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A work of literature, film or television -- just getting started, purely original (if there is such a thing), unaffiliated with any previous book, movie or TV show -- has little hope of standing out among the established goldmines of franchises. Critics mock it. The public isn't expecting it. It gets even worse if things go awry on its production. Then, when released, it pulls a megaprofit stunt and becomes an instant classic. Usually accompanied by Hype Backlash, but has less chance of becoming Deader Than Disco. Contrast with Vindicated by History, where a work initially fails but then gradually builds a very high reputation.
Anime and Manga
- Masayuki Ozaki, the executive producer of Tiger and Bunny, stated that just about no one expected the series to be successful (namely because of the belief that nobody would want to watch a Superhero anime with a middle-aged single father as its primary protagonist), much less become the instant Cash Cow Franchise it is now.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion was basically a last ditch attempt by Studio Gainax to stay afloat, and was not expected to turn out extremely well. An Urban Legend even claims that investors were hoping for a Springtime for Hitler situation.
- Before the English release of Shuffle!, anime based on Eroge with the porn removed from the adaptation were not commonly licensed, with rumours flying around that Moral Guardians would throw a fit if they ended up on store shelves. When FUNimation licensed the series, nearly every blog and forum was raising its collective eyebrows and wondering why the distributor obviously hated making money. The first volume of SHUFFLE! came out and sold tons of copies, and FUNi decided to give the final volume a special edition art box release (which had been common a few years earlier, but in the wake of Geneon's fall, not so much) if the second volume sold as well. It did. Now you can't walk into a video store without tripping over eroge adaptations, whether or not they actually have a plot.
- Code Geass was the very definition of Troubled Production thanks to this trope. Director/co-creator Goro Taniguchi asked for a 50-episode series, but Bandai only gave him 25, for reasons that remain unclear. Even then, the staff had limited resources and had to piggy-back off of other Bandai shows in production at the time. When the show took off and became the Next Big Thing, Bandai was quick to embrace it, though unlike Yoshiyuki Tomino and Gundam, Taniguchi and fellow co-creator Ichiro Okouchi were smart enough to hold onto the rights.
- Walt Disney is the all-time master of this trope.
- Nobody but Walt expected Steamboat Willie, a cartoon with synchronized sound, to get any attention.
- Nobody but Walt expected Flowers and Trees, a cartoon in full color, to get people flocking to it. The short film was originally black & white; Walt had it completely redone despite the financial risk involved.
- Animation was considered a medium inferior to live action and destined to remain seven-minute-long curtain raisers to feature films... until Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, which was labeled "Disney's Folly" by film industry insiders but at its premiere proved an amazing picture, and the worldwide highest-grossing until Gone with the Wind. Since then it has become the subject of much strife for being the comparison point for all other animated features (Walt himself fell victim to that).
- After Walt's immense box-office wipeout (Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi) and the further financial strains of World War Two to his studio, returning to full-length animation was an insane gamble; on top of that, branching out into non-cartoon movies and a theme park was (in the eyes of critics in the late 40s) absolutely impossible for Walt to do. Cinderella, Treasure Island, Disneyland. Check, check, check.
- The Shaggy Dog, Disney's first attempt at making live-action comedies, was not considered a good idea, but this film, The Absent Minded Professor and others of its kind cleared the Disney Studio of financial debt by 1961.
- It wasn't until the unconditional faith in Mary Poppins that it was acknowledged how Walt could do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. Hiccups and all, his empire still stands.
- Crossing-over with Sleeper Hit, many inside Disney thought that Pocahontas was to be the studio's mid-nineties mega-hit, with The Lion King being a relatively minor project. The latter ended up performing much better critically and commercially, and, to some, is considered the peak of the Disney Renaissance.
- In 2002, Disney, specifically CEO Michael Eisner, found itself doubting Pixar could keep the big hits coming in 2002 with Finding Nemo. When that became Pixar's biggest hit yet, Eisner found himself in an impossible position trying to renew Disney's contract with the studio with Steve Jobs, who personally loathed Eisner, in a position to demand all but a blank check lest Pixar go with any of Disney's competitors eager to hookup with it.
- When Zootopia was announced, many Disney fans were expecting it to be just another generic Funny Animal film. When the film was finally released, it was very highly praised by critics and fans alike for it's surprisingly deep messages about prejudice, and it manged it make over $1 BILLION at the box office.
- Critics were very hostile to King Kong. "A 50-foot gorilla attacking New York City? And on top of that, falling in love with a human woman instead of eating her? Nobody's ever gonna pay to see THAT!" Take a guess at how wrong they were. It's one of the earliest examples of Critical Dissonance in cinema.
- The Philadelphia Story was released at a time when Katherine Hepburn was considered "box office poison". The film became a resounding success and subsequently restored Hepburn's reputation.
- The Bengali coming-of-age film Pather Panchali had little hope of being recognized as more than a renegade/experimental Indian product. Upon release it quickly made heaps of money everywhere it was shown and through this Satyajit Ray introduced the world to the possibilities of low-budget filmmaking.
- United Artists did not have much faith in Dr. No, giving only $1 million to the producers and releasing it in the Midwest before the big American markets. It went on to launch the still-thriving James Bond film franchise.
- Warner Brothers wasn't expecting Bonnie and Clyde to work at all, but it was a megahit and helped change the way filmmakers would depict violence in future works.
- A fictional example occurs in The Producers: a sneaky Broadway showman and his accountant/henchman put on a play called "Springtime for Hitler" specifically BECAUSE it will flop, allowing to keep the excess money they raised but didn't need. Then they got a little surpise. (ironically, the original 1968 film flopped.)
- Paramount had no expectations in The Godfather, despite being based on a best seller. Francis Ford Coppola was hired only for his Italian origins, the studio gave him limited funds and complained about every decision of his. It became the highest-grossing movie ever upon release, and is frequently in "best of all time" lists.
- Blazing Saddles was a quirky Blaxploitation comedy set in the Wild West. Warner Brothers almost didn't release it at all because they figured it just wouldn't sell. But it did.
- Jaws was initially picked up as a script treatment by Universal Pictures, but ran into problems almost immediately. A rookie director who only had one other feature film -- that bombed in theatres -- to his name was chosen to direct the film. An actor who believed he was now box-office poison because of his prior work signed up as one of the main characters. Filming ran over-budget and overtime, with executives denying funding for key reshoots (which then had to be paid out of pocket). There were accusations that the practical effects were cheap and laughable, forcing the filmmaker to improvise by keeping it off-screen for most of the run-time. Yet, contrary to Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfus' beliefs, Jaws became the first film to see wide-release distribution, became one of the highest-grossing films of all time and ushered in a new wave in American film-making.
- It's hard to believe now, but Twentieth Century Fox had very little faith in Star Wars making much money. They put it out as sort of a "last hurrah" to hold off bankruptcy, and tasked Alan Dean Foster with writing Splinter of the Mind's Eye, a sequel novel written for the sole purpose of facilitating a quick low-budget movie adaptation. Then the box-office returns started coming in...
- Animal House was the ambitious foray of the National Lampoon magazine into silver-screen entertainment. Universal execs politely allowed the filmmakers to go wild in their own special way, quietly hoping Animal House wouldn't damage the company's checkbooks. Donald Sutherland famously chose several thousand dollars in payment over a percentage of the box-office gross, expecting the film wouldn't sell. However, Animal House 's charmingly dark and hard-hitting observations on college life, as well as its undeniably quirky brand of vulgar humor, was so refreshing to moviegoers in the late 70s that the film recouped its $2 million budget 50 times over. Donald Sutherland, as you might imagine, was not pleased.
- Airplane! was the first shot at a mainstream movie by the people who made Kentucky Fried Movie. With its obsession with incredibly lame puns and its throwing of conventional plotline out the window, many believed it had box-office disaster written all over it. It became one of the highest-grossing films of 1980.
- ET the Extraterrestrial was going to be just a forgettable kids' movie about a lost alien, until preview audiences got a grip on its true magnificence and spread the word. It soon out-grossed Star Wars and became the top worldwide moneymaker until Jurassic Park.
- Romancing the Stone. Twentieth Century Fox was so certain that it would fail, they fired Robert Zemeckis from directing Cocoon. This turned out to be a benefit: Zemeckis and his friend Bob Gale then had the freedom to pursue their pet project Back to The Future, and in the meantime Romancing the Stone was the surprise box-office smash of the summer of '84.
- Additionally, Back to The Future was rejected by every major studio when first pitched in 1980. This caused some embarrasment for a number of Hollywood execs when five years later, Zemeckis got Future made under Amblin (with distribution by Universal) and it became the highest-grossing picture of 1985.
- Orion Pictures had little faith in Hoosiers, a film that ended up almost as successful as Platoon, the other big Orion release of 1986.
- According to Spike Lee, if he can make hit movies, ANYONE can make hit movies. Do the Right Thing came out of nowhere in 1989, exceeding every low expectation set upon it and holding its own against a crapload of high-profile summer blockbusters.
- Home Alone is the ultimate example: anticipated as another John Hughes concept gone awry, its cartoony slapstick combined with an unexpectedly heartwarming story won audiences over and it became the top-moneymaking comedy of all time (keeping the title until Night at the Museum).
- Clerks, Kevin Smith's shoestring-budget debut, simply popped out of nowhere and made a heaping wad of cash.
- James Cameron's Titanic ran overbudget, gathered plenty of naysayers and became the first film in history to make $1 billion worldwide.
- Pirates of the Caribbean started off as the first of three Disney park ride adaptations, the other two being The Haunted Mansion and The Country Bears. A franchise for Pirates was in no way anticipated by Michael Eisner and his fellow execs. The original film, Curse of the Black Pearl, quickly took off and paved the way for a different trilogy, one whose cinematic epicness has ultimately rivaled The Lord of the Rings. A fourth film was released in 2011, and aparently is the first of another trilogy.
- The Napoleon Dynamite premise of sounded a bit stupid before its premiere. It became a indie sensation and "Vote for Pedro" became a catchphrase at the time of the film's release.
- Rocky Balboa was not only expected to fail at the box office but was also the butt of many jokes by comedians and film fans due to star/writer/director Sylvester Stallone's age (he was 59 at the time of the film's release) and lack of box office success in the early part of the 2000's. Then the film was released, had positive reception from critics and audiences, managed to be a profit-making hit for the studio and gave Stallone a Career Resurrection.
- A first-time director decides to shoot his own horror movie in his own house, and goes so far as to remodel his own home to use as the setting, and hire two unknown actors to play the lead characters. The film was shot in 7 days, and was eventually submitted to the ScreamFest Horror Film Festival, where an executive from Miramax Films saw it and approached the director to rework it for the Sundance Festival (who rejected it). DreamWorks Pictures saw a bit of potential in the film, but they didn't know what to do with it, and decided to hold a test screening (which they thought initially bombed after people started walking out). The film was then delayed for several years while shakeups and management changes occurred at Dreamworks. In addition, this came during the time when the Saw franchise debuted to considerable commercial success. The film, Paranormal Activity, was eventually shunted out the door as a test for viral film promotion, and was expected to flop against the then-released Saw VI. However, the $15,000 film was a smash hit with audience, and eventually grossed $189 million in total, leading to a sequel and planned third film.
- Before Thor was released, a lot of critics and bloggers thought it wouldn't do well because the title character wasn't as much of a household name as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, or the X-Men; it involved a lot of super-shiny costumes and set pieces; and it was directed by someone primarily known for Shakespearean adaptations who hadn't directed a big action movie before. And then it made $181 million in the U.S. and well over $300 million worldwide, was pretty well-received critically, and gained an active and devoted Fandom.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne did not expect The Scarlet Letter to be popular. It was.
- Anthony Burgess wrote his first novel, A Clockwork Orange, as a form of therapy in an emotionally turbulent period in his life. He figured that once published it would be quickly forgotten, and he would turn his attentions to his next book. Clockwork Orange propelled Burgess to international fame instead.
- First editions The Colour of Magic, the first Discworld novel, are quite rare because no one really thought it would sell and the publishing run was therefore rather low.
- Harry Potter. Literary critics pigeonholed the first book as lame 1990s juvenile fantasy, destined to be forgotten. The series became some of the best-selling books in history.
- The original novel of MASH was rejected by over a dozen publishers, which was a record for the agency selling it. It eventually spawned a movie, numerous sequel novels and a tv series that ran for eleven years (and whose final episode was the highest rated show ever broadcast at that time).
Live Action Television
- Saturday Night Live was considered a filler for dead airspace that would quickly wear itself out and would never make a blip on the public consciousness. 35 years later it continues to make millions laugh and has etched a significant portion of pop culture into the minds of several generations.
- Adaptations of the Japanese franchise Super Sentai had been in Development Hell for years, and was only Saved From Development Hell by an exec who had previously made a pitch for the show herself. Even then, it was preemptively canned as soon as the season finished. Nearly twenty years later and Power Rangers is still on the air, having survived multiple uncancellations and two Channel Hops.
- While the executive that approved the show believed in it, everyone else in the industry expected it to fail.
- Star Trek the Next Generation was thought to be a terrible idea by just about everyone, including many members of the original cast. By that time it had been reworked from the proposed Star Trek: Phase II that eventually morphed into the series of movies, and TNG wasn't going to be the channel leader like Phase II would have been. Despite this, it went on to last far longer than its predecessor and spawned two of its own spin-offs.
- Few people thought Buffy the Vampire Slayer would succeed, given its premise about a high school girl battling vampires.
- There were doubts about the original CSI series -- NBC passed on it thinking it was too scientific for average viewers to get. CBS took a gamble and ended up with a hit.
- Twenty Four initially began its existence as a drama about the planning of a wedding over the course of a single day -- before being reworked by producers Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran into a action-thriller about a government agent trying to rescue his family during a Presidential primary election in Los Angeles. The series wasn't expected to last a full season; FOX executives ordered 13 episodes and aired it with virtually no promotion whatsoever (and in a Tuesday timeslot, which was uncharacteristic for an action show). It was only due to lead actor Kiefer Sutherland winning a Golden Globe Award for his work on the first ten episodes that made executives order an additional 11 scripts to fill out the season. However, the series become much more critically-lauded, was a smash hit on DVD (so much so that it increased viewership of the second season by a full 25%) and eventually led to a franchise that lasted eight seasons (and a TV movie), with tie-in materials and a proposed feature film continuation.
- The Wire was initially rejected by HBO, who weren't even sure that they wanted a police procedural in their programming lineup - they had to be convinced by creator David Simon (who had previously collaborated with them on 2000's The Corner) to produce a pilot episode. The resulting season didn't fare so great in the ratings, and the series was on the verge of cancellation - until critics started promoting the show as one of the best new series in years. The show subsequently survived multiple attempts at cancellation, lasted five seasons, and has been regarded as one of the best dramatic series produced from the 21st century.
- When the Sci-Fi Channel first aired the Battlestar Galactica Reimagined miniseries, fans of the original absolutely tore it to shreds, insulting the Gender Flip of Starbuck, the Darker and Edgier tone and more. Others were turned off by the name and the association to what was perceived as a hokey 70's sci-fi series. Better yet, the first season of the show was broadcast in the U.K. months before it aired on American television, and fans continued to tear into it - then, the show started to receive massive critical acclaim from critics across the world, and when the show debuted on Sci-Fi, it garnered some of the highest ratings for any sci-fi show in history. It lasted four seasons and two tie-in films, and resulted in two spinoffs (Caprica and the upcoming Blood And Chrome).
- In late 2003 / early 2004, Lloyd Braun and a few other ABC executives were fired because they had greenlighted a strange project called Lost. What is Lost, anyway? A rehash of Gilligan's Island with a dramatic angle? And the enormous budget that somehow got approved for this thing ... worst blunder ever! Yet despite the lack of faith from top brass, Lost became an overnight sensation and producer J.J. Abrams became a household name.
- The U.S. adaptation of The Office was heavily criticized by both media pundits (for being an adaptation of a cult British series that lasted a grand total of 12 episodes and a Christmas special) and its original creator, Ricky Gervais (who feared that viewers would hesitate watching an American reworking of a British show -- i.e. the American Coupling). Although the show had a six-episode season, ratings fell sharply in between the premiere and season finale (due to NBC shuffling its timeslot around), and it was in danger of being cancelled (in addition to scathing reviews from major U.S. publications). However, the show quickly found a footing by differentiating itself in tone and content from the British series, and went on to become NBC's highest-rated comedy.
- The Disney TV movie High School Musical. Nobody, absolutely nobody, saw its mega-popularity coming.
- In fall 2006, NBC premiered two shows set behind the scenes of a fictionalized Saturday Night Live. It was widely expected that Thirty Rock would crash and burn very quickly while Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip would go on to success and acclaim. At that time next year, Studio 60 was dead and 30 Rock had picked up the Emmy for Best Comedy. Two more years later, 30 Rock had three Emmys for Best Comedy and Studio 60 was long forgotten.
- AMC was never considered in the same league as HBO, with original shows not being up their alley ... until the double-whammy of Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
- Glee, a somewhat weird show (even for FOX) about Midwestern high-school misfits partaking in song-and-dance competitions, was never expected to climb high enough in viewership to make an impact, let alone end up a top TV franchise. But it did, due in large part to razor-sharp plotlines (at least in the first season), impeccable musical direction, and the one-of-a-kind acting chops of Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch.
- Before it launched, the ITV 2 series The Only Way Is Essex was pretty much universally derided as a pointless knock-off of a more serious but otherwise similar series on Channel 4 called Seven Days. Not only did TOWIE become an unexpected hit, but who even remembers Seven Days now?
- Final Fantasy was so named because Squaresoft thought it would close its doors after shipping the game. Today, Square Enix enjoys strong sales and a fan base best described as both rabid and numerous. The series is a massive commercial success, though it does not always receive critical praise. Most of the early games are considered classics, even by those who do not like the JRPG genre.
- The name wasn't a judgement on the game but the state of the company. Square needed Final Fantasy I to be a major success in order for the company to remain open, so this is an example of a company scale And You Thought It Would Fail.
- Before its release, Nintendo and Retro made so many controversial choices with Metroid Prime that no one, not even levelheaded fans and critics, were kind to it. First off, Nintendo letting Retro, an unproven American studio, develop the game rather than doing it themselves. Second, making it in 3D which many expected but was still a controversial choice especially given how many franchises started to crumble with that jump the gen before it. Finally, making it first-person was thought to be the final nail in the coffin for the game having any hopes of being good and feeling like Metroid. When it came out, not only did everyone feel like it was a true Metroid game, it and its two sequels are generally considered to be among the greatest games of all time.
- Combining Square and Disney's ability to pull this off, when people first heard about Kingdom Hearts, a game where a Square character travels with Donald and Goofy, most people thought it was going to be a quirky kids game and that's it. Instead it was a huge success and became Square's second biggest series (right under Final Fantasy).
- The Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS were both thought to be failures with terrible gimmicks by most critics and fans before release. The Nintendo Wii went on to outsell its competitors by far. The Nintendo DS went on to become the top-selling handheld dedicated game system of all time.
- The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker introduced a radical Art Shift to a new cel-shaded style that was met with massive backlash on reveal; the Fan Nickname "Celda" was used derogatorily. This is especially due to prior promotional renders of the new Zelda game showing an update of the fairly realistic style used in the Nintendo 64 games. Upon release, it was hailed as one of the Game Cube's most popular releases and no less than three games followed it that starred Toon Link, as the protagonist of this style is known in Super Smash Bros Brawl.
- A Christmas movie for television using stop-motion puppets was a strange concept on the part of NBC and Rankin Bass, the studio they hired to make Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Instead of being completely ignored, however, Rudolph proved to be a huge hit.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas was considered almost radioactive by CBS. To them, an animated special with actual children doing the voices, a jazz soundtrack, and a Bible recitation seemed a ludicrous recipe for TV disaster. Instead, it became the greatest Christmas Special of them all.
- Very few people expected The Simpsons to make a successful transition from skits on The Tracey Ullman Show to half-hour show of its own. It did, and has lasted longer than any sitcom ever made.
- Beast Wars, so very much; it was expected to fail so hard due to the massive amount of changes to the Transformers formula, the Fan Dumb cry of "Trukk not Munky!" is burned into all Transfans' minds. Turns out, the quality of the show probably saved the franchise from dying out, and became the standard for what all future western-made Transformers would be based on.
- South Park of all things, started out miserably when Matt Stone and Trey Parker's tiny cult hit joke-animated short "The Spirit Of Christmas" got picked up for a pilot. The first episode "Cartman Gets An Anal Probe" was completed and submitted. It was pounded into the ground by test audiences who were baffled by the (intentionally) terrible animation, the juxtaposition of cute characters spewing heavily censored vulgarities in steady streams, and the overall bizarre nature of the plot. It was deemed a complete and utter failure and Comedy Central was very unconvinced that South Park had any future, but still encouraged Matt & Trey to create a few more episodes such as "Weight Gain 4000". These too, did not impress the network, and many people thought the show was directionless. With much hesitancy and uncertainty they aired the shows. While mainstream critics even were very slow to warm up to the show, they eventually did, and it became a more impressive hit than Comedy Central expected. However, major problems and waning fan interest after only Season 2 (a season Matt & Trey have gone on to say was their absolute worst season) they figured that South Park was all but finished. During Season 3, they produced South Park Bigger Longer and Uncut, while being faced with immense Executive Meddling from both Paramount and the MPAA, they figured the movie would flop miserably and would be their triumphant last hurrah. Cut to today, where South Park has come to be considered as THE benchmark for all American satire, major pop culture relevance and 23 successful seasons so far.
- When the pilot for Adventure Time was shown, many people thought it would be an utter failure. A couple years later the show has a huge fan base and has had good reviews from critics.
- ↑ Some say they felt Taniguchi was "untested", others say it's because he's a perfectionist and somewhat hard to work with