The 15 Biggest Box-Office Hits to World Premiere at SXSW

By  · Published on March 10th, 2017

The fest has hosted hundreds of world premieres over the years, and these are the top fifteen that snuck onto the box-office charts.

Not all big film festivals are the same as they typically come in different flavors. Some are prestige fests – Sundance, Cannes – while others are focused on genre – Fantastic Fest, Fantasia – but some, like Austin’s SXSW, aim to be a bit more populist in the fare they offer. To be clear, that’s not a criticism.

SXSW 2017 is the 24th edition of the fest, and they’ll be screening over 125 features across nine days. By “populist” I mean only that in addition to offering a wide variety of films guaranteeing everyone will find something to their taste, the festival makes a concerted effort to attract big names and big, commercially viable films to premiere there.

As with most things in life the result of those efforts are something of a mixed bag – sorry The Beaver – but across the years the festival has hosted the planet premiere of fifteen films that went on to make a noticeable dent in the box-office. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s more than most film festivals can brag about the titles they premiered.

Here are the fifteen films that world premiered at SXSW before going on to earn more than $10 million at the world-wide box-office.

  1. Furious 7 — $1.5 billion
  2. Bridesmaids – $288 million
  3. Neighbors – $270 million
  4. Spy – $235 million
  5. 21 Jump Street — $201 million
  6. Source Code — $147 million
  7. Trainwreck — $140 million
  8. Evil Dead — $97 million
  9. Kick-Ass — $96 million
  10. I Love You Man – $91 million
  11. Sinister – $77 million
  12. The Cabin in the Woods — $66 million
  13. Chef — $45 million
  14. Observe and Report — $26 million
  15. Keanu – $20 million

You’ll notice a trend among the fifteen in that the majority of them are comedies. (And yes, I’m including Furious 7 in that grouping because come the hell on.) It makes sense as comedy is among the most palatable genres for mainstream audiences, but I’m encouraged by the presence of three horror films on the list as well (even though one of them is heavily comedic itself). SXSW has always been kind to horror films, and hopefully they’ll find another breakout hit in the genre soon.

A few of the titles were “work-in-progress” premieres, including Bridesmaids and Trainwreck, meaning they hadn’t quite been locked yet and received minor touch-ups before opening wide in theaters. A few of them were secret screenings too. Years past have seen secret screenings of titles as diverse as Dragonslayer, Another Earth, and Roar, but they hit the jackpot awareness-wise in 2015 by locking-down a secret premiere of Furious 7. It’s enough to make some of us suspect this year’s secret could be The Fate of the Furious which hits theaters in about a month…

World premieres that went on to make bank are the focus here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out some of the fantastic films that first found a home at SXSW despite not turning into box-office hits.

My beloved and aforementioned horror genre has been well-represented with world premieres of several terrific titles. The Invitation, We Are Still Here, Deathgasm, The Final Girls, Housebound, Creep, The Innkeepers, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, and The Tall Man (shut up, it’s great) all making their worldwide debut at SXSW over the years.

Critical hits have also made their premieres there including films as varied as Everybody Wants Some, Short Term 12, Tiny Furniture, and Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ debut, Medicine for Melancholy. Some of my own personal favorites are included too like In a Valley of Violence, Little Sister, Teenage Cocktail, Lamb, Predestination, Paper Covers Rock, and the documentary Maidentrip.

SXSW has something for everyone across their film slate both in general and in the films lucky enough to be making their world premiere at the fest. It’s almost enough to forgive them for being the birthplace of “mumblecore” way back in 2005.


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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.