Best of 2014: Biggest Box Office Surprises

Gone_Girl_Maleficent_Guardians_of_the_Galaxy - H 2014

Gone_Girl_Maleficent_Guardians_of_the_Galaxy - H 2014

'Guardians' is a galactic hit and 'Maleficent' casts a spell

There was plenty of drama at the box office this year, from some tight races to a few dramatic disappointments (Transcendence, anyone?). Along the way, there were some major surprises, as a handful of films exceeded expectations to become box office smashes.

Here, The Hollywood Reporter looks back at the top 10 box office surprises of 2014:

New Line's low-budget horror movie (made for $6.5 million) shattered expectations when it raked in a $37.1 million domestic debut, beating any other horror film's debut this year. The film about a possessed doll went on to do stellar business in foreign markets, especially Mexico, where it had a record-breaking $11.7 million launch and went on to earn $18.9 million. The film also did strong numbers in Brazil ($16.3 million) and the UK ($12 million). The Conjuring spinoff has earned an outstanding $252.7 million worldwide, reaping tens of millions in profits for New Line and parent studio Warner Bros.

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Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn
's dark and twisted book Gone Girl was extremely popular, but the David Fincher-helmed film far exceeded expectations. The Fox film remained in the top 10 for 10 straight weeks in the U.S., earning $166.1 million to date. Worldwide, it has grossed $356.5 million, making it the No. 19 film of the year. The $61 million drama, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, is Fincher's top grossing film and led the way to a new record for the domestic box office for the month of October.

Guardians of the Galaxy
A movie about a tree and a talking raccoon? Even with hit-making studio Marvel behind Guardians of the Galaxy, many insiders wondered if an adaptation of the relatively obscure comic book could work. But James Gunn was able to make a funny, charismatic space opera that raked in a huge $332.9 million in the U.S. The film also built Parks and Recreation star Chris Pratt into a full-fledged movie star and launched a new franchise for Marvel and Disney (a sequel is slated for May 5, 2017). With a worldwide gross of $772.5 million, Guardians, made for $170 million, is the second biggest film of 2014 after Transformers.

Heaven is for Real
Faith-based film Heaven Is for Real soared at the Easter weekend box office, earning a stellar $22.5 million to bury big-budget sci-fi epic Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp. The faith-based TriStar film, made for a lean $12 million, has earned $101.3 million worldwide. It's not the only faith-based film to flourish this year: God's Not Dead ($62.6 million) and Son of God ($67.8 million) both exceeded expectations as well.

The Lego Movie
There was a time when February was a dumping ground for weak films, but The Lego Movie proved that the right film can work in that window. The surprise animated hit opened to $69 million domestically for the second-highest February opening ever, and held onto the No. 1 spot for four consecutive weeks. The $60 million family film, which earned an awesome $468.1 million worldwide, also launched a new franchise for Warner Bros., which has several sequels and spinoffs in the works.

No one expected a female-led action film to out-muscle a big-budget epic starring Dwayne Johnson. But that's just what happened when Luc Besson’s sci-fi action thriller Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson, beat epic Hercules for the No. 1 spot when it opened in July. The Universal movie had a stellar $43.9 million debut and went on to earn $458.9 million worldwide, a stunning number for a movie costing $40 million. The film, which attracted both male and female moviegoers evenly, was a big win for Universal and EuropaCorp., and proved Johansson's box office power.

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Angelina Jolie
's dark take on the iconic villainous role cast a spell over moviegoers to top the domestic box office in May with a debut of $69.4 million, easily taking the No. 1 spot ahead of holdover X-Men: Days of Future Past, which took in $32.6 million. Disney's film, made for $180 million, also enchanted foreign markets, with Jolie's star power pulling in big audiences in China, Mexico, Russia, Japan and Brazil especially. The film has earn a stunning $757.8 million worldwide to become Jolie's highest grossing live-action film, and the third highest-grossing film of 2014.

Universal's Neighbors exceeded all expectations when it laughed its way to a $49 million domestic debut over Mother's Day weekend — the No. 4 three-day opening of all time for an R-rated comedy. Starring Zac Efron and Seth Rogen as feuding neighbors, the $18 million comedy went on to earn $268.2 million worldwide and is one of the most profitable films of the year.

Ride Along
Kevin Hart
and Ice Cube delivered an unexpected box office smash for Universal when Ride Along hit theaters in January. The $25 million comedy topped the domestic box office for three straight weekends, a rare feat mostly accomplished by big tentpoles. After a $41.5 million U.S. debut, Ride Along rolled along to a total domestic tally of $134.9 million. While the comedy's success story is due to its outstanding domestic numbers, it also raked in a respectable $19 million abroad for a worldwide total of $154 million. A sequel is already in the works.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
When the CG-live action project was first in development, there was some concern when producer Michael Bay mentioned that the film might have aliens in it. Could fans' anger lead to a box office bomb? Instead, Paramount's film, with a budget of $125 million, did swift business, topping the domestic box office with a $65.6 million debut. Most impressively, the film had strong legs and continued to do huge numbers overseas ($286 million) for an impressive worldwide total of $477.2 million.