Summer Movie Season’s Top 18 Surprises

Movie Talk

From buzzy films that flopped to the emergence of some unlikely box-office draws, the summer movie season had a few tricks up its sleeve this year. Here are some of the more unexpected curve balls that came out of Summer 2013:

18. 'Only God Forgives' Has No 'Drive'

The highly anticipated second collaboration of director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling ended up being a disappointment. To be fair it, had the rather dubious task of following a film as thrilling as "Drive." The mean, spare, and astonishingly violent "Only God Forgives" inspired boos at Cannes earlier in the year and didn't fare too well when it arrived stateside in limited release on July 19. It looks pretty, sure, but so does "Drive," and you can watch that over and over on Netflix Streaming.

17. Kevin Hart Is Bank

Kevin Hart's star continues to rise as his stand-up concert film, "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain," earned an impressive $10 million over its Fourth of July opening ... an even more formidable number when you consider that "The Lone Ranger' earned only $29 million that same weekend. "Let Me Explain" went on to earn more than $32 million, making it a respectable companion piece to Hart's 2012 hit, "Think Like a Man," which made $91 million against a budget of $12 million. Oh, and let's not forget his cameo as his-sort-of-self in "This Is the End," which earned over $96 million this summer.

16. Jason Statham, 'Fast and Furious' Bad Guy

"Furious 6" nearly reached giddy adrenaline levels of "Fast Five" (2011), and packed a huge surprise reveal at the end. It seems that the gang's undoing of the villainous Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) will not go unpunished, as his brother Ian (Jason Statham) is now on a roaring rampage of revenge, with his first target being poor Han (Sung Kang), whom Ian seemingly blows sky high in his own vehicle. On to next summer's "Furious 7," which will be directed by James Wan of "The Conjuring."

15. Ryan Reynolds Instantaneously Double Bombs

Summer just doesn't agree with Ryan Reynolds. He didn't exactly make his mark in the superhero genre with either "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009) or "Green Lantern" (2011). But this summer he achieved the near unimaginable, starring in two movies that tanked over the same opening weekend: The big-budget "Men in Black" wannabe "R.I.P.D." made less than $13 million when it came out, and "Turbo" only garnered $21 million upon its release. Someone in Hollywood needs to figure out how to best utilize the skills and energy of this talented and handsome fella, pronto!

14. 'Despicable Me 2' Makes $100 Million More Than 'Despicable Me 1'

Audiences really liked this sequel, as "Despicable Me 2" managed to earn more than $347 million (and counting) at the domestic box office ... which is almost $100 million more than the $251 million gross of the original "Depicable Me" (2010). You can bet we haven't seen the last of Gru and his minions.

13. The Power of the Documentary

Many tentpole releases flopped, but several documentaries soared at the box office this summer, with "Blackfish" and "Stories We Tell" each earning over $1 million and "Twenty Feet From Stardom" earning over $4 million. Audiences were apparently up for learning a little something new about a variety of topics in-between all of that beach reading.

12. Cate Blanchett: Best Actress of the Summer

Oscar winner Cate Blanchett may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think "summer movie actress," but the "Notes From a Scandal" star brought some class to the season with her stunning performance in Woody Allen's scathing deconstruction of the one percent, "Blue Jasmine." In fact, Cate's is arguably the best performance of the summer, and without a doubt one of the best performances ever in a Woody Allen movie.

11. Lindsay Lohan Wasn't That Bad in 'The Canyons'

Actually, there was no reason to assume that Lindsay Lohan would be bad in "The Canyons." Lindsay Lohan is actually a pretty good actress, as demonstrated in "Mean Girls" (2004) and "Georgia Rule" (2007). And really, she did as well as anyone could've in "Liz & Dick" (2012). We guess it's just surprising that she even showed up to shoot "The Canyons" at all and wasn't at, you know, a club or in jail.

10. 'Pacific Rim' Conquers China

Guillermo del Toro's mecha vs. monsters fever dream may have underwhelmed audiences in the U.S., but the film thrilled and chilled moviegoers in China. "Pacific Rim" earned more than $100 million at the Chinese box office, which is more than a third of its entire $286 million foreign box-office take. More than any other country on the planet, China chose to go the way of those "Rim" robots: huge.

9. Melissa McCarthy: Box-Office Queen

Hollywood's hottest new action star? "Bridesmaids" scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy, whose female buddy cop movie "The Heat" ended up being one of the summer's biggest hits with a box-office take of more than $155 million (even more impressive when you consider the film only cost $43 million to produce). Add this to the $169 million gross of "Bridesmaids" (2011) and the $134 million take of this year's "Identity Thief" and McCarthy is now officially one of film's most bankable thespians.

8. 'World War Z' Was Actually Pretty Good

It was predicted to be a disaster of "John Carter" proportions with reports of a rather troubled (and way expensive) production, but "World War Z" ended up being not half-bad as Brad Pitt headlined what might be the most smarty-pants (and definitely biggest) zombie movie ever made. In keeping with the story's broad international scope, the movie made money both in the U.S. and abroad, bringing in a worldwide box-office take of more than $517 million.

7. Michael B. Jordan: Lone Breakout Star and Oscar Contender

We loved him as a high schooler turned doomed superhero in last year's "Chronicle" and now we love him even more in "Fruitvale Station," which chronicles the final hours in the life of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old who was fatally shot by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Station in Oakland, California during the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2009. Jordan's passionate, moving performance has not only earned him some early Oscar buzz, but also earned him the title of summer's lone breakout star.

6. 'The Conjuring' Scares and Scores

A surprise hit of the summer was James Wan's "The Conjuring," an R-rated horror film that cost only $20 million to produce and scared up more than $130 million at the box office. That's more (a lot more) than "The Lone Ranger," "Pacific Rim," and "White House Down" managed to earn. Um ... maybe Hollywood would do well to consider investing in more classy, well-written, inexpensive horror flicks?

5. Johnny Depp, a Summer King Dethroned

Johnny Depp has had quite a few summer hits, the titles of most of them beginning with "Pirates of the Caribbean." But summer doesn't seem to be Depp's season anymore following last year's flop "Dark Shadows" and this year's big Disney bomb, "The Lone Ranger." However, we're sure he'll be back smiling in the sun by 2015 when yet another "Pirates of the Caribbean" boards theaters and takes a good chunk of the box-office bounty.

4. More Bombs Than Expected

"The Conjuring," "The Heat," and "Iron Man 3" made money, but they were among the few exceptions rather than the norm this summer. When it came to the U.S. box office, Summer 2013 had an excess of under-performing studio films, including "After Earth" ($60 million against a $130 million budget), "Pacific Rim" ($98 million against a $190 million budget), "White House Down" ($72 million against a $150 million budget), "The Lone Ranger" (an astonishingly low $87 million against a budget of like a kajillion dollars), and "Red 2" ($51 million against an $84 million budget). Meanwhile, "The Hangover Part III" barely made back its $103 million budget and "The Internship" couldn't only cough up $44 million against its $58 million budget. Maybe Hollywood should start considering a movie in which Melissa McCarthy and Tony Stark team up to investigate a haunted house?

3. Ballistic: Stallone vs. Willis

Sylvester Stallone caused a stir when we tweeted that being "greedy and lazy" was a surefire method for "career failure" ... in reference to Bruce Willis, who apparently wanted a $1-million-per-day payday for "The Expendables 3." Bruce won't be appearing in the film, but that's okay, because Harrison Ford will — we'd take Han Solo over John McClane any day, if only because "A Good Day to Die Hard" was so darn awful.

2. 'Man of Steel': Overachiever and Polarizer

Zack Snyder's sink-or-swim (or, rather, crash-or-fly) Superman reboot did better than expected at the box office, bringing in nearly $290 million. Add an equally surprising $359 million international take and you've got a hit that Warner Bros. can be proud of, though the film was decidedly polarizing for both critics and fans, with the massive and mindless destruction on display particularly being criticized for being, well, not really Superman-ish.

1. Summer 2013 Isn't as Bad as You'd Think

It may have been filled with under-performers and full-throttle bombs, but the handful of mega-hits made Summer 2013 a pretty successful summer. In fact, as of this publication, the total box-office haul is only down 2 percent when compared to Summer 2012 ... and that had more hits across the board, including "The Dark Knight Rises," "Marvel's The Avengers," "Men in Black 3," "Brave," and "Ted."