Movies that surprised everyone in 2017

Anyone who's spent any time in movie theaters this year will admit that it's been a hit or miss sort of year for movies. You might even say that 2017 has been a little more miss than hit. The fall season, however, promises to bring a slew of bona fide prestige pictures and awards-season hopefuls. While we sit back and wait for all of that Oscar bait to hit theaters, let's take a moment to revisit some of the year's biggest surprises so far. And just FYI, there may be a spoiler or two, so please proceed with caution!

Split

After a dramatic mid-career slump—including a couple of big-budget misfires in The Last Airbender and After Earth—M. Night Shyamalan had critics and fans wondering if he was all washed up. But the twist-loving auteur left those mistakes in the past, enjoying a low-key rebound with 2015's The Visit before returning to theaters two years later with a modestly budgeted psychological thriller. The James McAvoy-led Split arrived in theaters shrouded in secrecy but promised big surprises for adventurous viewers—and delivered a bone-chilling, mind-bending delight that proved a welcome return to form for Shyamalan while shattering modest box-office expectations to the tune of nearly $300 million.

Split proved the director still had a couple of slick tricks left up his sleeve, too: fans were gleefully stunned when the film's brief post-credit scene tied it to the same cinematic universe as Shyamalan's Unbreakable, and even more surprised when Shyamalan announced he'd bring characters from both films together for his next project. The ominously titled Glass will hit theaters in early 2019, and it's already one of the year's most anticipated movies.  

Get Out

Every year, there's one little indie film that manages to exceed expectations, and this year, that title undoubtedly belongs to Jordan Peele's Get Out. Produced on a budget of $5 million, it went on to rake in a cool $175 million domestic and eventually crossed the $250 million mark worldwide, making it an unqualified runaway hit.

When you factor in the Get Out's racially charged content—the narrative centers around a young African American man meeting his white girlfriend's parents for the first time, only to find them up to some seriously sinister business—and the fact that it's Peele's first gig as writer/director on a feature, it's a minor miracle that it reached an audience at all, let alone one so broad. Then again, in our current state of political/patriarchal/racial paranoia, Get Out is just the sort of barbed and brilliant filmmaking we need. Here's hoping Peele takes that approach to the next level for his next project.

Colossal

Anne Hathaway's career path has been a bit bumpy since she took home the 2013 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Les Miserables. The spirited actor has appeared in just a handful of movies since, and—minus a supporting role in Christopher Nolan's spectacular Interstellar—those haven't fared particularly well.

However, not all the news was bad. Hathaway also got married and became a mom in recent years. With her personal life stabilized, it seemed only natural that a big-screen comeback was on the horizon—we just never thought it would come in an odd little kaiju-tinged dramedy from the director of the little-seen Timecrimes. Yet here we are: Colossal is a fresh, original take on Godzilla-style monster movies that packs some seriously wicked humor and some seriously unexpected drama. That Hathaway so ably toes the line between both is the reason that the madness holds together. It's also a deft reminder of how captivating an actor she can be when a film utilizes her talents to the fullest.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

The 2017 summer movie season was truly forgettable. So much so that we'd be willing to bet most of you don't even remember that the Warner Bros. action epic King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was even released this past May—let alone that it was supposed to be the blockbuster that ushered in blockbuster season.  

With Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes) at the helm, there was reason to be optimistic about King Arthur's prospects. Add in a compelling cast fronted by Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Eric Bana and Aiden Gillen, and there was genuine excitement around the film. Then it hit theaters. What happened? Well, let's just say that the critics were not kind; word of mouth was even less generous, and the box office numbers were positively anemic. The film netted a mere $39 million in U.S. theaters, and managed $140 million once the worldwide tally came in. Normally those are halfway decent numbers—that is, unless your film was budgeted at $175 million. Rather than heralding a summer of blockbusters, King Arthur became the epitome of the middling season that followed.

Wonder Woman

One hero showed up for summer, ready to totally turn the movie season on its head. Make no mistake, that's exactly what Wonder Woman did when it lassoed its way into theaters—and that's saying a lot for a film that seemed to have the weight of the world (or at least a world DC nearly ruined with Batman v. Superman's baffling buffoonery) on its shoulders.

Pressured with stabilizing the DC franchise machine while also lightening the overall mood of DC's universe and helping to setup the then-in the works Justice League, director Patty Jenkins and company delivered a movie that felt both of its WWI time period and utterly timeless. They broke the glass ceiling for female superheroes in Hollywood, and they won the summer with a female-centric film that pulled in close to $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Oh, and in the process, Wonder Woman did the unthinkable by restoring our faith in the DC cinematic universe … or whatever they're calling it these days. All hail Princess Diana!

T2 Trainspotting

Danny Boyle's kinetic, heroin-soaked drama Trainspotting remains one of the most enigmatic films of the 1990s. Its open-ended finale also more than left the door open for a potential sequel. Fans of that original were clamoring for a second film after Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh published the book's follow-up back in 2002, but a years-long feud between Boyle and Trainspotting star Ewan McGregor prevented any talk of getting the band back together.

Once Boyle and McGregor finally buried the hatchet, the key pieces for a Trainspotting reunion were in place. To the delight of that rabid fan base, the rest of the original Trainspotting cast—Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan Bremmer, Robert Carlyle, and Kelly Macdonald—quickly followed suit.

Expectations were high. When the film was finally released, however, the hopes of Boyle and company recapturing the original's "lightning in a bottle" energy were ultimately dashed. While T2 won over quite a few critics, it missed the mark badly with fans. Ultimately this hotly anticipated sequel failed at the U.S. box office and tarnished the reputation of the original.

Logan

Let's all share a collective moment of clarity and admit that: 1) Wolverine will always be the coolest of the X-Men and 2) the first two solo Wolverine films were not very good. Okay, the second was actually pretty solid—right up until that robot Samauri showed up. Agreed? Good. Now that we're on the same page, we can start to understand why there was such uneasy anticipation surrounding the release of Logan in May. Factor in that Hugh Jackman was getting a little long in the claw for the physical demands of playing Wolverine, and that unease didn't seem so unfounded.

Once Twentieth Century Fox finally decided to take the kid gloves off the Wolverine franchise and let Logan go forward with a hard R rating, there was reason to hope. Turns out that hyper-violent edge that's so prevalent in many of the comic books was exactly what the movies needed to come together—not to mention a solid screenplay, a fully realized vision from Director James Mangold, and a final Wolverine performance from Jackman that's as harrowing as it is heartbreaking. Once it hit theaters, Logan became the one Wolverine film that satisfied critics, fans, and box office expectations—which makes it one of 2017's most pleasant surprises. One that might even play dark horse come Oscar season.

The Circle

If we were to tell you that there was a film that combined the star power of Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, and John Boyega, added the intellectual integrity of a story by Dave Eggers, and filtered it through the eyes of one of the most exciting young filmmakers in Hollywood, you'd be right to think it might be one of the year's best. James Ponsoldt's techno-phobic thriller The Circle certainly carried similar audience expectations into theaters in April—many insiders even thought it might be the surprise hit of the spring.

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong with The Circle, but not much actually went right. The writing is shallow, the story is trite and absurdly oversimplified, and the stars never quite rise above the film's inadequacies. Their marquee power still managed to scrape up enough box office to cover production expenses—$20 million on an $18 million budget—but, given the film's potential, those numbers can only be considered a letdown.

It

To date, this terrifying adaptation of Stephen King's beloved novel It has scared up $350 million at the box office. That's enough to make it one of the five highest-grossing films of 2017 so far.

In 2012, It became one of 2017's most anticipated projects when True Detective's Cary Fukunaga was hired to write and direct. Matters took a grim turn when the director exited the project a couple of years later and It appeared doomed to linger in production purgatory, but Andy Muschetti (known for horror film Mama) jumped on board to right the ship. Muschetti refocused Fukunaga's script and delivered one of 2017's creepiest films—one that shattered box-office expectations and satisfied fans of the book. He even pulled off the seemingly impossible task of satisfying the staunchest critic of Stephen King adaptations—King himself.

A Ghost Story

People like to claim we're living in the so-called "information age," but with the general public feeding the minutia of their day-to-day lives into the social media stratosphere and up-to the-second updates from media conglomerates, it might be more fitting to call it "the information overload age." That need for knowledge also applies to Hollywood: the moves of every Tinseltown mover and shaker are given the same up-to-the-second treatment. Which is why A Ghost Story is easily one of the year's biggest surprises. 

It isn't just that it tells one of the more intriguing tales of post-life dramatics ever committed to film, or that one of its stars spends the bulk of the film cloaked by a bed sheet—it's that it was made with almost nobody knowing about it. Of course, that's not all that rare for a no-budget indie, but this one happened to star Hollywood A-listers Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea). In this age of information overload, we're still baffled that such high-profile stars managed to ghost themselves and slink off to Texas for a couple of weeks to shoot a feature film. That they did so without a million people following their every move is nothing short of miraculous. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man fans were delighted when Sony announced they'd struck up a partnership on the Spider-Man franchise with Marvel Studios. However, even with Spidey returning home, there were serious doubts about working the web-slinger into the already crowded MCU landscape. There was also the fact that Sony had very recently tried—and failed—to reboot the Spidey-verse. Another reboot so soon seemed like it could only end in disaster, but then, this is Marvel we're talking about. 

Marvel and Sony took a bold approach with Spider-Man: Homecoming, crafting less of a blockbuster epic than a John Hughes-tinged high school comedy that happened to feature a superhero. Coupled with a charismatic performance from new Spidey Tom Holland and a healthy dose of Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, the formula proved more than fruitful. Spider-Man: Homecoming raked in close to $900 million in worldwide box office, laying to rest any fears about Spider-Man finding his place in the MCU. Welcome home, Spidey.

The Book of Henry

On paper, The Book of Henry looked like a low-budget indie—except it was directed by the man who brought audiences Jurassic World and had just taken the reins of the ninth Star Wars movie. Realistically, nobody—not even director Colin Trevorrow—expected Book to break any box office records. On the other hand, nobody expected it to be quite this bad.

The Book of Henry debuted in June, and was immediately dismissed by critics and the moviegoing public alike. The film pulled in just over $4 million which, given its $10 million budget, wasn't all that terrible; on the other hand, when you're about to carry the weight of the Force on your shoulders, critical and commercial failure is simply unacceptable. Trevorrow was let go from the franchise just weeks after Henry hit theaters, and alhough Star Wars Producer Kathleen Kennedy offered several reasons for his dismissal, we can't help but wonder if things might've been different had The Book of Henry turned into a box office smash.

Okja

Streaming giant Netflix has been working their way into the feature film game for a few years now, and in 2017, the company took one of its biggest risks yet.

That risk came in the guise of a charming little sci-fi film called Okja, which tells the tale of a young girl's attempts to save the life of her best friend—who happens to be a gigantic "super pig" genetically engineered to feed the masses. Did we mention that this "super pig" flick also came with with a super-sized budget of $50 million? Again, risky. But Netflix was ultimately rewarded by getting Okja into competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the coveted Palm d'Or. It didn't win, but that sort of recognition is invaluable, and whether or not you enjoyed Okja, it'll be known in years to come as the weird little film that made Netflix legit—and inspired a new generation of vegans in the process. 

Ghost in the Shell

Few big-budget bombs bombed bigger this year than Ghost in the Shell. Then again, few films came with higher expectations. After all, Hollywood has been trying to give Japan's 1995 anime classic the live-action treatment since it was released, and the stars finally seemed to align when Scarlett Johansson boarded the project in the leading role of Major. There was some immediate backlash to that casting; many hardcore fans believed an Asian actor should have been in the role, but studio heads at Paramount decided to charge forward with her in the lead. They may well regret that decision. 

Ultimately, Ghost in the Shell couldn't get out from under the shadow of Johansson's casting, and Paramount's $110 million tentpole was met with heavy criticism and even boycotting upon release. Rather than becoming a runaway hit, it became the poster child for Hollywood whitewashing—and one of the year's biggest bombs to boot.