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10 Sleeper Hit Movies

Updated on February 2, 2018
Kenna McHugh profile image

I've written, contributed to several books on film. I like to share the insights of the business as best I can for those who appreciate it.

A Sleeper hit is a movie that the film industry didn’t expect to be successful. It ends up a success and playing a relatively long time in the movie theaters. Here are some favorite sleeper hits.

Let's Take a Look

Let’s take a look at some movies that are worth mentioning, renting or streaming. I am talking about movies that were sleeper hits. The "sleeper hit" is a movie that the film industry didn’t expect to be successful. It ends up a success and playing a relatively long time in the movie theaters. Here are some honest to goodness sleeper hits worth viewing.

Though Celebrated at Festivals

Lady Bird is about my hometown. Greta Gerwig's film happens in Sacramento where she grew up and went to High School. Yes, it is very cool to see landmarks from my city in such a poignant film. The story itself is as endearing no matter where you live, be it Los Angeles or Scottsdale because the story hits home. A mother and daughter relationship of push and pull. The teenage girl trying to become who she truly is while contending with the craziness of life in High School.

Though the movie first received accolades at festivals, the industry and public were mowed down by the realistic, heart-pounding, drama of a typical high school girl played brilliantly by Saoirse Ronan.

Lady Bird

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Directed by Ang Lee

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon directed by Ang Lee and earned one million with 44 screens in eight days. The story follows two women, both competent fighters, follow different paths toward a violent and amazing showdown with a blistering end.

District 9

Peter Jackson produced District 9, and its budget was 30 Million. The science fiction movie made its money back and 7 million in the first weekend of its release. The story takes place in South Africa where extraterrestrial refugees have been stuck for 28 years. One man figures out how to tap into their technology, and the government is not too happy about it.

Bring It On

Kirsten Dunst starred in Bring It On when she was a teenager. The movie about cheerleading earned $70 million. The movie is about a very upbeat cheerleader dealing with the politics of cheering her best. The sleeper hit movie has several sequels never matching the original, which is now a Broadway musical.


Emma Stone starred in this movie with Michael Cera and Jonah Hill. Superbad is a teenager movie about getting alcohol as an underage boy and scoring with chicks. Produced by Judd Apatow, he was virtually unknown. Over a summer weekend in 2007, Superbad became a household word and a must see movie.

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine was originally released in seven theaters. The sleeper hit movie took off and generated half a million dollars in its first week, making that a total of 200 million with plenty of Academy Award nominations and wins.

Very Sleeper Hit

Which Movie is Your Favorite Sleeper Hit?

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Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece of helping us keep track of what is going on with Leonard, played by Guy Pearce, as he writes generous notes throughout the movie because of short term memory loss of nano second. The low-budget movie swung into a major movie with more than $25 million box office earnings and two Academy Award nominations. Memento even scored big time in DVD release, selling over a million copies.

Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite is definitely a cult movie with a huge fan base of followers quoting the movie’s snarky dialogue. The story is quirky with small town characters adding to the funning banter. The movie brought in $44.5 million during the summer from a limited release.

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity is a filmmaker’s fairytale. The movie only cost $15, 000 to make. Quickly, it became a super hit with sequels to follow. The movie grossed 100 million. People do walk out of the movie theater before it is over, not because it was a bad movie, because the movie was too scary.

The Blair Witch Project

In 1999, another crazy and low-grade sleeper hit was The Blair Witch Project. The beginning of the movie was good, but it got worse and worse. Still, the public came out in droves, and the simple but scary movie made millions.

I mentally hit myself for paying to see this movie because it was so bad. It just got worse and worse. I am still amazed it made so much money at the box office.

© 2016 Kenna McHugh


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    • Kenna McHugh profile image

      Kenna McHugh 7 weeks ago from Northern California

      Lady Bird is a great movie. Memento is a skillful movie, so like its director. I know, I was surprised by Bring It On as well. I mean, cheerleading?

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 7 weeks ago from Ohio

      I have seen all of these movies except for Lady Bird and Memento. I guess I'll have to watch them also. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed, Bring it On. Cheerleader movies are not my thing, but I watched it with my daughter.