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10 Streaming Exclusives That Could Have Been Box Office Hits If They Were Theatrically Released


After a stretch of underwhelming sequels, the Hellraiser franchise is finally getting fresh life breathed into it, as a female Pinhead reboot is scheduled for release later this year. The movie will be released exclusively on Hulu, but 20th Century Studios might be leaving some money on the table, as it could have been a box office hit, especially as horror movies tend to do well with their small budgets.


Given that streaming services now develop so many of their own movies, a number of them could have made massive numbers at the box office. Between several $200 million blockbuster action movies, a comedy made in secret over the pandemic, and a psychological horror that was memed to death, these films would have grossed billions in total.

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The Gray Man (2022)

It’s no secret that a good quality movie doesn’t necessarily guarantee box office success. The Netflix orginal movie The Gray Man didn’t receive the best reviews, as it was considered by some to be one of the ugliest-looking and worst-written action films of recent memory.

But regardless of its reception, The Gray Man was still so popular that The Gray Man 2 has already been greenlit. With a huge A-list cast that’s led by two of Hollywood’s most bankable stars and a globe-trotting story that is full of bombast and destruction, it’s a popcorn flick that could have easily made hundreds of millions of dollars.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

In a lot of ways, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was quite literally a product of its time, as it was shot during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that was a major part of the film. And it took advantage of being an exclusive Amazon Prime Video release too, as most movie theaters were still closed. However, even though not everyone loved Borat 2, the film could have been a huge box office success, either by being delayed until multiplexes fully reopened or simply still being theatrically released in 2020.

The movie is a sequel to one of the most popular, most-memed, and most iconic comedies of the 21st century. And the sequel’s controversial topics and interviews would have been the subject of so much word of mouth that there’s no way the film could have failed. It would have been hilariously ironic if Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was the release that saved movie theaters.

The Irishman (2019)

2019’s The Irishman is director Martin Scorsese’s late-career masterpiece, and it harkens back to his gangster classics like Goodfellas and Casino. Even though younger audiences wouldn’t care all that much that Joe Pesci came out of retirement for the movie and it reunites Pesci, Scorsese, and Robert De Niro, that trio is enough to get the older fans who don’t visit cinemas anymore into multiplexes.

Just as Top Gun: Maverick appealed to older audiences and ended up being a phenomenal success, The Irishman could have done the same thing. And even though it’s one of the longest movies of the 21st century being three hours and 20 minutes, The Batman proved that audiences are into sprawling three-hour epics.

Klaus (2019)

Netflix’s Klaus has an unusual and unique art style, as it’s in no way a conventional-looking animated movie. However, a lot of animated films that didn’t play it safe and had unique art directions have still been hugely popular. Movies like Coraline and Isle of Dogs have found huge audiences, and Klaus could have done the same.

The film would have been especially successful because the Netflix exclusive was so well-received, as it has an incredible 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.1 on IMDb. But more than anything, the movie could have made waves at the box office because it’s Christmas themed, and there hasn’t been a truly classic holiday movie released in years.

Prey (2022)

This year’s Prey is the most recent success story when it comes to streaming-exclusive movies, as the Predator prequel was released on Hulu, and it became one of the most talked about movies of 2022. Not only do fans think it’s the best release since the first film, but some even think Prey is better than the original movie.

The movie doesn’t totally feel like a box office hit, as its non-movie-star cast and somewhat lackluster digital effects don’t give off an exciting blockbuster vibe. But the story is so well told and no other Predator movie is as suspenseful. And between the overwhelmingly positive reviews and word-of-mouth, the film would have undoubtedly done huge numbers.

Soul (2020)

Lightyear’s performance isn’t a great sign that Soul would have performed well at the box office. The 2022 Pixar movie bombed at the box office, but there are several other reasons why, as people didn’t entirely understand how it fit into the Toy Story universe. On top of that, potential audiences probably thought that the movie would be put on Disney+ the same time it was released, as fans were conditioned into thinking that Pixar movies had day-and-date releases.

The difference is that Soul is a genuinely great Pixar movie, as it has deep and surprisingly mature themes about mortality and death, and it’s enormously entertaining. Given that similarly complex Pixar movies like Inside Out made a massive $858 million, there’s no reason why Soul couldn’t have done the same.

The Witches (2020)

While HBO is generally considered the gold standard of TV, that isn’t so much the case when it comes to its exclusive movies. There hasn’t been a single HBO Max movie to be a critical darling, but though The Witches isn’t great, it could still have made hundreds of millions. The film was originally planned to be theatrically released, but COVID threw a spanner in the works, and it was instead made available on the streamer.

The Witches did have an extremely limited release, but such a limited release is just another way to market the movie than to make money. The film is a remake of a cult classic, has the typically great presentation that’s expected from Warner Bros., and a starring role from the always bankable Anne Hathaway, so all signs point to it being a box office hit.

Red Notice (2021)

Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne Johnson are two of the biggest movie stars working today, and just about anything Johnson stars in will be a huge hit, regardless of how good or bad it is. And putting those actors together in an adventure action movie can only mean huge box office gross, even if the film wasn’t so well-received.

So many Netflix subscribers must have tuned in, as Red Notice 2 is currently in development. As it was undoubtedly financially successful for Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne Johnson’s alcohol brands given all the product placement, the film could have been financially successful for Netflix if it was theatrically released too.

Bird Box (2018)

In the 2010s, even though movies becoming memes might be insulting for the cast and crew, it also meant that they got more attention from the public. A movie becoming a meme could be the reason a movie ends up being a box office success, and that’s certainly why Bird Box was popular on Netflix for so long.

The image of Sandra Bullock being blindfolded on a boat was the subject of millions of jokes online, but that joke also made social network users watch the movie. Movies usually have a 60-70% drop-off after their first week of release, but Bird Box would have had some major staying power if it was theatrically released, and it’d be all thanks to the memes.

Don’t Look Up (2021)

How can a movie with such a huge all-star cast not be a box office hit? Don’t Look Up stars Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, and so many others. The movie is so star-studded that Timothée Chalamet plays just a tertiary character. And between the cast and director Adam McKay, who is known for his improvised shooting, it’s a match made in heaven.

The movie did get an extremely limited release, but again, it was simply to promote the Netflix exclusive film. But given that the streamer had a clear hit on its hand, a wide release followed by being available on the platform two months later could have been an easy $500 million. It’s a move that Netflix could have done for so many of its movies, but it continues to leave so much money on the table.

NEXT: Jennifer Lawrence’s 10 Best Movies, According To Letterboxd



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