The 16 Biggest Summer Movie Surprises, Both Good And Bad

Iron Man 3, Fast & Furious 6, and Man of Steel were always going to be hits, and no one thought R.I.P.D. was going to do well — but sometimes the summer movie season can truly surprise you.

1. World War Z

Opening weekend: $66.4 million
Total U.S. gross*: $198.9 million
Total global gross*: $526.1 million

Brad Pitt’s globe-trotting zombie thriller was supposed to be an unmitigated disaster. Instead, it was one of the most solid performers of the summer, especially overseas, and the most successful movie that wasn’t a foregone conclusion (i.e., a sequel and/or superhero movie and/or animated family film) so far this year.

2. Now You See Me

Opening weekend: $29.4 million
Total U.S. gross*: $116.5 million
Total global gross*: $293 million

When all the box office receipts are counted, this magician caper will have out grossed the likes of Johnny Depp, Will Smith, and Matt Damon with little more than a great cast and a sleight of hand, mobius-strip plot that makes absolutely no sense.

3. Despicable Me 2

Opening weekend: $83.5 million
Total U.S. gross*: $350.7 million
Total global gross*: $805.8 million

Certainly people expected this sequel to the 2010 animated hit to do well, but this thing is a monster, besting the first Despicable Me by almost $100 million (and counting) in the U.S., and $280 million globally — thanks especially to those need-no-translation Minions, who will be getting their own spin-off movie next year.

4. Blue Jasmine

Opening weekend: $4.3 million (in wide release)
Total U.S. gross*: $14.8 million
Total global gross*: N/A

When Woody Allen’s latest opened in July in six theaters, it averaged a record-setting $102,000 per location, and some of Allen’s best reviews in years (especially for star Cate Blanchett). The film is well on its way to approaching Allen’s best-ever box office, Midnight in Paris’ $56.8 million, and with a much meatier dramatic storyline than the latter film’s fizzy time-traveling escapades. (The road is much longer, however, when adjusting for inflation.)

5. Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Opening weekend: $24.6 million
Total U.S. gross*: $52.3 million
Total global gross*: Not yet released overseas

Only a handful of movies have been No. 1 at the box office two weeks in a row this year — Iron Man 3, Monsters University, Despicable Me 2, Fast & Furious 6 — and now this sprawling historical drama about a long-serving White House butler (Forest Whitaker). Like The Help and Inglourious Basterds, this looks like yet another sleeper August hit that is also set to be a major awards season contender.

6. The Great Gatsby

Opening weekend: $50.1 million
Total U.S. gross*: $144.8 million
Total global gross*: $331 million

Brilliant counter-programming against May’s macho pyrotechnics, this is another potential train wreck that turned out to be the exact opposite. Does this mean we can expect even more over-the-top 3D adaptations of high school lit class standbys? Baz Luhrmann’s To Kill A Mockingbird, perhaps? (I know, I know, I just threw up a little bit in my mouth typing that.)

7. The Heat

Opening weekend: $39.1 million
Total U.S. gross*: $156.4 million
Total global gross*: $205.8 million

Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock’s distaff buddy cop shenanigans produced the best-grossing comedy in the U.S. this year so far, outgrossing the underperforming male doofuses of The Hangover Part III. (A major caveat: Those male doofuses have done much better for themselves overseas, grossing $351 million worldwide — in 22 more territories than The Heat has opened in so far. It’s just one more indication of how much further Hollywood has to go to support female-driven movies.)

8. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain

Opening weekend: $10 million
Total U.S. gross*: $32.2 million
Total global gross*: N/A

Released in no more than 876 theaters, Hart bested his last stand-up concert film, 2011’s Laugh at My Pain, four times over. Only Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor have made more with their solo stand-up films.

9. The Purge

Opening weekend: $34.1 million
Total U.S. gross*: $64.5 million
Total global gross*: $83.7 million

With a $3 million budget, you would have to travel back to the Reagan administration to find a flick this cheap that opened at No. 1 during the summer movie season. (1999’s The Blair Witch Project made major bank, but it never reached that particular milestone.) The horror film didn’t have “legs,” failing to even double its opening domestic gross. But when a movie is this cheap, it’s all gravy.

10. The Conjuring

Opening weekend: $41.9 million
Total U.S. gross*: $131.8 million
Total global gross*: $220.2 million

More of a traditional haunted house tale made for a reported $20 million, this is one is one of the most successful horror movies ever released over the summer — it’s grossed more than any of the Paranormal Activity or Saw movies by a hefty margin.

11. This is the End

Opening weekend: $20.7 million
Total U.S. gross*: $96.7 million
Total global gross*: $113.4 million

Co-writer-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg set themselves a grand comedy experiment: casting Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and the rest of the Apatow gang as (versions of) themselves stuck in the middle of The Apocalypse. It was little more than a blip overseas, but in the U.S., the movie has proven far more successful than likely even they expected it to be. Its reported $32 million budget makes it a sure moneymaker — but is this experiment repeatable, or a one-time-only stunt?

12. Star Trek Into Darkness

Opening weekend: $70.2 million
Total U.S. gross*: $227.4 million
Total global gross*: $458.7 million

The surprise here is that J.J. Abrams’ sequel to 2009’s Star Trek should have done so much better. Instead, it did just OK, coming in around $30 million shy of its predecessor’s total domestic gross, and grossing just 19% more globally, even with higher 3D ticket prices — not nearly the multiple you want to see with a mega-budget sequel to a popular movie. Perhaps it’s just as well that Abrams will almost certainly be too busy with Star Wars: Episode VII to direct the third Trek?

13. After Earth

Opening weekend: $27.5 million
Total U.S. gross*: $60.5 million
Total global gross*: $243.6 million

Its decent overseas box office has kept this joyless sci-fi slog from becoming a legendary Hollywood disaster. But after so many years of making all the right movies, it is mystifying to see Will Smith — who conceived the film’s story, hired M. Night Shyamalan to direct it, and forced his own son to carry almost the entire film — make so many terrible decisions in one movie.

14. The Lone Ranger

Opening weekend: $29.2 million
Total U.S. gross*: $88 million
Total global gross*: $230.4 million

Again, non-Americans are apparently more forgiving of Johnny Depp’s cinematic transgressions here than Americans are, but this is yet another mega-budget write-down for Walt Disney Studios. The surprise here, really, is that everyone involved kept thinking this was a good idea.

15. White House Down

Opening weekend: $24.9 million
Total U.S. gross*: $72.2 million
Total global gross*: $134.3 million

When accounting for budget, gross, and expectations, this is the true, unsalvageable bomb of the summer. Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, and Channing Tatum’s arms were apparently not enough to rescue 2013’s second lone-disgraced-Secret-Service-agent-who-must-rescue-the-president-after-the-White-House-is-taken-over-by-terrorists thriller.

16. Pacific Rim

Opening weekend: $37.3 million
Total U.S. gross*: $99.2 million
Total global gross*: $397.3 million

Guillermo Del Toro’s love letter to giant robots and the giant monsters who fight them to the death was something of a shrug in the U.S. But overseas, it’s become a genuine sensation, grossing nearly $300 million — $100 million from China alone. There was a reason the movie included a Chinese giant robot with three arms.

*All box office figures from Box Office Mojo, as of Aug. 25, 2013. Many films’ total grosses are still ongoing.

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