Just about every movie released by Hollywood is made with something of a gamble attached to it. Obviously, some concepts and stories are more bankable than others, but some are only bankable on paper. No one truly knows for sure which movies are guaranteed hits. The box office returns of a movie, successes or otherwise, are usually always a surprise of some kind.
Some movies exceed expectations at the box office, while others end up losing money. This is especially the case for movies expected to be the highest-grossing movies of the year since that’s much harder to predict. Case in point: The highest-grossing movie of 1988, unexpectedly, was Rain Man. And that’s far from the only time that the movie that was the top earner of a given year at the box office in the U.S. was a surprise at the time— and perhaps is even more so now in retrospect.
9 Rain Man Brings Home The Oscars & The Cash In 1988
Rain Man is by far the most successful movie to come out of 1988 on a critical and financial level. Critically, it won four Oscars out of eight nominations, among those wins being Best Actor for star Dustin Hoffman and Best Picture, as well as Best Director for Barry Levinson— father of future Euphoria creator, Sam Levinson.
Financially, it gained $354.8 million off of a $25 million budget. 1988 was packed with other huge hits like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Coming to America, Die Hard, Big, and Rambo III, but Rain Man was the unlikely contender to trump them all.
8 Beverly Hills Cop Disturbs The Peace Of Several Genre Classics In 1984
The fact Eddie Murphy got the top spot isn’t a big shocker. Not when his star was at the height of his fame in 1984. What is surprising is that this movie beat out some stiff competition in the high-concept genre department. Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock were all bigger in scale, budget, and concept than Beverly Hills Cop.
Beverly Hills Cop was able to turn a simple $13 million story of a Detroit cop relocating to Beverly Hills to solve a friend’s murder and turned it into a $235 million juggernaut. It also helps that a wisecracking Eddie Murphy was funny enough to bring people back to the theater for repeat showings.
7 Three Men And A Baby Outplays Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, & Cher In 1987
Eddie Murphy’s star was even bigger in 1987, three years later, when the sequel to Beverly Hills Cop hit theaters. Now, suddenly, after the monumental success of the first movie, betting on Beverly Hills Cop II being the top-grossing movie of the year sounds like an obvious prediction. It came close, though, by being the third highest-grossing movie of the year.
To its credit, Beverly Hills Cop II dealt with even bigger competition than the first movie did. Oscar contenders like Moonstruck, Fatal Attraction, and Good Morning, Vietnam, as well as genre movies like Lethal Weapon and The Witches of Eastwick, fill up that year’s top-grossing movies. Oddly enough, it was the incredibly grounded comedy Three Men and a Baby to get the top spot.
6 Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest Drowns The Competition In 2006
In 2006, it was a rare sight to see more exponentially surpass a sequel financially at the box office and even more rare to see a movie make a billion dollars. But by 2006, after audiences fell in love with Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, they were more than ready to see more of him three years later.
This paved the way for Dead Man’s Chest to make $423 million in the U.S. and an astounding $1,066,179,725 worldwide, which was $411,915,710 more than Curse of the Black Pearl made in 2003. It’s also much more than than the cinematic returns of Superman, James Bond, the X-Men, and Ethan Hunt all made that same year in their respective movies.
5 Kramer Vs. Kramer Holds Court Over Iconic Franchise Debuts & Sequels In 1979
Even before he starred in Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman was known for fronting another unlikely blockbuster. The proof is in the box office returns of 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer. 1979 was a year that The Muppet Movie, Rocky II, The Amityville Horror, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, and even a new James Bond flick in the form of Moonraker came out.
Yet, all it took was the star power of Dustin Hoffman and the rising star of Meryl Streep (in her very first Oscar win) to take home $106 million, more than any other movie that year. Kramer vs. Kramer went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, among four other Oscar wins.
4 The Towering Inferno Burns Brighter Than The Highly-Anticipated Godfather Sequel In 1974
In 1972, The Godfather was rightfully the highest-grossing movie of the year. When the sequel was released two years later in 1974, most people expected that to take the year’s top spot as well, but it merely reached the sixth spot. The list of movies that made more money than The Godfather Part II is a mix of classics and mostly-forgotten releases that includes The Trial of Billy Jack, Earthquake, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and in the top spot, The Towering Inferno.
Pulling triple duty as a disaster movie, an ensemble movie, and the first joint production between two major Hollywood studios (in this case, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.), The Towering Inferno benefitted from an all-star cast bolstered by some of the biggest actors of the ’70s. It just goes to show that what gets people into the theater isn’t always prestige; sometimes, it’s more about the spectacle.
3 Frozen Ices Out Both The Post-Avengers MCU & The Debut Of The DCEU In 2013
Frozen was already considered a surprise hit in its own right by the masses. Even with the trademark Disney stamp attached, nobody expected Frozen to become a $400 million smash success in the U.S., and certainly a one billion dollar phenomenon worldwide that would finally surpass the original Lion King as the highest-grossing animated movie of all time.
The feat Frozen achieved is especially surprising considering the competition it faced from two big comic book juggernauts. A year removed from The Avengers crossing a billion dollars worldwide and solidifying that the superhero movie genre was here to stay, the MCU followed that up with Iron Man 3, while the DCEU officially kicked off with Man of Steel. Both couldn’t surpass Frozen‘s success, despite both even arriving much earlier in the year.
2 Top Gun Flies Past Several Big Name Sequels In 1986
In 1986, just three years removed from his breakout role as Joel Goodson in Risky Business, Tom Cruise was slowly moving his way up the Hollywood ladder, waiting for the right movie to solidify his status as a superstar who was here to stay for a long time. That movie finally arrived in the form of Top Gun, the year’s highest-grossing movie.
1986 had some stiff competition that year, most of which included sequels to big movies. Aliens, The Karate Kid Part II, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home were released that year. Still, it was high octane patriotism and the need for speed that kept audiences coming back to the theater the most.
1 Bad Boys For Life Led A Very Short List Of Theatrical Successes In 2020
Bad Boys for Life grossed $426,505,244 in 2020, higher than any other movie in America that year. In any other year, that wouldn’t even be impressive enough to crack the top 10. Numbers like those wouldn’t have been impressive for any high-profile Hollywood movie in at least a decade. But 2020, obviously, was not any other year.
The conclusion of the Bad Boys trilogy was released that January, months before worldwide lockdowns and theater shutdowns over the novel coronavirus happened in March. Bad Boys for Life had early box office success and because of most movies being postponed until the following year, or in the case of movies like Tenet that suffered from attendance being smaller than expected, this movie “benefitted” from the fruits of tragedy.
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