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 successful films such as Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), There's Something About Mary (1998), The Sixth Sense (1999), and War Room (2015).
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.
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.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show was considered a flop for the first 6 months of its release until it found popularity in midnight screenings.
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 by The Blair Witch Project in 1999.
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.
The Romantics' 1980 single "What I Like About You" was a sleeper hit. It was a minor hit upon its release and charted 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.
The R&B singer Raphael Saadiq's classic soul-inspired album The Way I See It was a sleeper hit. Overlooked upon its release in 2008, it ended up charting for 41 weeks on the US Billboard 200.
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, while underpromoted by his record label. With its singles achieving radio airplay and Miguel touring in the record's promotion, All I Want Is You became a sleeper hit and reached 404,000 copies sold by 2012.
"Gone", a song by Kanye West featuring Cam'ron and Consequence from West's 2005 album Late Registration, did not chart for eight years until 2013 when the song was featured in a viral video about a woman quitting her job, when it charted on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 18.
- Berra 2008, p. 68.
- Ganeri & Bergan 2006, p. 458.
- Lanford Beard (2014-07-22). "Summer Sleepers: 14 Unexpected Movie Hits". Entertainment Weekly.
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- Gimarc 2005, p. 287.
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- Watson, Margeaux (December 24, 2008). "Raphael Saadiq's 'The Way I See It': Most overlooked CD of the year". Entertainment Weekly. New York. Retrieved April 7, 2012.
- "Raphael Saadiq Album & Song Chart History". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved May 16, 2012.
- Lady Gaga Superstar - Page 7
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- Graham, Nadine (March 24, 2011). "Q&A: Miguel". Soul Train. Retrieved October 17, 2012.
- Berra, John (2008). Declarations of Independence: American Cinema and the Partiality of Independent Production. Intellect Books. ISBN 1841501859.
- Ganeri, Anita; Bergan, Ronald (2006). Eyewitness Companions: Film. Penguin. ISBN 0756643465.
- Gimarc, George (2005). Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter's Guide To Underground Rock, 1970-1982. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0879308486.