – but not in the cases of these movies. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 sleeper hits.

A sleeper hit is a movie that didn’t have a huge opening, or one that was either not promoted much or promoted very subtly by its studio with sneak previews and that sort of thing, and that went on to have huge mainstream success. These are not to be confused with cult hits, which also gain huge followings but are more underground successes.

#10: “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)

Now considered a hallmark of horror films, this zombie flick defied the odds of its $114,000 budget to gross over $30 million. Some critics pan it for its violence; but George A. Romero’s movie broke ground by casting the first African-American man in the lead role of a horror movie. It also led to the creation of five sequels, and paved the way for other modern horror classics, like John Carpenter’s “Halloween.”

#9: “Easy Rider” (1969)

A quintessential film of the 1960s, “Easy Rider” defined the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll generation and the counterculture of the era. Made on a budget of $360,000, this film is a love-letter to America, as its sees its protagonists take a motorcycle trip along the West Coast. Bringing in over $41 million and becoming one of the year’s highest grossing movies, “Easy Rider”’s success skyrocketed Jack Nicholson to fame and ushered in the New Hollywood movement.

#8: “Juno” (2007)

Before teen pregnancy was en vogue thanks to MTV, there was this indie darling. “Juno” reeled in audiences with its story about an articulate teenager’s unplanned pregnancy, making the serious topic both hilarious and heart-warming. This surprise hit even received four Oscar nods, and won for Best Original Screenplay. It earned its $6.5 million budget back only twenty days after its release, and confirm Michael Cera and Ellen Page as breakout stars.

#7: “Rocky” (1976)

In the movie, Rocky was the major underdog, so it’s fitting that the film had the same issues. But like its titular character, this million-dollar film proved itself by making $225 million worldwide, winning Best Picture at the Oscars and being preserved by the National Film Registry for its influence on American culture. And, in honor of one of the film’s key moments, “Rocky” has also been memorialized on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

#6: “Mad Max” (1979)

A seemingly simple plot and newcomer, Mel Gibson, combined to make movie history with this Australian dystopian action flick. “Mad Max” is a road movie that tells the story of a man who’s out to restore law and order after a motorcycle gang wreaks havoc in the Outback. This little film cost only $400,000 Australian dollars to produce, but it made over $99 million, spawned two sequels and a reboot over 35 years after its release.

#5: “Saw” (2004)

Seen as just another gross-out horror movie, “Saw” tells the story of two men chained in a bathroom who must follow the instructions of a recording in order to escape. The small movie was shot in only 18 days on a budget of $1.2 million but it went on to earn $103 million at the worldwide box-office and it produced a multi-film franchise. And just think, this flick almost wasn’t made after the writers couldn’t get financing in their native Australia.

#4: “The Blair Witch Project” (1999)

Shaky cameras and next-to-no plot doesn’t sound like it’d create a box-office hit, but stranger things have happened. Told by the found footage of the victims of a supernatural disappearance, “The Blair Witch Project” proved to be both terrifying and profitable. The movie owes its success to its low-budget advertising campaign, which saw the filmmakers launch a website claiming that the story was based on true events.

#3: “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002)

A romantic comedy not starring an A-list celebrity doesn’t sound like a surefire box-office hit, but this indie defied the odds. Centered on a Greek woman’s relationship with a W.A.S.P., this Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson-produced comedy stayed in theaters for nearly a year despite the fact it was never number one at the U.S. box-office. It also made history as the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time. You can thank the Windex.

#2: “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004)

A dark horse for sure, “Napoleon Dynamite” seemed to be just another random release from MTV. But after word-of-mouth reviews, it became a cultural phenomenon with many of its phrases becoming art of teenage slang. Its a miniscule budget of $400,000 when compared to the whopping $46 million it eventually made seems like peanuts. And in fact, star John Heder was only paid $1,000 for his performance, but that was later readjusted after the film’s success.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Super Size Me” (2004)
- “El Mariachi” (1992)
- “Deep Throat” (1972)
- “District 9” (2009)
- “Memento” (2000)

#1: “Paranormal Activity” (2007)

If ever there was a “little engine that could” of movies, this one is it. Made on a budget of $15,000, “Paranormal Activity” originally looked like a knock-off of “The Blair Witch Project” with its found footage and documentary-style interviews telling the story of couple in a haunted house. But even so, the first film raked in $193 million and spawned a mega-popular franchise.

Do you agree with our list? Which movie was your favorite slow-burning hit? For more can’t miss Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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