This $378M Underdog Movie Nearly Went Straight to DVD (but Swept the Oscars Instead)

This $378M Underdog Movie Nearly Went Straight to DVD (but Swept the Oscars Instead)
Image credit: Pathé, Legion-Media

Warner Bros. almost underestimated one of its highest Oscar winning films ever.


  • British drama Slumdog Millionaire garnered the interest of popular filmmaker Danny Boyle, who was impressed with its creative script early on.
  • Troubles within the film industry left the movie in an awkward position at the time of its release, with Warner Bros. considering a home video release a better option for the feature.
  • Surprisingly favorable reviews and an overwhelmingly positive reception upon release quickly made it an Oscar contender, and Slumdog Millionaire went on to win several Academy Awards.

Studios are often accused of producing movies for the sole purpose of "Oscar bait". And while that may be true for a large number of annual Oscar contenders, one 2008 film proves that sometimes even the biggest Oscar winners aren't always initially backed by their own studios.

None other than the exceptionally well-received Slumdog Millionaire was actually a surprise triumph for Warner Bros. Pictures. There was so much disbelief in the film that they even considered releasing it on home video before it became a critical and public success. The story of how it went from an underrated release to an Oscar-dominating blockbuster virtually overnight is certainly a fascinating one.

Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire

Fresh off the back of previous successes such as Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Sunshine, acclaimed British filmmaker Danny Boyle only accepted the job of directing the film after learning that one of his favorite screenwriters, Simon Beaufoy, had penned the script. Little did they know that it would go on to become their highest-grossing Oscar-winning film to date.

The Indian-set drama follows the story of an 18-year-old boy, Jamal Malik, from the Juhu slums of Mumbai to a pivotal moment in his life. But at the time of its release, with a largely unknown cast and a significant amount of dialogue in Hindi, the film was seen by some as a bold departure from other mainstream Hollywood films of the time. Even though the script was on the 2007 Black List of top unmade scripts, and one of the most successful directors of the last decade was at the helm, not everyone could see the true potential of the project.

How the Film Was Almost Dumped in the Home Video Market

As the film's production and release progressed, Slumdog Millionaire faced increasing uncertainty. Following the closure of Warner Independent Pictures, which had originally purchased the rights to the film, it found itself in a difficult limbo with Warner Bros. even considering a direct-to-DVD release. Concerns about its commercial prospects stemmed primarily from doubts about its theatrical viability, leading the studio to sell 50% of its interest in the film to Fox Searchlight, which would handle the film's marketing and distribution. Fortunately for the Slumdog Millionaire, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Becoming an Oscar Winner

When Slumdog Millionaire premiered at both the Toronto International Film Festival and the prestigious Telluride Film Festival, it quickly garnered attention for its unique storytelling and powerful performances, including those of Dev Patel and Freida Pinto.

Receiving rave reviews and capturing the hearts of audiences, the film's popularity continued to grow, culminating in a People's Choice Award win. Impressed by the film's success, Fox Searchlight, unlike its partner studio, immediately recognized its potential and embarked on a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign to position it as an Oscar contender.

Fox's decision to release the film in a limited number of theaters proved to be a stroke of genius. As positive word-of-mouth spread, Slumdog Millionaire garnered widespread admiration, ultimately leading to ten Academy Award nominations. Despite facing stiff competition, including more conventional Oscar winners, the film went on to win eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Danny Boyle, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is now one of only fifteen films to ever win more than 7 Oscars.

The Legacy of Slumdog Millionaire

Over a decade after its historic Oscar win, Slumdog Millionaire remains an example of how undervalued quality cinema can be in the film industry when competing against bigger blockbusters. Its unlikely journey from near obscurity to cinematic triumph reminds us that sometimes the best movies are the ones you least expect.