January has never been a banner year for Hollywood. Most film studios save their big releases for the summer and holiday seasons, so the hum-drum winter months always seem a little sluggish. This January was exceptionally challenging for many around the country, with two polar vortexes and multiple large snow storms keeping many indoors. Still, the first month in 2014 did yield a few surprises, and some studios, like Disney (NYSE:DIS) and Universal, saw January returns as a reason to jump for joy. Others, like Lionsgate (NYSE:LGF), will have to hope that they fare better in the coming months. Here are four films that performed significantly against what they were expected to.
1. Lone Survivor, dir. Peter Berg
There were a number of factors that would have led most pundits to believe that Lone Survivor, based on the true story of a NAVY Seal mission in Afghanistan, wouldn’t rake in big bucks at the box office. Thus far, films about the war in Afghanistan haven’t pulled in moviegoers. The last feature from the film’s director, Peter Berg, was the spectacular 2012 failure Battleship, which left many wondering if he could helm a hit. However, the film features only one actor — Mark Walberg — who’s proven to be a box office success.
Lone Survivor defied expectations after its wide release on January 10. Strong reviews and word of mouth helped the film earn some 11th hour buzz, and it was the top-grossing film its opening weekend. To date, it’s earned over $104 in the U.S., and it’s also earned the honor of being the first surprise hit of 2014.
2. Ride Along, dir. Tim Story
It’s no surprise that comedies are a box office draw. But everyone was surprised when Universal’s Ride Along, which stars Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, ended up breaking box office records. The film — about a security guard who has to convince his girlfriend’s brother, a police officer, to let them get married — received negative reviews from critics, but film fans weren’t deterred. It raked in $47.8 million over the MLK holiday weekend. That makes it the film with the biggest January opening ever.
3. Frozen, dir. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
While it’s never a shock when a Disney film does well, the success of their latest animated film has snowballed since it was released on Thanksgiving weekend in 2013. Excitement for the movie only seemed to grow throughout the Holiday season, and didn’t show any signs of tapering off in the New Year. Moviegoers braved icy winds to see Frozen, keeping it a top-grosser throughout January. That fan fervor paid off big for Disney – Frozen has earned over $360 million in the U.S. alone, and recently surpassed Finding Nemo to become the top-grossing original animated film of all time.
4. I, Frankenstein, dir. Stuart Beattie
After reviews of I, Frankenstein proved to be overwhelmingly negative, no one should have been surprised at its less-than-stellar box office performance. But how poorly the film — starring Aaron Eckhart as Victor Frankenstein’s monster — performed was a little shocking. Some thought the film would appeal to Underworld fans and at least recoup its budget. In the end, it made a paltry $8.6 million in its opening weekend, making it one the first — but certainly not the last — of the box office flops of 2014.