Hollywood's most surprising cash cows

Ben Arnold
Yahoo UK Movies Features

We all know that bespectacled child wizards and cars that turn into robots make much-needed money for the poor lambs who run movie studios.

But Tinseltown’s cigar-chomping bigwigs have discovered there’s more than one way to skin a cat. 

There are movie series that, because of mainstream indifference or terrible reviews make us ask “why do they keep getting made?" Because they actually make skips full of cash, that’s why. Like this sordid little lot.

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Adam Sandler movies

Let's be honest. Goodwill for Mr. Sandler from critics has been on the wane since 'Happy Gilmore'. He still makes a movie a year though. Why? Why do you think… Take 'You Don't Mess With The Zohan', the tale of an Israeli counter terrorist commando-turned- hairdresser. Despite appalling reviews, it had the second biggest opening weekend of 2008, and made £130 million. Meanwhile, 'Jack and Jill' (roll up, folks, the DVD is out this week) scored a 3% rating on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, yet still doubled its budget. Sandler’s loyal fanbase proves critics wrong again and again.

The Tyler Perry empire

Like it or not, Tyler Perry's 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' was an ace for the fledgling director and writer. Despite widespread disdain from the critical community, it went on to spawn the Madea franchise, in which Perry dons a dress and prosthetic make-up to play Mabel 'Madea' Simmons, an ageing black matriarch. He's so far played her in seven films, scoring a profit every time. His most recent, 'Madea's Witness Protection', made $20 million on its opening weekend alone.

He's not without his critics in the filmmaking world though. “I know it's making a lot of money and breaking records, but we can do better,” said Spike Lee, who has also accused Perry of pandering to black stereotypes.

Friedberg and Seltzer's movies

Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer got their big break with 'Spy Hard', starring the legendary Leslie Nielsen. But where Nielsen had once ruled the roost in such matters, it was telling that 'Spy Hard' was taken to the cleaners by the critics. 'Scary Movie', which they co-wrote, was okay, but since then the duo have been ploughing the same tired farrow with 'Date Movie', 'Epic Movie', 'Disaster Movie', 'Meet The Spartans' and 'Vampires Suck'. Yet, not a single one of their projects has lost money, so we can look forward to their characteristically ill-timed 'Hunger Games' spoof 'The Starving Games' next year.

Bad Jennifer Aniston rom-coms

Poor Jen with all those rubbish rom-coms littering her IMDB page. Well, we don't pity her for a second. They might be rubbish ('The Bounty Hunter' anyone?) but the former 'Friends' star has consistently proven box office catnip. The worse her Rotten Tomatoes rating gets, the more money she makes. Take 'Just Go With It' - only 19 per cent of critics could stomach it, yet it grossed $215 million. 2006's 'The Break Up'? A mere 34% enjoyed its rom-comness, but it hauled in $205 million.

The ‘Resident Evil’ franchise

If the 'Resident Evil' video game taught us anything, it was that its clunky characters, despite being three-dimensional, were remarkably one-dimensional. Yet here we are five films in (the latest is out in September), with a sixth surely in the pipeline if 'Resident Evil: Retribution' does well. And it probably will. Despite the inevitable critical mauling, the franchise will shuffle on, zombie-eqsue, accumulating box office coin. So far, for all four films, worldwide takings are approaching $1 billion. Yes, $1 billion.

Steve Martin’s family comedies

We all felt terribly sorry for Steve Martin when flame-haired prankster Dennis Pennis asked him on a red carpet: “Steve, how come you're not funny anymore?” It's a question that has echoed through his career since 'Cheaper By The Dozen' was birthed in 2003. But both that and its sequel raked in the dollars, despite the second being ranked as one of the top 100 worst reviewed films of the 2000s. Meanwhile his sacrilegious reboot of 'The Pink Panther' also made $100 million profit.

The 'Underworld' Series

Other than keeping Kate Beckinsale busy, we’re not really sure why 'Underworld' series actually exists. But then what do we know? With their unlikely casts (Bill Nighy, for pete's sake?) and hokey plots stuffed with mystical creatures, immortals and other silliness, they've hauled in nearly half a billion dollars over the space of four films. We didn’t even notice ‘Underworld: Rise of the Lycans’ come out, but apparently a lot of you did. 

The films of the Wayans Dynasty

Among the Wayans family are writers, actors, comedians and directors across two generations. Keenen Ivory Wayans, holds the record for the highest grossing movie ever directed by an African American in 'Scary Movie', which was co-written by his brothers Shawn and Marlon (and by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, see above). It made £278 million. Depending what you read, the moderately-talented family is thought to have a net worth around the $1 billion mark.

The 'Fast/Furious' Movies

'Fast and Furious', 'The Fast and The Furious', 'Fast Five', '2 Fast 2 Furious', 'The Furious Fasts'... whatever they decide to call these films, as long as 'fast', 'furious' and perhaps a number are in the title, they'll be a license to print money. In all, the franchise which sees either Paul Walker or Vin Diesel or a combination of both driving round really fast and often furiously has made Universal Pictures more than £1.5 billion. Adding The Rock to the fifth instalment made the series even more lucrative.

The 'Spy Kids' Franchise

Director Robert Rodriguez ('Sin City') quietly made a ton of cash with his 'Spy Kids' series, now four films in and well over half a billion dollars in the black. They're diverting enough for the youngsters, and occasionally even a George Clooney or a Sly Stallone will cameo, but who knew they were such an 18 carat cash cow, despite the reviews getting steadily worse since the first in 2001.