A History of Memorial Day Movie Releases: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men

Images Courtesy Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney

Traditionally a major weekend for blockbuster movie releases, the last Monday of May will be quiet at cinemas this year. But almost every other year, the four-day Memorial Day weekend was huge. Here are some of the holiday frame’s biggest releases of all time.

1983: Return of the Jedi

The original Star Wars and sequel The Empire Strikes Back opened on Memorial Day weekend of 1977 and 1980, respectively. But their openings were both small, debuting in 43 and 126 theaters respectively, only gradually expanding nationwide over the course of summer.

By 1983, though, the release strategy of opening nationally from the start was gaining steam. Trilogy-ending Return of the Jedi was in a galaxy far, far away with $30.4M, equivalent to $88.6M today. This broke the opening weekend record at the time, held by the previous year’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

1984: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The adventure sequel was hardly doomed, busting out of the gate with $33.9M, equivalent to $92.5M today. This broke the opening weekend record held by Jedi.

1987: Beverly Hills Cop II

The first Beverly Hills Cop debuted in December 1984, while the sequel moved from the Christmas season to the summer season. That strategy paid off with a $33.0M opening, equivalent to $77.3M today. This broke the opening weekend record held by Temple of Doom.

However, when final installment Beverly Hills Cop III tried replicating that strategy with a release date of Memorial Day 1994, it couldn’t keep the juice going. The film debuted with $15.2M, equivalent to $34.2M today.

1989: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Releasing a third installment on Memorial Day weekend might not have been a winning strategy for Eddie Murphy, but it was for Harrison Ford. The 1989 adventure sequel started with $37.0M, equivalent to $85.0M today. This broke the opening weekend record set by Beverly Hills Cop II.

1996 and 2000: Mission: Impossible and Mission: Impossible II

Tom Cruise proved that anything was possible with an original opening of $56.8M, equivalent to $117.7M today. The sequel took things up a notch, opening with $70.8M, equivalent to $120.3M today.

The franchise’s third through sixth installments all opened outside Memorial Day weekend. The seventh and eighth installments are scheduled for release in November 2021 and 2022, respectively.

1997: The Lost World: Jurassic Park

The original Jurassic Park broke several box office records. The sequel roared up a $90.1M opening, equivalent to $179.9M today. However, despite that larger debut, it would ultimately earn less than its predecessor.

The Lost World broke the opening weekend record held by 1995’s Batman Forever and remains the last Memorial Day weekend release to ever claim the opening weekend record. (The record has been smashed numerous times since then. It is currently held by April 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.)

2006 and 2014: X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past

The superhero franchise’s third installment was “x-cellent,” opening with $122.8M, equivalent to $171.8M today. 2014’s time travel sequel also opened strong with $110.5M.

2007: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

The adventure sequel swashbuckled its way to a $139.8M opening, equivalent to $186.1M today. 13 years later, it remains the Memorial Day weekend record, whether in pure dollars or adjusting for ticket price inflation.

Adjusted for inflation, The Lost World ranks #2 for Memorial Day weekends. In pure dollars, #2 is Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

2008: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The long-awaited fourth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise lassoed its way to $126.9M, equivalent to $161.9M today. The fifth installment is currently scheduled for release in July 2022.

2013: Fast & Furious 6

The car racing heist franchise with eight films—soon to be nine—has only had one release on Memorial Day weekend, revving up to $117.0M. The next installment F9 was originally scheduled to be the big release for Memorial Day weekend 2020 but has been postponed for April 2021.

2018: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The only Star Wars installment to open on Memorial Day weekend since the original trilogy, Solo shot first to $103.0M.

2019: Aladdin

The live-action musical remake rode a magic carpet to $116.8M.

Images Courtesy Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney