And You Thought It Would Fail

"If I had a penny for every time someone said making a Marvel movie with a talking raccoon was dumb and that Guardians was going to bomb, I'd probably have just about the amount of money Guardians has made so far."
James Gunn on the expectations for Guardians of the Galaxy

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.

Subtrope of Sleeper Hit; in this case, the work must be actively derided before release, not just ignored. Compare It Will Never Catch On. See also Magnum Opus Dissonance when it's the creator who doesn't expect the work to succeed.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Masayuki Ozaki, the executive producer of Tiger & 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 Entertainment only gave him 25, for reasons that remain unclearnote . 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.
  • The first Attack on Titan manuscript was sent to Shueisha to publish in Weekly Shonen Jump, who said it was good, but not good enough for Jump, and rejected it. The author then sent it to rival Kodansha, who published it in their monthly Bessatsu Shounen Magazine. Considering what trope page this is, it goes without saying it became a Sleeper Hit, growing in popularity to surpass famous long runners like Bleach.

    Comic Strips 
  • Hergé started with Tintin in 1929, at a time when Europe had no tradition in creating comic strips with text balloons. The comic strip was some filler material in Le Petit Vingtième, the youth section of newspaper Le Vingtième. After he had finished the first story the redaction proposed a publicity stunt in which an actor playing Tintin would arrive on the Brussels station, just like Tintin did at the end of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. Hergé agreed, though he was sure that nobody would be around to witness it. To his surprise the place was full with people! In an interview he said: "From that moment on, I realized Tintin was on its way up!" And it did. By the end of Hergés life Tintin had become and still is the most succesful European comic strip in the world, about as widespread and popular as any of the Walt Disney comic strips!

  • 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 II 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 and Disneyland were all a big success.
    • 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.
    • In a case that extended to within Disney, two projects started concurrently, Pocahontas and King of the Jungle, something about lions in Africa. Most of the animators picked the former feeling it would be the high-profile movie, leading the latter to have only newcomers or people with an interest in animating animals. Even the writing staff felt insecure about the project during non-stop rewrites. The resulting film, The Lion King, is the highest-grossing traditional animation ever and widely regarded as a high point 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.
    • Eisner himself had two notable cases: once the budget to Who Framed Roger Rabbit ballooned out of proportion, he tried to close production, but Jeffrey Katzenberg talked him out of it (two examples below show director Robert Zemeckis is a lightning rod for this trope); then in 2002 he considered doing the same with...
    • Pirates of the Caribbean started off as the second of three Disney park ride adaptations, the other two being The Country Bears and The Haunted Mansion. A franchise for Pirates was in no way anticipated by Michael Eisner and his fellow execs. The original film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The 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 apparently is the first of another trilogy.
    • Olaf from Frozen is a character example. Based on initial trailers, nearly everyone expected him to be a Scrappy, a typical annoying Kid-Appeal Character. Then the film came out, and Olaf turned out to be genuinely funny, becoming an Ensemble Darkhorse.
  • Critics were very hostile to King Kong (1933). "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 Bros. 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 surprise. (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 20th Century Fox had very little faith in Star Wars: A New Hope 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 Minds 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...
    • Both United Artists and Universal had passed on the film before it even got to Fox.
    • Fox had to bully theaters into showing Star Wars, as theaters simply wouldn't touch it and Fox had to make some money back on what they assumed would be a financial fiasco. Fox threatened to withhold the drama film The Other Side of Midnight, which had been tipped to be a hit that Summer, unless the theater agreed to screen Star Wars for a couple weeks. The Other Side of Midnight made its budget back, but it was steamrolled at the box office by Star Wars.
    • Fox gave George Lucas exclusive rights on The Merch related to Star Wars in exchange for paying him less. They figured the movie would bomb and no one would make, never mind buy the merchandise as a result. And that's why no publisher ever gives exclusive merchandising rights to the creator anymore.
  • 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 The Kentucky Fried Movie. With its obsession with 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.
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 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.
    • M&M-Mars certainly thought it would be forgettable. Hershey, on the other hand, gave it a chance. Thus, the film put Reese's Pieces on the candy map.
  • Romancing the Stone. 20th 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.
  • Back to the Future was rejected by every major studio when first pitched in 1980, as the Lorraine/Marty subplot wasn't risque enough to match other teen comedies at the time (or, in the case of Disney, was TOO risque). This caused some embarrassment for a number of Hollywood execs when five years later, Zemeckis and Gale made Future under Amblin (with distribution by Universal) and it became the highest-grossing picture of 1985.
    • Plus, an exec at Universal hated the name Back to the Future because he felt that any movie with the word "future" in the title was box office poison. It took the intervention of Steven Spielberg for Zemeckis and Gale to keep the original title.
  • 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 (1997) ran overbudget, gathered plenty of naysayers and became the first film in history to make $1 billion worldwide.
  • The premise of Napoleon Dynamite 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 Sundance (he rejected it). Dreamworks Pictures saw 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 two sequels, while Saw VI's disappointing box-office performance arguably killed the series (there was only one more Saw movie afterwards).
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Iron Man: B-list comic book character? Washed-up actor who had problems with drug abuse in the lead role? Director whose last film hadn't been so much of a success? In hindsight, it was Marvel's greatest decision they ever made. According to associate producer Jeremy Latcham, various writers passed on the film during both pre-production and requests for rewrites. All regretted once Iron Man was released.
    • 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.
    • The Avengers. Having an ensemble cast of several superheroes? But it worked far better than even thought possible. Also, ever since the nineties it was declared over and over by fans that a movie about a Super-Team consisting of superheroes each big enough to have his own solo movie, thus requiring a lead-star-capable actor for each role, would never be more than a fanboy's daydream.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy was considered a risky venture, being an obscure comic property featuring a gun-toting raccoon and an animated tree amongst its lineup. Predictions of failure abounded, despite the film being handled by the one who brought the world two Scooby-Doo films (along with weird horror). Its $94 million opening weekend take exceeded projections and expectations, and its worldwide earnings exceeded its production cost after less than a week. The quote atop this page just says everything.
    • Ant-Man was expected to be a flop, not only because of being an obscure character (even as a Legacy Character) infamous for having "lame" powers, but also its infamous Troubled Production. However, while it wasn't as successful as Guardians of the Galaxy above, it still proved its chops, outbeating Minions in its second week.
  • When Dirty Dancing was screened for Aaron Russo, a producer at Vestron Pictures, his reaction to the film was "Burn the negative and collect the insurance." Dirty Dancing would become one of the highest-grossing films of the year.
  • Before Big was released in June 1988, there'd already been three Overnight Age-Up comedies made between 1987 and 1988: Like Father, Like Son, 18 Again! and Vice Versa (plus the Italian film Da grande, which was this film's direct inspiration), so many expected this film to tank and be forgotten. Instead, Big became the highest-grossing and most highly-praised film of the bunch.
  • RoboCop (1987) was expected to be a relatively low-budget B-movie that wouldn't do very well at the box office and even the director, Paul Verhoeven, turned it down at first and had to be convinced by his wife to take on the project. Instead it became one of the biggest films of the year and a scifi classic, and launched his career in Hollywood (previously he had only directed arthouse films in the Netherlands, and the last movie he had made, Flesh+Blood, was a huge flop).
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes was widely mocked before release as appearing to be an ill attempt to revive what was pretty much a dead franchise, especially after a bomb of a remake ten years before. Then it came out and, to everyone's surprise, turned out to be a critical success, with a groundbreaking performance by Andy Serkis, as well as a commercial success, bringing hope back to the series. The sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, was even more successful, and ended up being one of the most acclaimed movies of Summer 2014; several film critics even held it up as an example of the kind of film that other Summer blockbusters should strive to be.
  • Apparently, before Bruce Willis was approached to play John McClane in Die Hard, the job had already been turned down by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson, who didn´t believe in the script, and John McTiernan, who would later direct it, even turned down several offers. When his agent delivered the news to Willis, he immediately advised him not to do it, thinking he´d make a complete fool of himself. However, due to the payment being simply to good to turn down, Willis accepted to play McClane, kicking off his career as one of Hollywood´s most popular and well paid actors.
  • Early trailers for Paddington focused on Toilet Humor and Paddington's Uncanny Valley look, and with Colin Firth dropping out many thought the film would flop. When it actually came out it got rave reviews from critics on both sides of the Atlantic for being not only a delightfully sincere family film but also staying very true to the spirit of the books. It was also a financial success, grossing over $259 million with a 55 million budget.

  • 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 M*A*S*H 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).
  • Animal Farm was turned down by a publisher who told George Orwell in the rejection slip, "It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA."
  • In case you need proof that most publishers thought Stephen King's Carrie would fail, King has saved all the rejection letters he got while trying to sell it. One of them said, "We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell."
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne did not expect The Scarlet Letter to be popular. It was.
  • Beatrix Potter at first had absolutely no luck finding an editor who liked The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Eventually, she used her family's wealth to publish it privately, and after some moderate success on this limited distribution, an editor was conviced that it would sell and, well, it certainly did.
  • As hard as it is to believe, one publisher rejected Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, claiming in the rejection slip, "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above 'curiosity' level." (The name of this publisher has been lost, and more than likely, he kept quiet about it.)
  • Astrid Lindgren was rejected by one publisher, Bonniers. But she finally was accepted by another publisher, Rabén & Sjögren, and she would (mostly) remain faithful to them for the rest of her career. And it was a good career too, as she became one of Sweden's most-loved writers of children's literature.
  • Simona Ahrnstedt was determined to bring Romance Novel to the Swedish literary scene. But it wasn't easy for her to find a publisher for her debut novel, Överenskommelser, and critics continued to ignore her. While she maybe isn't a household name, she's got a steady fanbase, has published two more novels and has proved that there is a market for Swedish Romance.
  • Ted Geisel - better known by his pen name, Dr. Seuss - tried twenty-seven times, unsuccessfully, to sell his first children's book. You probably know it as And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. And he almost Gave Up Too Soon. He was so frustrated after the 27th time, he decided to go burn the manuscript, when by pure chance, he ran into an old friend... who had just happened to become a publisher.

    Live Action Television 
  • Saturday Night Live was considered a filler for dead airspace that was only created to replace old reruns of Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show and only appealed to stoners and insomniacs. Almost 40 years later, and the show (despite its ups and downs in quality, three threats of cancellation, and its constant changes in cast and crew members) has become a New York institution, is the longest-running sketch show in America, has old and new fans (some of which will forever argue over whether or not the show is still worth watching or if there's anything out there that can be a worthy replacement), beat 99% of the sketch shows that were put on the air to replace itnote  is more popular than ever in the viral video/Internet comedy era, and has accrued a vast wealth of memorable characters and moments (both funny and serious).
  • 24 initially began its existence as a romantic comedy-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, in addition to a sequel mini-series confirmed to be on the way.
  • 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 (2003) 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.
  • ABC started garnering a few tentpole series from midseason replacements, which in general are held for midseason because they're not considered good enough for the fall schedule.. The first midseason replacement to become a hit was Grey's Anatomy. The second was Castle. The third, though not as big as the other two, was Body of Proof.
  • 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.
    • Four years later, the exact same thing would happen with Parks and Recreation, right down to the six-episode first season, the critics dismissing it as a pale clone of The Office (the U.S. version this time), and the show becoming successful when it developed its own identity.
  • The Disney TV movie High School Musical. Nobody, absolutely nobody, saw its mega-popularity coming.
  • In fall 2006, NBC premiered two primetime shows that took place behind the scenes of a sketch comedy show that airs live every week: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock. It was widely expected that 30 Rock wouldn't last past the first fifteen minutes of episode one while Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip would go on to success and acclaim. A year later, Studio 60 was the one dead in the water 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 is yet another forgotten show that will live on in the minds of die-hard Aaron Sorkin fans.
  • AMC was never considered in the same league as HBO, with original shows not being up their alley ... until the double-whammy of period drama Mad Men and dark comedy/drama Breaking Bad. And once the two shows were joined by sci-fi megahit The Walking Dead, AMC became the most desirable network for drama on cable television. Breaking Bad was a particularly unexpected success for the network. When it was first greenlit, nobody thought that it would amount to anything. Even its creator, Vince Gilligan, didn't know if it would work. One executive described the idea of a high school chemistry teacher turning meth dealer, "the single worst idea for a television show [he'd] heard in [his] whole life". When it aired, despite getting mediocre ratings for most of its run, it was critically adored, with the acclaim increasing every single year. Finally, the last eight episodes of the series saw an astronomical increase in ratings in addition to almost universal acclaim, seeing the show go out in a blaze of glory both critically and commercially, with one of the most watched series finales in the history of cable television, firmly securing it a place in discussions of the best television dramas ever
  • 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 Four called Seven Days. Not only did TOWIE become an unexpected hit, but who even remembers Seven Days now?
  • For the Friday night new shows on fall 1993, Fox decided to put a Western with big names up front, and some sci-fi show starring two unknowns afterwards to get the residual audience from its predecessor. The former is The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which only lasted one season. The latter is The X-Files, which was highly influential, acclaimed, and popular during its nine seasons.
  • In 1975, when Phil Redmond was touting the idea for Grange Hill around most of the UK's television companies, no one was prepared to believe that schoolchildren would want to watch a realistic drama series about children at school. Finally taken up by the BBC in 1976 and launched in 1978, the series ran for 30 years, racking up 601 episodes.
  • Gardeners' World has been running since 1968, has its own magazine, and is practically an institution in its own right. But when it was first proposed, commissioners at the BBC didn't believe there would be an audience for a programme about gardening, and were even more sceptical that anyone would be able to find enough material to keep it running.
  • In the fall of 1994, ER and Chicago Hope premiered on NBC and CBS, respectively, in the identical Thursday at 10pm time slot (and both set in the same city). While not exactly expecting ER to fail, many critics deemed Chicago Hope the better show and assumed that it would win the ratings battle. Instead, ER trounced Hope so thoroughly that within weeks the latter show moved to another time slot and was off the air in six seasons (perfectly respectable, but nothing compared to ER's 15).
  • The fifth episode of The Sopranos, "College", was initially met with extreme resistance from HBO executives because it showed Tony committing his first on-screen murder, and they felt that the audience would never be able to feel sympathy for the show's protagonist if he remorselessly killed an FBI informant without consequences. Being early in its run, The Sopranos had yet to become the critical powerhouse that it would eventually be, and the network still worried about its ability to sustain an audience. In the end, though, not only did "College" end up winning a Primetime Emmy for "Outstanding Writing", it was eventually ranked the greatest episode of the series by Time Magazine, and it was ranked the second greatest television episode of all time by TV Guide. To this day, fans frequently cite it as the show's Growing the Beard moment..
  • Orphan Black was expected to bomb on BBC America because it wasn't British. Instead, it became the network's third breakout hit after Doctor Who and Sherlock and the biggest Canadian-exported show in years. It gave Tatiana Maslany worldwide recognition after years of being only known in Canada, to the point that her snub for a Best Actress Emmy nomination in 2014 was seen as the biggest of the year.

    Video Games 
  • 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. 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.
  • Though he in the end did not interfere with the decision, then-president of Sega of Japan Hayao Nakayama thought then-president of Sega of America Tom Kalinske's decision to bundle the company's Killer App Sonic The Hedgehog 1 with the Sega Genesis for the for the upcoming 1991 holiday season, despite being released only a few months ago, was an awful idea. Sega of America's gamble paid off with the Sega Genesis outselling the competing Nintendo's SNES almost two to one during the holiday season and caused Sega's marketshare in the 16-bit console to skyrocket up to 65% in January the following year, dethroning Nintendo as the console leader for the first time since December 1985 and establishing Sega as a serious contender against Nintendo in the Console Wars.
  • Before its release, Nintendo and Retro Studios 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 - the Polygon Ceiling was still looming over the industry like a vulture. 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 in the whole series, plus regular contenders in "top 100 games of all time" lists.
  • Combining Square and Disney's ability to pull this off, when people first heard about Kingdom Hearts, a game where a Square character travels through the worlds of various Disney movies 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 Wii went on to become the company's best-selling system since the NES and outsold its competitors by a far margin. The DS went on to become the top-selling handheld dedicated game system of all time. This comic illustrates the point quite nicely. It also says something that this April Fools' joke was more accurate than every serious prediction around that 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. And Nintendo's reputation of making games mostly for kids was really hurting them those days. Upon release, it was hailed as one of the Nintendo Gamecube'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.
  • Pokémon, Game Freak's Cash Cow Franchise to end Cash Cow Franchises, was practically declared a failure and a loss by Nintendo of Japan on their part, and they never paid it much mind. You can guess just how very wrong they were. In fact, Pokémon was put on the Game Boy out of desperation more than anything else—no one but Satoshi Tajiri, the creator, was interested in releasing something for the then-aging, then-forgotten Game Boy. Tajiri simply wanted to see his game available to the public. The franchise not only saved the Game Boy, it saved Nintendo (its resources were seriously strained trying to finish The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, in addition to PlayStation releases steamrolling anything Nintendo had released at the time), and through the anime adaptation, helped popularize anime in the west. It also helps that Pokemon was one of the franchises that eventually helped the DS and the 3DS dominate the handheld share - because it's a franchise that relies on the handheld, and that Nintendo handhelds can always rely on.
  • Nintendo initially planned on Super Smash Bros. being simply a little low-budget novelty to be released only in Japan. Then they implemented characters from other series and imported it overseas, and became a major success.
  • Sony didn't bother to publish Demon's Souls themselves as a first-party PS3 title in the west because they thought it wouldn't sell well. Demon's Souls wasn't just published by Sony's Japanese division; the game was co-developed by SCE Japan Studio. Luckily, publishers like Atlus and Namco Bandai picked up the title and the rest was history. Demon's Souls ended up as big Sleeper Hit in 2009. Much to Sony's surprise, went on to receive positive reviews from both gamers and the press. For a lightly-marketed game, it sold more than 150,000 units in its first month alone. Sony to this day regrets not publishing Demon's Souls themselves in the west and lost out on a potential first-party Killer App.
  • Spyro the Dragon fans and critics alike thought Skylanders would be a bomb. Instead it has become a Cash Cow Franchise that probably surpasses even the actual Spyro games, with over 700 million dollars in sales and several titles.
  • The Ace Attorney series' creator, Shu Takumi got told his idea of a lawyer main character would fall flat on its face. Judging from the number of sequels, additional media, and fan bases, it's sort of obvious that Takumi had the last laugh.
  • Considering the Fire Emblem franchise had been on the decline, sales-wise, for years, Intelligent Systems considered it a very real possibility that Fire Emblem Awakening would be their last FE game ever. It went on to be the most successful game in the entire franchise, both critically and financially.

    Western Animation 
  • 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. Even Matt Groening was having doubts on its first season, and was threatening to have it canceled since he was having issues with the animation. Despite that, The Simpsons remains the longest-running sitcom in America, a universal favorite (it's been dubbed and subtitled in a lot of languages), a Cash Cow Franchise, and a critical favorite, both adored by the general public and critics.
  • When Matt Groening first met up with the animators to work on the first short for the The Tracey Ullman Show, they reckoned that it would take around two weeks to complete... and that they would get about three weeks of work out of the entire project before it was shelved.
  • Beast Wars; 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 & 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. Instead it was critically acclaimed and a box office success and brought more attention to the show. Cut to today, where South Park's renewed contracts with Comedy Central will take the series up to twenty-three complete seasons.
  • Long-time fans and of the Craig McCracken-Genndy Tartakovsky group, as well as television critics, initially believed My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic as the end of an era for them, as this was the first time this group produced a show based on a Merchandise-Driven franchise. On top of that, this was to be a pillar show on the fledgling network The Hub, a channel (partially) owned by a toy company. Lauren Faust received harsh words from every corner about selling out and her supposed lack of artistic integrity, to where she also believed the show would flop and this would be her Creator Killer. Despite this vitriol, or perhaps because of it, the show wound up having a Periphery Demographic nobody expected and allowed The Hub to be a real contender for the likes of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.