Sleeper hit  

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A sleeper hit (often simply called a "sleeper") refers to a film, book, album, TV show, or video game that gains unexpected success or recognition. The term is most commonly used in reference to feature films.

In the entertainment industry, a sleeper hit is a film, television series, music release, video game or some other entertainment product that is initially unsuccessful on release but becomes a big success later on. A sleeper hit may have little promotion or lack a successful launch, but then garner a fan following that rewards it media attention, which in turn increases its public exposure and public interest in the product.Template:Sfn


In film

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).

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.Template:Sfn

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.Template:Sfn

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, but after Ted Turner purchased the MGM back-catalog 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.

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 Friday the 13th in 1980, The Evil Dead in 1981, A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, Scream in 1996, I Know What You Did Last Summer in 1997, The Blair Witch Project in 1999, Final Destination in 2000, Saw in 2004, Hostel in 2005, Paranormal Activity in 2007, both The Purge and The Conjuring in 2013, and both Happy Death Day and Get Out in 2017.

Hocus Pocus, which was initially a box-office flop, eventually became a sleeper hit through television airings on the 13 Nights of Halloween block on what is now Freeform.

In music

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, despite music industry scorn; 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 thanks to its use in various advertising campaigns.Template:Sfn

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.

Nirvana's second album Nevermind was released in September 1991 with low expectations, hoping to sell 500,000 copies. The album entered the Billboard 200 at number 144, but slowly climbed up the charts over the following months, entering the top 40 in November. The album was selling 300,000 copies a week by December, before in January 1992, Nevermind replaced Michael Jackson's Dangerous at number 1 on the Billboard charts.

The R&B singer Raphael Saadiq's classic soul-inspired album The Way I See It was a sleeper hit.

"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.

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.


The COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in audiences' rediscovery of previously-released media, including music. Songs such as "Arcade" by Duncan Laurence (released March 2019), "Astronaut in the Ocean" by Masked Wolf (released June 2019), Beggin' (The Four Seasons cover) by Måneskin (released December 2017), "Iko Iko" (Mardi Gras Indians cover) by Justin Wellington (released June 2019) and Heat Waves by Glass Animals (released June 2020) became sleeper hits, mainly through TikTok and other social media platforms, achieving popularity and subsequently chart success in early spring and summer of 2021.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sleeper hit" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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