Several major conventional box-office rules were challenged this year, surprising critics and moviegoers alike. Join Wonderwall.com as we take a look at some of the most unexpected movie hits and misses of 2017. Let's start with one of the more successful surprises — Jordan Peele's "Get Out," the film about a black man whose first meeting with his white girlfriend's parents turns into a disturbing nightmare. After its theatrical release in February, everyone was talking about the movie and praising it for its social satire. The critically acclaimed film, which is impossible to categorize, has a 99 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and brought in $253 million at the worldwide box office, despite only having a production budget of $4.5 million. That sure silenced the myth that black films don't travel.
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"It" shattered box-office records this year with a $123 million debut, putting it at the top of the list for both September and fall releases. The film, an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, follows a group of outcasts as they're tormented by a shapeshifting demon that can turn into a murderous clown. "It" had a production budget of $35 million and quickly outperformed even optimistic projections. Thanks to the genius marketing strategies behind the thriller, it's currently grossed more than $683 million, proving that just because a film is released in September or is an R-rated scary movie, it doesn't necessarily mean it won't win big.
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There's no doubt "Wonder Woman" starring Gal Gadot was a highly anticipated movie, but no one expected it to break the glass ceiling with such a forceful blow when it premiered in May. The Patty Jenkins-directed movie about Diana of Themyscira leaving her sheltered island paradise to fight alongside man with the hope of ending all wars smashed a lot of records. It had the best opening ever for a female director, raking in more than $103 million domestically (Sorry, "Fifty Shades of Grey"). It also tops the domestic list for best showing for both superhero origin films and World War I films. Anyone who still thinks audiences wouldn't want to see a female-driven superhero story can just look at the film's current worldwide gross of almost $822 million off a $149 million production budget and shut it.
"Logan" was another box-office winner that overturned conventional wisdom about superhero films. The first R-rated Wolverine feature starring Hugh Jackman completely embraced its MPAA rating in one of the bloodiest and darkest "X-Men" franchise movies yet. Despite the idea that R-rated superhero movies won't be successful because they exclude a huge part of the audience, including kids, the move paid off. "Logan" had an amazing opening weekend with an $88 million debut, which is the biggest R-rated opening in March (ever). Its gross of more than $616 million worldwide on a $97 production budget made "Logan" the highest grossing Wolverine movie and the second-highest grossing R-rated comic book adaptation, right after "Deadpool."
Despite having Christopher Nolan's name tied to "Dunkirk," tracking numbers suggested the World War II epic would open at about $35 to $40 million, a decade-low for the director. The biggest risk was that the film would be released in July, when popcorn season tends to be dominated by hyped-up blockbusters, not quite artful pictures predicted to be Oscar favorites. Despite the unusual strategy, "Dunkirk," which had a $100 million production budget, raked in a whopping $50 million during opening weekend alone. It has grossed almost $525 million worldwide so far, with almost $337 million from foreign box office. Hollywood, it's time to rethink your calendars.
"Girls Trip" killed it at the box office, knocking through all the hurdles in its way. Nothing could trip it up — not the fact that R-rated comedies haven't been doing so hot lately, and certainly not the myth that movies starring black women aren't funny or relatable to people of all backgrounds. The comedy's immediate success shouldn't have been a shocker, but it still was to critics nationwide. "Girls Trip" (starring Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and Queen Latifah) ended up overturning debut estimates by earning more than $30 million in its opening weekend (the best opening for an R-rated comedy in two years) and scoring amazing reviews. The film, which follows four best friends on a wild adventure in New Orleans, was also the first movie produced, written and starring African Americans to crack the $100 million mark. With a production budget of only $19 million, "Girls Trip" grossed $137 million worldwide. How's that for universal appeal?
It has been an impressive year for horror films, even from the beginning. "Split," which was released theatrically in the U.S. in January but premiered at the Fantastic Fest in September 2016, surpassed various box-office expectations. Analysts had projected an opening gross in the high teens to low-$20 million range, but the psychological thriller starring James McAvoy ended up grossing $40 million that weekend. "Split," which is about a man with at least 23 different personalities who abducts and keeps three teenage girls in his basement, showed that director M. Night Shyamalan is back to stay (fingers crossed, just to be safe). The film raked in $278 million worldwide on an estimated $9 million production budget and also became the fifth-highest grossing January release ever.
Described by critics as a "sleeper hit," Edgar Wright's latest film is now his highest grossing one. Despite ignoring established Hollywood blockbuster rules, "Baby Driver" (starring Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Lily James and more) opened in the highly competitive month of June on a Wednesday and banked $29.5 million over its first five days. The thrilling heist movie with a killer soundtrack topped the director's previous highest grossing film, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," after just six days. "Baby Driver" zoomed through the ranks with a $34 million budget and has now grossed almost $227 million, largely thanks to positive reviews from critics and the power of word-of-mouth buzz that pushed this original film ahead of many other tentpole movies with bigger budgets.
"The Big Sick"
Word-of-mouth success and original stories are also what made "The Big Sick" the most successful indie film of the year. The Judd Apatow-produced rom-com, written by Emily V. Gordon and husband Kumail Nanjiani (the "Silicon Valley" actor also starred), is loosely based on their own lives and love story. It's a relatively quiet film compared to the blockbuster $100 million-plus franchise movies of the summer, but it's grossed more than $53 million. And did we mention that its production budget was only about $5 million? Yeah, that low! Amazon even bought the North American rights for $12 million. Hollywood, take note: People are craving genuine stories.
And now for the surprise flops: "Mother!," which stars the magnetic Jennifer Lawrence, received mixed but mostly positive reviews at film festivals. But when the psychological horror flick directed by Darren Aronofsky opened in September, it deeply polarized real audiences across the country. The film, about a couple's relationship and tranquil existence being tested when uninvited guests show up at their home, pushes viewers to limits most movies don't dare cross. CinemaScore gave "Mother!" an F and Rotten Tomatoes reviews landed it at 69 percent fresh. The film debuted in third place on its opening weekend, only pulling in $7.5 million from more than 2,000 theaters, which is an all-time low for a J.Law-starring wide release. With a production budget of $30 million, not including marketing and distribution fees, "Mother!" has brought in only $44 million worldwide so far.
On paper, "Rock Dog" seemed like it could be a hit. It had an estimated $60 million production budget and aimed to appeal to both Chinese and American viewers. Ash Brannon, who co-directed "Toy Story 2," was at the helm, and the film featured notable voice talent such as Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black and Kenan Thompson. But the animated film failed to speak to audiences in either China or America, grossing only $9 million. Yeah, that one hurt.
"King Arthur: Legend of the Sword"
Early on, "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" was envisioned as the first of six films in a shared universe franchise, but after several huge behind-the-scenes changes and Warner Bros. pushing back the release date several times, the medieval action film directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Charlie Hunnam failed to turn the classic fable into anything close to legendary. The big-budget movie (which had an estimated $175 million production budget and a $100 million marketing budget) bombed at the box office. Critics slammed its disastrous storytelling (it got a shockingly low 29 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and "King Arthur" grossed less than $149 million worldwide (the domestic number was closer to the tune of $39 million). Maybe releasing a film that largely ignores women's stories on Mother's Day wasn't such a good idea.
"Blade Runner 2049"
"Blade Runner 2049" picks up 30 years after the events of Ridley Scott's beloved science-fiction game-changer, but the latest film didn't manage to sustain the hype. The sequel had a ton of critical praise, starred big-name actors like Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford and had a huge production budget of $150 million. It was projected to pull in a solid $50 million during its opening weekend but ended up earning less than $33 million. "Blade Runner 2049," which spans almost three hours and can be elusive to those who aren't familiar with the original film, has grossed almost $249 million worldwide (and only $88 million of the total was domestic).
"Ghost in the Shell"
Another big-budget film, "Ghost in the Shell," failed to understand the original content it was adapting and effectively failed its audience. With a $110 million production budget, the film earned less than $19 million on opening weekend, even though modest predictions pinned it at a minimum of $30 million. Based on an adaptation of a popular Japanese manga, "Ghost in the Shell" was mired in another whitewashing controversy after it was announced that Scarlett Johansson would be playing Major Motoko Kusanagi. Most of the worldwide gross of almost $170 million was foreign, with only $40.5 million coming from domestic box-office sales.
The box-office numbers for "Baywatch" are a surprise for two reasons. First, the adaptation of the '90s TV series was expected to be a summer hit, with Seth Gordon at the helm and Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron taking on major roles. It was also expected to bring in $40 to $45 million during its opening weekend. But the R-rated action-comedy flick belly-flopped, debuting to only $18.5 million and terrible reviews. But possibly even more surprising was the fact that the film, which had a $69 million production budget, was carried by its international audience across the $100 million line. Foreign box office alone brought in almost $120 million, which speaks to the popularity of the TV show (and The Rock) overseas.
If you need more proof that American audiences aren't buying nostalgia grabs just because they're revivals, look no further than "The Mummy," which was meant to be a summer hit starring Tom Cruise and the launchpad for Universal Studios' "Dark Universe" monster-movies franchise. The film cost a whopping $125 million to make and only earned $80 million at the domestic box office — plus it has a mere 16 percent fresh rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes. But, like "Baywatch," the film's international audience surprised everyone, bringing in a whopping $329 million.
The late Kirk Kerkorian's intention was never to make money from his big-budget drama about the Armenian genocide during World War I, only to educate. The philanthropist and former film studio owner invested almost $100 million in "The Promise" (which starred Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale), with all proceeds from the theatrical release to be donated to human rights organizations. Still, the film's flop hurts. Genocide deniers flooded review sites in an attempt to silence the film's message after it was released in the U.S. in April, rendering "The Promise" (which grossed only $8 million domestically) anything but promising.