The Surprise Box Office Hits of 2016

Lots of films struggled at the box office this summer - but 2016 has not been short of surprise box office hits.

Much of the box office analysis of 2016 – especially summer 2016 – has focused on the collection of films that have fallen short of expected revenues. Be they Star Trek Beyond, Ghostbusters, Independence Day: Resurgence, X-Men: Apocalypse, or Ice Age: Collision Course, there’s been no shortage of stories of box office troubles.

But what about the films that have genuinely surprised, and that have found a larger audience than people had been expecting? Turns out that there have been quite a few…

Bad Moms

In a summer where the likes of Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates and Neighbors 2 failed to really take off, Bad Moms has proven to be an R-rated comedy treat. Not helped at first by being sold as from the writers of The Hangover, the resultant movie is actually a smart and very funny piece of work. The cast, led by Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn, are on top form. And Bad Moms is an R-rated comedy that actually delivered. With laughs. 

The reward? Strong box office. The $20 million movie has crossed the $100 million in the US – it’s about to outgross the Independence Day sequel in the States – and has thus far added $40 million elsewhere. Don’t be surprised if there’s talk of a sequel in the months ahead, and Bad Moms has all the signs of being a bigger hit still on home formats.

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Lights Out

The Conjuring 2 gave James Wan another solid horror hit ($319 million worldwide), but he also smartly backed the extension of David F. Sandberg’s hugely impressive short film into a feature. Lights Out was the end result.

Running to a lean 81 minutes, Lights Out has little fuss about what it’s doing, and generates some good jumpy scares by the time the ride is over. There’s a tinge of The Babadook to it too, and Sandberg’s feature found its audience.

The film has so far generated $65 million of business in the States, and $70 million elsewhere, for a running total of (gets calculator out) $135 million. The production budget? Under $5 million. It might not score high on the list of the biggest grossing films of the year, but Lights Out may turn out to be one of the most profitable, even once distribution costs and marketing have been factored in. A sequel has already been greenlit.

Me Before You

While many of us were off trying to find blockbuster movies we liked, Me Before You quietly became a decent hit for Warner Bros. The drama starred Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, and again, this was a modestly priced movie, costing $20 million for the film itself. Based on the novel by Jojo Moyes (and Moyes also adapted the book herself for the screen) and directed by Thea Sharrock (making her feature directorial debut), Me Before You took in a decent $56 million in the US. But outside, it found a bigger audience, with good takings in Brazil, Germany, the UK, Mexico, and Australia.

As such, Me Before You has crept – almost without anybody noticing – to a few coins shy of $200 million at the worldwide box office. 

Monster Hunt

You want proof of the growing importance of Chinese box office takings to movie studios? That the next two films should provide it. First up is Monster Hunt, a film that was released in January, and yet has only been released in a few countries in Europe, and certainly hasn’t had a proper US release, taking $32,766 in America.

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Yet Monster Hunt, a mix of action, comedy, and fantasy from director Raman Hui, has thus far outgrossed Independence Day: Resurgence, Now You See Me 2, Alice Through The Looking Glass, Star Trek Beyond, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, and The BFG.

It has taken $385 million at the global box office. And $381 million of that has come from Chinese cinemas.

The Mermaid

In China, there was little doubt that The Mermaid was going to be a big hit – although few predicted it would earn as much as it had. It’s the latest film from the brilliant Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle), and his mix of romance, comedy, fantasy and an assassination story is currently the ninth biggest film of the year worldwide. X-Men: Apocalypse? Kung Fu Panda 3? Jason Bourne? They all trail it.

And it’s a similar story to Monster Hunt. The Mermaid has grossed just $3.2 million in America. It even picked up £173,000 in the UK. But in China? After an opening weekend of $120 million, it’s gone on to earn $526 million there. Add in The Mermaid’s takings outside of China, and the movie has grossed $553 million. A very profitable hit, and the reason why more Hollywood blockbusters than ever are trying to add in scenes filmed in China… (purely because the story demands it. Ahem).

10 Cloverfield Lane

We can surely count the box office result of 10 Cloverfield Lane – one of the best mainstream studio films of the year for our money – as a surprise. Primarily because come the start of the year, it sort of didn’t exist. Filmed under a different name, it was announced by Paramount courtesy of a launch trailer in January, and then landed in cinemas in March. The incoming Blair Witch sequel – filmed as The Woods – is employing a similar tactic.

It certainly worked here. A modestly-priced production, 10 Cloverfield Lane went on to take $108 million worldwide – with most of that coming in the US – and ensured that further Cloverfield projects are on their way. Keep a good eye on director Dan Trachtenberg too: he’s a breakout star as far as we’re concerned.

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The biggest box office surprise of the year? Quite possibly. When Deadpool roared to a staggering $132 million opening weekend in the US, in the supposedly off-peak February season, all signs were that Hollywood was going to have a cash-rich summer. And even without a lucractive Chinese release, the X-Men spin-off earned $782 million at the global box office. Not bad for a movie that Fox wasn’t sure would hit, and that only cost $55-60 million to actually make. The far more expensive, and significantly less impressive, X-Men: Apocalypse would fall nearly $300 million short of that total.

Deadpool’s success, though, has been very much exception over rule. Only one other comic book movie this year has united critical and commercial success in such a way, and also left us at the end of a post credits sting thinking we’d like to see what comes next. Expect more R-rated comic book movies – starting with The Wolverine 3 – as a consequence of Deadpool‘s success.

The Legend Of Tarzan

Just wanted to throw this one in, as it’s the kind of film that’s being labelled as something close to a flop. David Yates’ movie certainly didn’t set the box office tills into overdrive, but we’d argue it still eked out a little more money than many predicted. Costly to make (around $180 million), The Legend Of Tarzan still brought in $125 million in the US, and another $228 million outside of the US. There may be a little red ink now – that total comes in at $354 million – but this is a project that Warner Bros. will eventually see some (not much) profit from.

Don’t Breathe

Horror was the genre to back this summer, and Sony overcome the disappointing box office gross of its Ghostbusters reboot with a couple of profitable titles in the genre. The $10 million Don’t Breathe led the US box office throughout late summer, and ahead of its international roll-out, it already has $54 million in the bank from American cinemas.

Sony took similar money in the States for the $17 million shark horror The Shallows, and another $44 million elsewhere brought the studio in a useful $98 million. Both films earned solid reviews, kept the their runtimes in and around the 90 minute mark, and comfortably found their audience.

Sausage Party

In fact, it’s worth rounding off by talking about a third low budget Sony hit, that landed towards the end of the summer, which brought in $89 million in the US already. Costing just short of $20 million to make, the Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg-penned animated comedy currently has $103 million to its name when early international takings are factored in, with a little more to come (its international rollout is in its relative infancy).

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It’s a fanciful hope, but might the success of some of these steer Hollywood studios back towards mid-budget filmmaking, and slightly more ambitious projects? Or will it be expensive blockbusters, economic R-rated comedies, and cheap-to-make horrors? We know what the answer’s likely to be. But hopefully, there’s encouragement within this batch to roll the dice just a little more…

This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.