The only thing Hollywood is more notorious for than relentless self-promotion and bragging is shady accounting practices. Depending on whether they’re talking to the government, in the middle of contract negotiations or stroking their own egos, movie executives could make most films seem like unqualified disasters, brilliant successes or anything in between. There’s just so many moving parts involved, and since marketing budgets, promotional tie-ins and various tax credits aren’t exactly mapped out in press releases, it’s really hard to prove otherwise.

Luckily, with some common sense and rough estimates, it’s possible to figure out which films likely offered excellent returns on the initial investment. Of course, the top of the heap films like Iron Man 3 and Hunger Games: Catching Fire are pretty obvious, but under the radar, there were quite a few films in 2013 that quietly made a ton of money at the worldwide box office.

Let’s revisit them.

We’re The Millers
$269,194,119 on a $37,000,000 budget.
Conventional wisdom says to always make a comedy PG-13 whenever possible. That greatly expands the pool of potential viewers, and it can even make the end result easier to sell to a cable network for repeated airings in the future. We’re The Millers is a great reminder, however, that sometimes just going for it is the far better call. The film doesn’t pull any punches, and while it won’t be confused with Wedding Crashers anytime soon, it’s still an enjoyable adult comedy. Thanks to good word of mouth and the star power of Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston, the film brought in huge numbers at the box office. In fact, to put the figure in perspective, it’s the second highest grossing movie of Aniston’s long and storied career behind only Bruce Almighty.
42
$95,020,213 on a $40,000,000 budget.
These numbers might not sound like a gigantic victory, but touching biopics about those who came before us aren’t often released with expectations of huge profits. Instead, they’re typically passion projects in which the filmmakers and producers hope to relate a story that really needs to be told, and if they can make a little profit too, that’s all the better. Once the Blu-ray money is counted on this effort, however, those involved should make more than just a tiny profit. Good for them too. This material was handled with class, sophistication and the right amount of brutal honesty. Robinson deserved another moment in the sun, and this film really did deliver, not only for the star athlete but for everyone who desperately misses the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Olympus Has Fallen
$161,025,640 on a $70,000,000 budget.
The similarly themed White House Down may have made about forty million dollars more at the global box office (a little less in the US), but considering it cost more than twice as much money to make and came with a mountain of expectations, it’s fair to assume this was the bigger hit. Exactly why is unclear. Maybe Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart have more star power than Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx (doubt it). Maybe being the first one to bat in March vs the much later June was really important (very possible). Or maybe word of mouth was simply better (could be). Regardless, Olympus Has Fallen made a tidy little profit, despite the fact that you probably assumed it was pretty much a failure alongside WHD.
Mama
$146,428,180 on a $15,000,000 budget.
Any given year’s biggest returns on investment are often turned in by micro to low budget horror movies that use smart, effective advertising to score big opening weekends. Several films followed that example very closely during 2013, but none of them were able to have as wide of an impact as Mama, a rare example of a film with a January release date that was both well-reviewed and very lucrative. The film stayed in the top ten for an entire month, and it opened a ton of doors for director Andres Muschetti who was recently offered the Mummy reboot. Altogether, I would say that’s enough to call the film a pretty damn big hit.
Instructions Not Included
$85,545,757 on a $5,000,000 budget.
If you live in an area with a significant Spanish-speaking population, chances are you saw a billboard for Eugenio Derbez comedy Instructions Not Included. The film broke all kinds of records at the Mexican box office, and it later expanded to the United States, where it took in an astounding $44,467,206, damn near unheard of for a Spanish language film. It caused plenty of headscratching during its first weekend, but that didn’t stop the film from remaining in the top ten for five consecutive weeks and earning an A+ Cinema Score from joyful fans stoked about seeing good content in their own language.
The Call
$68,572,378 on a $13,000,000 budget.
Financed by WWE Studios, The Call probably should have been a hot mess, but thanks to a great performance by Berry and excellent direction by Brad Anderson, it’s actually pretty good. Everyone here at Cinema Blend was presently surprised, and apparently, audiences were too. The film overperformed during its first weekend en route to $17 million, and it was able to continue that momentum for several weeks en route to almost $70 million worldwide. So unexpected and great was the success that the head of WWE’s film division openly admitted the movie succeeded beyond anyone involved’s wildest imaginations.
The Smurfs 2
$347,644,064 on a $105,000,000 budget.
The Smurfs 2 finished 3rd at the domestic box office during its first weekend, and it pretty steadily fell after that. The rather tepid performance has led many to believe the overall film was a box office disaster, but thanks to incredible grosses overseas, it actually fared pretty damn well---not $500 million well like the original film but more than enough for all involved to buy some steaks at the celebratory party. That’s the big pro of doing sequels, really. Sometimes domestic box office will fall, but if a series has produced well-liked entries before, it will likely open very big overseas and pave the way for more installments.
The Evil Dead Remake
$97,542,952 on a $17,000,000 budget.
I’m not sure I agree with the giant quote plastered across the front of the Evil Dead remake poster, but I will agree the resulting product was a) pretty creepy and b) a far bigger hit than you would have expected. It won its debut with a big $25 million plus weekend and continued to crank out respectable grosses for a few weeks afterwards, both in the States and at theaters across the world. The end result was almost $100 million and a celebratory Halloween maze at Universal Studios. Win? I’d certainly say so. Besides, while the film got more than its share of marketing, it certainly wasn’t enough to eat away even close to all the profits.
Jurassic Park 3D
$45,385,935 on a $10,000,000 budget.
Re-releasing beloved movies into theaters is a bit of a crap shoot. The Lion King crushed at the box office back in 2011, but in the years since, the results have mostly been iffy. Weighing all the factors together, however, it’s hard to consider Jurassic Park 3D anything but a big victory for the studio. It made more than four times as much money as it cost to transfer the film to 3D and perhaps more importantly, it reintroduced the franchise to an entire generation of filmgoers who sill conceivably check out the upcoming installment. That’s a win-win, and it certainly won’t dissuade executives from trying a similar approach with other beloved franchises.
One Direction: This Is Us
$68,269,292 on a $10,000,000 budget.
Never underestimate the power of documentary/ concert footage/ behind the scenes movies following pop stars that appeal to female tweens and young teenagers. In the past, everyone from Miley Cyrus to the Jonas Brothers has ridden the format to box office success, and One Direction did the same thing this year to the tune of almost $70 million in worldwide grosses. Because it never won a single weekend, however, the impressive results flew under a lot of radars and perhaps more importantly, somehow kept most of us from realizing the film was directed by Morgan Spurlock. Yes, the dude from Supersize Me.

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