10 of Hollywood’s Most Surprising and Heartening Success Stories

Examining the weekly box office reports can be a depressing business, watching every week as terrible movies top the charts and great ones disappear into the wind. But this summer, as we’ve discussed, things have been a little different. Turkeys like The Lone Ranger and R.I.P.D. have taken deserved belly flops; low-budget efforts like The Purge and The Conjuring were surprise hits. And the news got better this weekend: Woody Allen’s wonderful Blue Jasmine expanded to 50 screens and landed in the top 15 with a robust $40K per-screen average — second only to The Spectacular Now, which earned a healthy $50K on each of its four screens. In this money-driven business, it’s always a relief when the bad movies tank, and the good movies make money. Here’s ten more examples of small movies that earned both the acclaim and the box office they deserved:

District 9

Budget: $30 million
Gross: $210 million worldwide

Thirty mil ain’t exactly chump change, but that’s a pretty low budget for an effects-heavy sci-fi/action flick in the year 2009. Yet co-writer/director Neill Blomkamp (with the help of producer Peter Jackson) managed to make a late-summer popcorn flick on a budget that not only delivered the slam-bang goods, but was loaded with political subtext and food for thought. So in spite of its low-profile marketing and lack of name actors, it became a sleeper hit whose audience went well beyond the typical summer fanboy demo.