With all the information we get from set photos, rumors, and trailers, we can usually cobble together a fairly accurate picture of just how good a movie will be before it ever hits theaters. This preponderance of information is also a double-edged sword though. Our perception of a film before its release isn’t always in line with the end result. Oftentimes, a movie will surprise even the most skeptical audiences, hindered in its promotional stages by lackluster marketing campaigns that don’t do it justice.
There are also plenty of movies that operate on the flip side of this equation. They feature a killer trailer, tons of positive buzz, and an eventual letdown on opening weekend (looking at you, Suicide Squad). The gap between perception and reality can sometimes be a chasm, proven by these 10 movies that we all underestimated early on in their fledgling stage of production.
1. Spy (2015)
2015 was without a doubt one of the worst years for comedy movies we’ve had in the last decade. Most years, Hollywood will churn out somewhere around six to seven quality films in the comedy genre. 2015 though featured just two. Spy was one of those two offerings, and it came out of freaking nowhere to take the crown.
Marketed as a madcap action romp with some questionable humor, what we got instead was what Rotten Tomatoes aptly described as “simultaneously broad and progressive,” on top of a stellar 94% positive rating. That’ll show us for ever doubting Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy.
2. 21 Jump Street (2012)
Be honest, there wasn’t a universe where you actually thought a movie reboot of 21 Jump Street, a TV series that wasn’t even that good to begin with, would actually be amazing. Thanks to the considerable talent of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, that’s exactly what we got. Bringing together all the tropes of ’80s cop comedies and infusing that into a movie starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as best friends is no small task, but it’s one that Lord and Miller accomplished to an absolute tee.
3. 300 (2007)
Back in 2007, Zack Snyder was an inexperienced, little-known director, rewarded with a hefty $65 million budget for his highly stylized Spartan action flick, 300. Leading in, we had no way of knowing just how iconic it would become, acting as the inspiration for a score of parodies, imitations, and everything in between. Snyder has slid backwards as a filmmaker in the years since, but there’s little doubt that 300 remains to this day, his greatest cinematic achievement (even if nobody saw that coming before its release in 2007).
4. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Nobody was quite sure what to think when the first trailer for Kingsman: The Secret Service first debuted to the world. Director Matthew Vaughn was an accomplished-enough Hollywood director with X-Men: First Class and Kickass already under his belt. His films more often than not landed in the “that was fine I guess” part of the scale in terms of quality. So needless to say, when Kingsman: The Secret Service ended up being so good that Fox picked it up for a full-scale franchise run, we all felt foolish for ever doubting Vaughn’s acumen.
5. The Lego Movie (2014)
If there was ever a movie that was mismarketed in its first official trailer, it’s The Lego Movie. In the three-minute trailer, we get treated to a handful of cheesy jokes, your standard “just believe in yourself” message, and a Pitbull song to boot. As it turns out, none of that was indicative of the comedic master stroke that the film eventually delivered once it hit theaters. More than that, it taught us that doubting anything from the likes of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller is a bad idea (and that we really should have learned our lesson with 21 Jump Street).
6. Unfriended (2015)
Expectations were unsurprisingly low for Unfriended when news of its release first hit the web. The big MTV logo slapped over it certainly didn’t do it many favors, nor did its millennial technology-centric premise. When it hit theaters though, it managed to subvert all the tropes of the found footage genre, and repurpose them into a brand new medium. Long story short, the low bar set by its deceptively effective premise was completely annihilated, marked by a chilling twist and a young cast that delivered a series of convincingly real performances.
7. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Edge of Tomorrow exists today as a poster child for how not to market your movie. Warner Bros. abruptly changed the name of the film just a year out from its release, from All You Need Is Kill (the Japanese movie it was based on) to Edge of Tomorrow. This change was followed by a series of trailers that misrepresented the movie as an alien invasion/action adventure film akin to flops like Battle: Los Angeles.
Yet another title change in the DVD/Blu-Ray release didn’t do the film any favors either, masking what ended up being one of the most innovative and compelling sci-fi flicks of the last few years. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort on Warner Bros.’ part, having poured over $100 million into marketing the release.
8. John Wick (2014)
There weren’t many reasons to think much of John Wick when the first trailer debuted. Keanu Reeves was slated to star in what appeared on the surface to be a by-the-numbers revenge flick or your classic “man on a mission to kill people” sort of story. With hindsight at a crisp 20/20, we couldn’t have been more wrong. Here we have a movie so well shot and executed that it could be (and very likely is) taught in college film classes. We’ll be getting a sequel in 2017, and when that happens, we won’t be underestimating director Chad Stahelski again.
9. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Back in 2012, it was generally accepted that Pixar was the paragon of quality animation, acting as Disney’s sole home for their more mature narratives. That all changed with Wreck-It Ralph though, a film that on the surface appeared to be a video game-themed cash-grab, but ended up leading the charge for Disney’s in-house animation studio. In the years since, we’ve gotten similarly mature offerings like Zootopia, Moana, and Big Hero 6, demonstrating firsthand that Pixar doesn’t have a monopoly on amazing animated cinema.
10. Kick-Ass (2010)
Given the saturation of superhero movies today, it’s not hard to see how Kick-Ass was a film years ahead of its time in terms of giving us something different. It of course didn’t look like much in the lead-up to its release, and yet its concept pervades our culture even today: What if everyday people decided to be superheroes themselves? Its release inspired organizations like the Rain City Superhero Movement in Seattle, among others in many other cities across the United States. And while its sequel three years later failed to impress in the same way, there’s no denying the way the original movie took us all by surprise.
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