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Sleeper hit is a term used in the entertainment industry for a film that plays successfully for a long period and becomes a big success, despite having relatively little promotion or lacking a successful opening.[1] It is also used in a similar sense for music releases and video games.

In filmEdit

Some sleeper hits in the film industry are strategically marketed for audiences subtly, such as with sneak previews a couple of weeks prior to release, without making them feel obliged to see a heavily promoted film. This alternative form of marketing strategy has been used in sleeper hits such as Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), There's Something About Mary (1998), and The Sixth Sense (1999).[1]

Screenings for these films are held in an area conducive to the film's demographic. In the case of Sleepless in Seattle, a romantic comedy, screenings were held at suburban shopping malls where romantic couples in their mid 20s to early 30s spent Saturday afternoons before seeing a new film. In theory, a successful screening leads to word-of-mouth marketing, as it compels viewers to discuss an interesting, low-key film with co-workers when they return to work after their weekend.[1]

Easy Rider (1969), which was created on a budget of less than $400,000, became a sleeper hit by earning $50 million and garnering attention from younger audiences with its combination of drugs, violence, motorcycles, counter-culture stance, and rock music.[2]

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) was considered a flop for the first 6 months of its release until it found popularity in midnight screenings. A Christmas Story (1983) was initially a modest success with little promotion,[3] but after Ted Turner purchased the MGM backcatalog a few years later and began rerunning the film on his cable networks every December, it became an iconic Christmas classic.

The 1979 Australian film Mad Max, which sprung from the Ozploitation movement and helped to popularise the post-apocalyptic dystopia genre, held the record for the biggest profit-to-cost ratio for several years until it was broken in 1999 by The Blair Witch Project, also a sleeper hit.[4]

The independent film Halloween, which played over the course of fall 1978 through fall 1979 and relied almost completely on word-of-mouth as marketing, was also a sleeper hit, having a box-office take of $70 million on a budget of only $325,000. Its success caused other slasher films to try the same approach, although few fared as well, since horror films heavily rely on opening weekend box-office and quickly fall from theaters. Other notable examples of horror sleeper-hits to follow in Halloween's wake include A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, Scream in 1996, The Blair Witch Project in 1999, Saw in 2004, and Paranormal Activity in 2007.[5]

In musicEdit

Don Howard's 1952 recording of "Oh Happy Day" was one of the earliest sleeper hits. Featuring only Howard's baritone vocals and his acoustic guitar played at an amateur level, it was initially released regionally and was never expected to become a hit. A massive groundswell of support from teenagers in Howard's home base of Cleveland, Ohio, led to the song rapidly rising in popularity,[6] despite music industry scorn;[7] cover versions (including one by Larry Hooper and the Lawrence Welk orchestra) were quickly rushed into production, and by 1953, there were no fewer than four hit recordings of the same song circulating, including Howard's original.

The Romantics' 1980 single "What I Like About You" was a minor hit upon its release, charting at number 49 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, while not charting at all in the United Kingdom. It eventually became one of the most popular songs of the 1980s.[8]

The 1987 single "Welcome to the Jungle" by American rock band Guns N' Roses performed poorly in both the United States and the United Kingdom when first released in September of that year. As the band's popularity grew steadily in 1988, it became a sleeper hit in the US and reached the top 10 of the Billboard charts. It was then re-released in the UK, charting within the top 40 there.[9]

The R&B singer Raphael Saadiq's classic soul-inspired album The Way I See It was a sleeper hit.[10] Overlooked upon its release in 2008,[11] it ended up charting for 41 weeks on the US Billboard 200.[12]

"Just Dance" and "Poker Face" by pop singer Lady Gaga were both released in 2008 but did not become popular hits until the end of the year and the following year in certain countries, including the US and the UK.[13]

Awolnation's "Sail" was initially released in November 2010, but entered at number 89 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in September 2011, spending 20 weeks on the chart before dropping out. The single re-entered the Hot 100 a year later, becoming a massive sleeper hit and reaching a new peak of number 17. "Sail" also became the first song to climb to its peak after a year on the Hot 100. It ultimately spent a then-record 79 weeks on the chart.[14]

British pop artist Ellie Goulding's single "Lights" was released in February 2011, debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 in August of the same year.[15] The track reached its peak position of number 2 after 33 weeks in August 2012, a year and a half after the song's original release date.[16] "Lights" continued its upward momentum from there, taking over two years to reach its peak position in countries like Slovenia, France and Germany.[17][18][19]

The R&B singer Miguel's 2010 debut album All I Want Is You performed poorly at first, debuting at number 109 on the Billboard 200 with sales of 11,000 copies,[20] while underpromoted by his record label.[21] With its singles achieving radio airplay and Miguel touring in the record's promotion,[20] All I Want Is You became a sleeper hit[22] and reached 404,000 copies sold by 2012.[20] As of November 2017, the album has been certified platinum in the US.[23]

Alessia Cara's 2015 debut single, "Here", became a sleeper hit near the end of the year, ultimately reaching number five on the Billboard Hot 100 and ranking high on several year-end lists of 2015's best songs.[24]

Sheck Wes' single "Mo Bamba" off of his debut album Mudboy saw little critical or commercial success upon its initial release in 2017, but eventually went viral in mid-2018. It reached number six on the Billboard Hot 100.[25] The song eventually ended up receiving a triple platinum certification on January 31, 2019.[26]

Lizzo's 2017 single, "Truth Hurts", became a viral sleeper hit in spring 2019, debuting at number 50 on the week of May 18, 2019. Its high debut was due to a Billboard rule that affects songs older than one year from entering the Hot 100 unless obtaining a substantial amount of chart points.[27] It was later included in the deluxe edition of her third studio album, Cuz I Love You, and was also included in Netflix film Someone Great. "Truth Hurts" was later released as a single with two remixes included, one involving DaBaby and another with DJ CID.[28] The track has since become her first top 10 hit in the United States, reaching a peak of number one during the week of September 7, 2019 and staying at the number one spot for three weeks since.[29][30][31]

In video gamesEdit

Pocket Monster Red and Green were released in 1996 in Japan, and later released as Pokémon Red and Blue in 1998. They followed several years of development and became sleeper hits.[32][33] Believing it to be a one-time product, Nintendo initially shipped 200,000 copies, a relatively low amount. Most media ignored the games, but largely by word-of-mouth stemming from the hidden character Mew's introduction,[32] their popularity gradually spread throughout Japan, selling a million units by the end of 1996.[34] They eventually became the best-selling video games ever in Japan, with 7.8 million copies sold,[35] and 45 million sold worldwide.[36] After becoming a national sensation in Japan, the franchise was introduced to the United States in September 1998,[37] going on to start a worldwide craze dubbed "Pokémania".[38]

Portal was released in 2007 with little fanfare as part of the game compilation The Orange Box, but eventually became a "phenomenon".[39]

SteamWorld Dig (2013) was released on the 3DS by little-known developer Image & Form. It became one of the first indie games mentioned in a Nintendo Direct, and ultimately sold over a million copies on all platforms. If the game had not succeeded, the studio would have been forced to close.[40]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Berra 2008, p. 68.
  2. ^ Ganeri & Bergan 2006, p. 458.
  3. ^ Maslin, Janet (8 January 1984). "IN THE ARTS: CRITICS' CHOICES". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2009. Popular misconceptions can get a movie off to a slow start, and they may have helped turn 'A Christmas Story' into the sleeper of this season.
  4. ^ Lanford Beard (22 July 2014). "Summer Sleepers: 14 Unexpected Movie Hits". Entertainment Weekly.
  5. ^ Kerswell, J.A. (2012). The slasher movie book. Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Review Press. ISBN 1556520107.
  6. ^ "Mystery Hit –". Time. 9 February 1953. Retrieved 9 October 2008.
  7. ^ Richard N. Smith (19 February 1953). "No One Likes 'Happy Day' Except Public". Galveston Daily News.
  8. ^ Gimarc 2005, p. 287.
  9. ^ Masterton, James (2015). "Guns N' Roses". The Top 40 Annual 1988. James Masterton.
  10. ^ Sless-Kitain, Areif (6 August 2010). "Raphael Saadiq + Balkan Beat Box + Javelin at Lollapalooza 2010: Live review". Time Out. Chicago. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  11. ^ Watson, Margeaux (24 December 2008). "Raphael Saadiq's 'The Way I See It': Most overlooked CD of the year". Entertainment Weekly. New York. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
  12. ^ "Raphael Saadiq Album & Song Chart History". Billboard. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
  13. ^ Lady Gaga Superstar – Page 7
  14. ^ "Ask Billboard: How Does The Hot 100 Work?". Billboard. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  15. ^ "Top 100 Songs | Billboard Hot 100 Chart". Billboard. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  16. ^ "Top 100 Songs | Billboard Hot 100 Chart". Billboard. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  17. ^ SloTop50. "SloTop50 | Tedenska lestvica največkrat zavrtenih skladb". (in Slovenian). Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  18. ^ Hung, Steffen. " - Ellie Goulding - Lights". Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  19. ^ "Offizielle Deutsche Charts - Offizielle Deutsche Charts". (in German). Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  20. ^ a b c Lipshutz, Jason (21 September 2012). "Miguel's 'Kaleidoscope Dream': Inside The R&B Dynamo's Fresh Start". Billboard. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
  21. ^ Rytlewski, Evan (9 October 2012). "Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream". The A.V. Club. Chicago. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
  22. ^ Graham, Nadine (24 March 2011). "Q&A: Miguel". Soul Train. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
  23. ^ Gold & Platinum - RIAA
  24. ^ Ahmed, Tufayel (10 November 2016). "A Conversation with Alessia Cara on Feminism, Donald Trump and Taylor Swift". Newsweek. Retrieved 2 December 2018.
  25. ^ "Travis Scott Scores First Billboard Hot 100 Leader: 'What's More 'Sicko Mode' Than Going No. 1?!'". Billboard. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  26. ^ "Gold & Platinum". RIAA. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ Trust, Gary (8 July 2019). "Lil Nas X's 'Old Town Road' Leads Hot 100 for 14th Week, Lizzo's 'Truth Hurts' Hits Top 10". Billboard. Retrieved 9 July 2019.
  30. ^ Anderson, Trevor; Trust, Gary (29 July 2019). "Winner's Circle: Lil Nas X's 'Old Town Road' Breaks Record With 17th Week Atop Billboard Hot 100". Billboard. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  31. ^ Trust, Gary (3 September 2019). "Lizzo's 'Truth Hurts' Hits No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100, Taylor Swift's 'Lover' Leaps to Top 10". Billboard. Retrieved 3 September 2019.
  32. ^ a b Knodle, Matt (2 January 2018). "Top 10 Sleeper Hit Games". Honey's Anime. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  33. ^ Berens, Kate; Howard, Geoff (2008). The Rough Guide to Videogames. Rough Guides. p. 21. ISBN 978-1848362291.
  34. ^ Kent, Steven (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games. Three Rivers Press. pp. 566–567. ISBN 978-0761536437. See this and this link.
  35. ^ Master Blaster (8 July 2012). "Japan's 30 Best Selling Video Games of All Time". SoraNews24. Archived from the original on 21 December 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  36. ^ Parish, Jeremy (24 September 2018). "Pokémon: The 20-year fad". Polygon. Archived from the original on 26 September 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  37. ^ "Pokémon Craze Zeros In On the United States" (Press release). Atlanta, Georgia, US: Nintendo of America Inc. 27 May 1998. Archived from the original on 10 June 1998. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  38. ^ Chua-Eoan, Howard; Larimer, Tim (22 November 1999). "Beware of the Pokemania". Time Asia. Vol. 154 no. 20. pp. 80–93. Archived from the original on 20 February 2001. While best-selling games like Final Fantasy grabbed the top slot for a couple of dramatic months and then faded, Pokémon sales grew slowly and steadily--and they did not stop. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  39. ^ "Indies Take the Cake at Game Developers Conference". WIRED.
  40. ^ Jackson, Gita. "The Making of a Switch Sleeper Hit". Kotaku.


External linksEdit