Since the dawn of the internet, it has become almost impossible to go into a movie theatre and be truly surprised. Even months before the release of a movie, candids from the set give the viewers a taste of what’s to come. To add to this, several versions of posters, television spots and sneak peeks tell audiences more about the film than they did before.

Because of this influx of information, it no longer takes an industry insider to predict the success of a movie. However, some movies still manage to surprise everyone with their performances. There has definitely been a rise in the number of these "sleeper hits" in the last decade. Here are some of the films that surprised everyone by how well they did – both critically and commercially:

The Lion King

The fact that The Lion King was never expected to be a hit might seem baffling. However, at the time of its release, the movie was expected to be anything but a hit. In fact, many animators turned down the chance to work on the film and chose to focus on Pocahontas instead. This was because interest in animating animals was low at the time. This was further demonstrated by Brenda Chapman’s reluctance in accepting the job, as she said the story wasn’t very good.

However, The Lion King proved everyone wrong by garnering critical acclaim upon release. In fact, the film nabbed two Academy Awards! The movie was also a commercial success, and is the 19th highest grossing movie of all time. Since its original theatrical run, it has also been rereleased in 3D and IMAX formats. The film has also spawned a number of sequels, stage adaptations and spin-offs. 

Today, The Lion King is probably one of the most well-known films in the world and considered to be the original sleeper hit.


Though Juno is now a cult hit, it was initially just a buzzed-about script. Much of this buzz stemmed from the fact that the script was penned by Diablo Cody, a former stripper. However, the hype quickly died down, making distributors believe that the film wouldn’t do very well.

It came as a surprise when Juno, which had a limited release, quickly became the first Fox Searchlight film to cross the $100 million mark. In addition to this, the movie also garnered critical acclaim. In fact, it was nominated for four Academy Awards. Moreover, Juno was the highest-grossing Best Picture nominee at the 80th Academy Awards.

Thanks to all this recognition (and more), Juno cemented its place in pop culture.

Donnie Darko


Donnie Darko was never expected to be a smash at the box office. In fact, its release was limited to just 58 theatres in the United States. The opening weekend sales of the film were also disappointing. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t do very well at the box-office in the long run either. In its entire theatrical run, the movie barely managed to recover its budget.

Though the movie never became a commercial success, Donnie Darko became an instant cult hit. It was screened at New York’s Pioneer Theatre for 28 consecutive months. The movie was also a critical success, with the director’s cut gaining special recognition and acclaim. The film took home many awards and became a hit at the festival circuit in 2001.

Napoleon Dynamite

Even the production of Napoleon Dynamite was a measly affair. The actors, including Jon Heder, were only paid $1,000 for being a part of the film! After the movie was shot, it was edited on the cinematographer’s laptop in her basement! 

However, the film did surprisingly well upon release. Though it only had a budget of $400,000, Napoleon Dynamite went on to earn $46 million. Apart from the impressive box-office earnings, the film also earned a huge chunk through merchandise. The "Vote for Pedro" shirts, in particular, became huge hits.

Napoleon Dynamite has since spawned a short-lived television adaptation. The film has also become a cult hit and a staple on "best of" lists everywhere!

Slumdog Millionaire


No one expected a film about a game show with an Indian cast to do well at the global box office. However, Slumdog Millionaire surprised everyone with its performance. The movie, which was a critical and commercial smash, was filmed on a modest budget of $15 million. However, the film earned over $377,910,544 at the box office, surpassing all expectations.

To add to this, the movie was a critical success as well. It won accolades and became a permanent fixture on "must watch" lists in 2009. Slumdog Millionaire was also nominated for ten Academy Awards, eight of which it won. This made it the eighth film to ever take home as many Oscars. 

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