Like 'Kita Kita,' 7 other local films that became surprise blockbusters

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 03 2017 02:08 PM | Updated as of Aug 03 2017 02:21 PM

In movie industry parlance, "sleepers" are those that confound expectations -- little films which were produced without much fanfare. 

Usually, especially here in the Philippines, these start off with a limited release, with directors pleading to theater owners not to pull out their works after just a day or two in favor of Hollywood offerings. 

But thanks to scorching word of mouth and (nowadays) endless social media buzz, "sleepers" end up wildly successful -- forcing the industry to rethink what makes a hit and big studios to question its reliance on popular names to attract audiences.

Just look at "Kita Kita," a romantic comedy from Spring Films -- the independently financed studio co-owned by Piolo Pascual that struggled to replicate the success of its "Kimmy Dora" franchise in recent years -- and Viva Films. 

The movie, released mid-July, shot on a modest budget without a major box office star, has now made P240 million in just over two weeks, backed by glowing reviews, some from delighted celebrities. 

It features Alessandra de Rossi as a Filipina who had temporarily lost her vision after her engagement with her Japanese boyfriend fell apart, and Empoy Marquez as the homely, funny, and charming Tonyo. 

It is a classic example of a "sleeper," which are, sadly, few and far between in today's local movie scene. The rarity of these movies illustrate just how difficult and unpredictable it is to make a hit. 

But since it's not everyday that we get to talk about a "sleeper," here's a look back at those that slowly but surely captured the hearts of Filipinos over the past decade. Check them out below: 

1. "Here Comes the Bride"

When Star Cinema announced the lead star for this quirky, body-switching comedy, many were left scratching their heads. Casting Angelica Panganiban, who was then primarily known for her roles in dramas, and entrusting the project to a newbie director felt like a risk -- considering that it was slated to compete with "Iron Man 2" back in the summer of 2010. But something about it struck a chord with viewers, leading to it earning P117 million in five weeks.

2. "Ang Babae sa Septic Tank"

"Kimmy Dora" made Eugene Domingo a household name, but there were still questions on whether she could replicate its success. This satirical piece, released 2011, about the film industry ended those doubts. Domingo's hilarious return to the big screen apparently appealed with Filipinos, because they gave it the highest gross of any independent film at the time, making nearly P40 million.

3. "Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington"

This film, about a homophobe who turned a leaf to battle bigots and zombies, had some pretty stellar talent onboard, with Jade Castro, who has Cinemalaya and Urian awards to his name, for a director and acclaimed writers Michiko Yamamoto and Raymond Lee penning the script. Still, for the average Filipinos, they were far from recognizable. And with a cast with no big stars, it's still baffling that it ran in cinemas for over a month, raking in P37 million in 2011.

4. "Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles"

With Dingdong Dantes in the lead and the involvement of Erik Matti, the pieces were in place for a predictable success. Did it seem likely that this refreshingly tongue-in-cheek horror flick about an arrogant Manileño who was forced to fend off aswangs using a slingshot and a pack of Boy Bawang will go on to dominate the Halloween box-office season back in 2012? Not many will be willing to bet on it. But it did, grossing well enough (an estimated P80 million) to warrant a sequel.

5. "That Thing Called Tadhana"

Star Cinema spun an early Cinema One Originals Film Festival success into a cultural phenomenon when it released this little gem from director Antoinette Jadaone back in February 2014. Buoyed by the surprising chemistry between Angelica Panganiban and JM de Guzman, who have never been paired with each other prior, not only did "That Thing Called Tadhana" dominate the box office with a P134 million take, it also turned Sagada into a fan-favorite destination during that year's summer season.

6. "Heneral Luna"

This Jerrold Tarog film about the life and death of General Antonio Luna during the Philippine-American War rode a slow burn to become the highest-grossing Filipino historical film of all time, eventually charging past P200 million, thanks to positive social media buzz, after a poor P15 million debut week. A franchise was then born, spawning a sequel starring Paulo Avelino as General Gregorio del Pilar that's already in the works.

7. "Die Beautiful"

This is a great example of a movie benefiting from being included in the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). Because who knows if it wasn't selected? Paolo Ballesteros may have still raked in majority of the acting awards but it may not have made as much (coming in second behind only Star Cinema's "Vince & Kath & James" in terms of ticket sales during the festival). It clearly profited from the weeks, during which only the MMFF entries were allowed to be screened in local cinemas, earning more than P100 million.