Easter weekend is upon us, and while audiences may not be able to share the holiday in theaters with their families like usual this year, we’re looking back at how this time on the calendar has recently become a staple for major film releases.
As you probably know, No Time to Die was originally slated to open this Friday before its delay to November due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One year from now (minus one week, actually), fans of the Fast & Furious franchise will gather once again for F9‘s launch on Good Friday 2021 (April 2).
Easter didn’t use to be known as a time for releasing major blockbusters, though. Just 14 years ago, Scary Movie 4 claimed the holiday’s record opening weekend at $44.2 million. That was an excellent sum for a relatively low-budget comedy, of course, but it has since been surpassed by six other films — half of them earning more than $100 million between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
In fact, after 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation earned $45.1 million over the three-day Easter weekend, four of the five best openers for this holiday frame have arrived since 2015 alone.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
March 25 – 27, 2016
The DC cinematic franchise has had its share of creative criticisms in recent years, but most of its box office performances have either done well or outright excelled in the face of those short-comings.
Dawn of Justice was built up as the long-awaited showdown between the comic brand’s two most iconic characters, following decades of failed starts to bring the highly anticipated showdown out of its comic book roots and onto the silver screen. 2013’s Man of Steel provided the foundations for this sequel with a largely successful introduction of Henry Cavill’s Superman / Clark Kent, while fans were curious to check out Ben Affleck’s first turn as Batman / Bruce Wayne.
We won’t belabor the mixed results and poor box office staying power of the final product. While some argue this is the kind of film that could have opened and performed nearer Avengers level numbers than it ultimately did, Batman v Superman‘s $166 million domestic launch stands as the biggest Easter debut of all time — not to mention the top among DC films so far.
April 3 – 5, 2015
Prior to Dawn of Justice, the Fast franchise held the Easter title with its $161.2 million debut in 2015. We covered this film and its enormous success in last week’s column, so there isn’t much to add here except to say this remains one of (if not *the*) most stunning Easter over-performance relative to expectations.
The Fate of the Furious
April 14 – 16, 2017
The third highest Easter debut in history currently belongs to Furious 7‘s direct follow-up, the eighth film in the Fast saga. It arrived with $107.3 million on opening weekend three years ago before finishing with $226 million stateside and over $1.23 billion globally.
Fate had the unfortunate challenge of trying to follow up the smashing success of Furious 7, which was always going to be impossible without the franchise co-lead, Paul Walker. Still, this is the second best performer in the series all around as it topped Fast Five‘s $86.2 million domestic opening and $209.8 million finish stateside.
Where Fate couldn’t best its predecessor in America, though, it did in China: the eighth film delivered a massive $184.9 million opening in the Middle Kingdom, eventually earning $392.8 million — just across the line of Furious 7‘s $390.9 million.
Clash of the Titans
April 2 – 4, 2010
Ten years ago, the 3D craze was booming again — albeit, temporarily. In the months following Avatar‘s global box office domination, Hollywood studios began rushing to convert many of its biggest upcoming releases to allow for 3D screenings and the ticket surcharges that came with them.
The Clash of the Titans remake was the first converted product to hit theaters when it bowed to $67.6 million on Easter weekend one decade ago — the holiday record at the time, surpassing the aforementioned Scary Movie 4.
It wasn’t just 3D that helped the film, of course. Epic fantasy properties were still fair sellers at the time, and a star cast that included Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Avatar‘s own Sam Worthington drew curious moviegoers looking for the next big action fix after James Cameron’s sci-fi epic began winding down in theaters.
The legacy of the film itself may not hold up for many, but — like its 1981 original — it developed enough of a following to warrant potential franchise status. The film ultimately pulled a $163.2 million domestic / $493.2 million global line, enough for Warner Bros. to greenlight a sequel.
Two years later, Wrath of the Titans unfortunately proved how much of the 3D trend was already beginning to diminish in North America. Partly in response to Clash‘s own divisive word of mouth, the sequel earned $83.7 million, down 49 percent from Clash.
In fairness, though, 3D developed more sustainability overseas for this franchise and others in years hence. Wrath itself declined a slightly more modest 34 percent internationally as it drew $218 million overseas.
Ready Player One
March 29 – 31, 2018
Capping off the top five Easter performers is Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of author Ernest Cline’s ode to Steven Spielberg (and 1980s era films, in general). The best-selling novel had a built-in fan base to help fuel the cinematic rendition, and results were generally quite positive.
Serving as a character-driven, nostalgic valentine to fans of one of the most beloved cinematic eras, while also painting an adventure-filled vision of what our virtual-obsessed entertainment culture could grow to become in the future, Ready Player One performed respectably with a $41.8 million domestic opening weekend as part of its $137.7 million / $583 million global line.
In the end, the film’s themes about friendship and the need to disconnect in order to reconnect may be even more relevant today than they were just two years ago.
Suggestions for films or milestones to cover in future weekends? Let us know!