- Walt Disney is the all-time master of this trope.
- 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. That is, until Walt Disney decided to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length animated movie by a major American studio. It was labeled "Disney's Folly" by film industry insiders at the time, a project destined to send Disney into bankruptcy. At its premiere, Snow White proved to be an amazing picture, and the worldwide highest-grossing sound film 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 the box-office wipeout of Fantasia and the further financial strains of World War II on his studio, returning to full-length animation was a gamble; on the other hand, branching out into non-cartoon movies and even documentaries (!) was (in the eyes of critics in the late 40s) absolutely impossible for Walt. Cinderella, Treasure Island and The Living Desert (1953) proved the naysayers wrong, again.
- 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 the apex of the Disney Renaissance.
- In 2002, Disney, specifically CEO Michael Eisner, found itself doubting Pixar could keep the big hits coming in 2003 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 goes with any of Disney's competitors eager to hook up with it.
- Disney's close competitor DreamWorks Animation has also had its fair share of surprise hits:
- Kung Fu Panda was announced at a time when most DreamWorks Animation movies were receiving mixed to negative reviews (especially Shark Tale and Bee Movie) and had suffered from Audience-Alienating Premises. Kung Fu Panda was expected to be a movie with a one-joke premise (a fat panda doing Kung Fu), but what audiences got was an action-packed animated flick with enough heart, humor, and fleshed-out characters to go around. Add on respect to Chinese culture and a good message, and you have a movie that not only restored audience faith in Dreamworks, but is also considered to be their best movie (alongside How to Train Your Dragon). Its success inspired 2 sequels, 2 TV shows, and countless rip-offs.
- Trolls: World Tour: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing theaters to shut down worldwide, World Tour was one of the first films to be released on video-on-demand rather than be postponed to a later date. Many initially viewed this as Universal giving up on the movie and just trying to recoup their losses, especially after the massive flops of Cats and Dolittle. Within three weeks, World Tour made over $100 million dollars in rentals, breaking digital records across the board and making more money for Universal than the first film made for 20th Century Fox within five months.
- The Croods: A New Age was released in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the first movie was a hit and well received, it came out seven years prior and no one thought that it had a large enough following to justify a trip to the theater (at that point, the only tentpole released was Tenet, which bombed). It opened to $9.7m in its opening weekend (the highest since Tenet), but it went on to have a greater staying power, earning $58.6m domestically (a x6 multiplier) and $216m worldwide, making it one of the first cinematic success stories of the pandemic era.
- Warner Animation Group
- When The LEGO Movie was announced, it was scorned by critics and most believed it would be nothing more beyond a glorified toy commercial. Few could have predicted it would turn out to be a fresh, original film with stellar animation, witty humor, memorable characters, an engaging plot, and a brilliant deconstruction of The Chosen One trope. The success led to both a sequel and the spin-off The LEGO Batman Movie.
- As soon as Teen Titans Go! To the Movies was announced, many immediately dismissed the idea due to it being a spinoff of one of the Internet's most hated modern cartoons, even going so far as to say that it would be as bad as, or worse than The Emoji Movie, which is not eactly well-regarded itself. By the time of the film's release, however, it received largely positive reviews, gaining a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, and did mildly well at the box office.
- This was the fan community reaction to the Friendship Is Magic spin-off My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, due it being a High School A.U. of My Little Pony... without the ponies. Things only seemed to get worse as pictures of the prototype dolls and stock art leaked, with more than one person crying that the parent show was Ruined Forever and that it would be a Franchise Killer. Instead, it became a big enough hit to warrant multiple sequels that each received better reception than the last, with the Big Bad (and later Hero Protagonist) of the spinoff franchise becoming a fan-favorite character.
- While the franchise that The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water is based on is highly profitable, it had gone through a lengthy period of Seasonal Rot, so people didn't have as much confidence in the film as they did with the first (a beloved classic), predicting that it would be just a standard, boring kiddie fare. The fact that it was done by the show's current crew, whom the fans blamed for its declining quality, supported their theory. Despite what the trailers presented, the creators outright confirmed that the film would, like the show, be mostly 2D animation, a major concern for some considering that the 2D animation genre had generated flop after flop over the years (the last 2D animated hit was the movie's predecessor, over ten years ago). It also went against the visual-heavy and high concept blockbuster Jupiter Ascending. Despite these odds, it managed to cannibalize the box office in its opening weekend, went on to surpass the domestic box office of the first film both unadjusted and adjusted for inflation, and won plaudits for featuring the witty humor that the series was once known for from both critics and long-jaded fans.
- Sing: Not too many people expected this film to succeed, with many claiming that it was a stale copy of Zootopia with a very cliché, unoriginal plot about a singing competition. Despite all this, the movie managed to earn nearly $200 million in under two weeks, was the second leading film during Christmas weekend at the box office and has gotten mixed to positive reviews by both critics and fans alike. The film was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Golden Globe in 2017.
And You Thought It Would Fail / Animated Film