This Weekend in Box Office History: Harry Potter and the Record-Breaking Finale, Illumination’s Animation Feats, Pirates of the Caribbean Sets Sail, X-Men Turns 20, & More

Photo Credits: Warner Bros., Disney, Universal, 20th Century Studios / Fox

As the heart of summer rolls on, we’re turning our attention to the 28th weekend of the year and it’s many notable releases.

Prior to COVID-19 delays, this particular weekend was set for the highly anticipated direct sequel to the original Ghostbusters films, Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Sony has since pushed it to March 5, 2021. Universal was also poised to open The Forever Purge during this frame, now dated for July 9, 2021.

Below is a look back at some of the top box office stories from the past on the 28th frame of the calendar, followed by a ranking of the top ten debuts and an additional list of notable openings from yesteryear.

Harry Potter and Another Opening Weekend Record

After a decade of blockbuster runs, timely book releases from J.K. Rowling, and enormous fan fervor of all ages and backgrounds, the Harry Potter cinematic run came to a resounding conclusion in July 2011. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 destroyed box office records with its $169.2 million opening weekend at the time, toppling The Dark Knight‘s three-year-reigning title ($158.4 million).

It was the second time in the series’ history achieving such a feat after the original film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone claimed the all-time opening record in 2001 with $90.3 million. In doing so, Potter joined the ranks of franchises like Jaws, Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Batman, Jurassic Park, and Spider-Man to break the all-time domestic opening record more than once (an exclusive club that also now includes Marvel’s Avengers).

The grand finale delivered some of the franchise’s best reviews, while also starting the trend of young adult novel adaptations splitting their final source book into two cinematic chapters. Franchises like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Divergent attempted similar splits, but none quite achieved the same zeitgeist-capturing hype as the two Deathly Hallows entries.

In the process of the climactic Hallows debut, the film also set all-time domestic benchmarks for midnight show grosses ($43.5 million) and opening day ($91.1 million) at the time of its release. Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was a true event title that, while naturally front-loaded, capped off with $381 million in North America and a massive $1.34 billion globally, standing atop the 2011 charts on both fronts. It became the highest grossing film of the eight-part series — topping Sorcerer‘s $318.1 million.

At the time of its release, the second Hallows was the third highest grossing film in worldwide history behind only Titanic and Avatar. Since its release, Warner Bros. has released two Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them prequels and re-branded the overall franchise to the “Wizarding World” as the myths of Rowling’s stories continue attracting fans worldwide.

In all, the eight Potter films and two Fantastic Beasts entries have so far amassed a collective $9.2 billion worldwide over the last 19 years. The Potter films account for more than $7.7 billion of that figure.

Four years before the prime franchise’s conclusion, the second act of Harry’s story was in full force. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opted for a Wednesday release in July 2007, drawing a $77.1 million three-day weekend debut and an overall $139.7 million five-day domestic start. The fifth film of the franchise notably enjoyed marketing synergy thanks to the intensely hyped release of Rowling’s final novel, Deathly Hallows itself, on July 21 of that year — ten days after Phoenix‘s cinematic rollout.

By this point in the franchise’s run, Potter films had become remarkably consistent performers at the box office. Phoenix itself finished with $292 million domestically, comparable to the majority of films in the series (Goblet of Fire earned $290.4 million in late 2005, for example).

That was strong enough to finish fifth for the domestic year behind Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Transformers, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Globally, Phoenix earned $941.7 million — a close second place finisher behind At World’s End ($961 million) in 2007.

Illumination’s Animation Domination

Entering the second decade of the 21st century, tentpole animated releases were largely the province of studios like Pixar, DreamWorks, and Blue Sky. The game changed in July 2010, though, when Illumination Entertainment exploded onto the scene with Despicable Me.

The original comedy leveraged its star voice power (Steve Carell as Gru) and an unquestionable cuteness factor (“It’s so fluffy!”) that pervaded every trailer leading up to release. The result was a strong $56.4 million debut weekend, followed by long life at the summer box office with a $251.5 million domestic run (7th place for the year) and a $543.1 million global take (9th place).

Despicable was such a runaway hit with kids and families that it spawned a new franchise, leading to two direct sequels in 2013 and 2017, and a spin-off with Gru’s scene-stealing henchmen. Minions, in fact, went on to set Illumination’s best debut yet at the box office with a $115.7 million start in 2015. The prequel was another blockbuster for the studio, earning $336 million in North America (6th place for the year) and $1.16 billion globally (5th place).

A follow-up, Minions: The Rise of Gru, had been planned for release earlier this July but was delayed due to production stoppages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Universal and Illumination will now open that film on July 2, 2021.

One year later, Illumination was back with its first original property since Despicable Me itself. Once again, with the aid of incredible marketing, a star-driven ensemble voice cast, the aforementioned cuteness factor, and a concept anyone with a furry friend at home could relate to, The Secret Life of Pets was a smash hit out of the gate.

Notably Pets‘ $104.4 million domestic launch set an all-time record for an original film (animated or otherwise), besting Pixar’s Inside Out ($90.4 million) just one year earlier. Pets ultimately finished with $368.4 million domestically (4th place in 2016) and $875.5 million worldwide (6th place), inspiring a sequel that followed in 2019 (albeit, to lesser results).

Depp Takes Command of Summer in the 2000s

Johnny Depp spent much of his early career in roles that defined his wildly unique acting, but they were typically adult-leaning films with only so much commercial potential from a box office perspective. That changed dramatically in 2003 when audiences met Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a role and film that instantly stood among Depp’s most iconic cinematic contributions.

Little was expected from Pirates, though, as early marketing had drawn mixed online reception and general skepticism over whether or not Disney could make a successful, big-budget summer film out of one of its oldest theme park rides. The final trailer and Depp’s turn as Captain Jack were major factors in proving those notions wrong, as was the love story between Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s Will and Elizabeth. The sea-faring adventure provided a perfect summer recipe for audiences as it debuted to $70.6 million in its five-day start (including a $46.6 million three-day weekend).

The film’s impact only grew from there as it legged out in impressive fashion to $305.4 million domestically, the third highest gross of 2003 behind only The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($377 million) and Finding Nemo ($339.7 million). Globally, Black Pearl finished with $654.3 million — ranking fourth for the year behind those two films and The Matrix Reloaded.

Depp went on to receive an Oscar nomination for the original Pirates, and as we covered recently, the film’s buzzy word of mouth and massive success during the theatrical and at-home windows led to hot anticipation for its 2006 and 2007 sequels. The original trilogy of films earned over $2.68 billion worldwide, while the fourth and fifth films (sans Bloom and Knightley) continued their global popularity in 2011 and 2017, respectively.

To date, the franchise’s five films have combined to earn over $4.5 billion.

Two years later, Depp reunited with director Tim Burton (having previously worked together on Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Sleepy Hollow) to take on a classic piece of literature in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Putting their own twist on Roald Dahl’s tale, and a decidedly different one than Gene Wilder’s 1971 turn in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the film brought out fans of both star and director while appealing to families at large.

Charlie debuted to $56.2 million in the summer of 2005, becoming the top family-driven title of the season outside of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Charlie‘s $206.5 million domestic take was good enough to rank 7th for the year, while its $475 million worldwide haul ranked 8th.

Summers of the Apes

Following 2011’s successful reboot (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) of the influential Planet of the Apes franchise, director Matt Reeves stepped in to helm two follow-ups that would round out a trilogy of films centered around Caesar, famously performed by Andy Serkis through revolutionary motion capture techniques.

The first sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, debuted to a strong $72.6 million in 2014, a mark that stands as the highest in the franchise to date. The sequel ended its domestic run with $208.6 million domestically, ranking 11th for the year, and $710.6 million (ranking 8th).

Three years later, Reeves and Serkis returned with War for the Planet of the Apes in an anticipated trilogy-capper that brought back most fans of the new films. Its opening weekend ($56.3 million) was on par with Rise‘s ($54.8 million), while domestic returns ended at $146.9 million as the tragic ending and competition with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk one week later cut into staying power during the summer of 2017 despite drawing the strongest critical reviews of the trilogy.

War ultimately ranked 22nd for the year in North America, and 20th globally with $490.7 million. The films garnered significant recognition for their achievements in visual effects, including Oscar nominations for all three chapters.

Dating back to the classic 1968 film, the Apes franchise has earned over $2.1 billion across nine films at the global box office, with the 2011 – 2017 trilogy accounting for $1.67 billion of that figure. A fourth film in the modern franchise is currently in pre-production.

X-Men Celebrates 20th Anniversary

At the dawn of the 21st century, Hollywood release calendars weren’t dominated by superhero and comic book movies in the way they are now two decades later. Superman and Batman had made highly successful transitions to the big screen throughout the late 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, but little else had made the same kind of impact — particularly from the world of Marvel Comics.

Enter X-Men in July 2000, led by a star ensemble cast and a director (Bryan Singer) whose The Usual Suspects was a critical favorite a few years prior. The creative team behind the cinematic translation of a franchise that was still hot off a very popular 1990s cartoon adaptation brought a gravitas and event-level feel to a sub-genre that was primed to breakout after the aforementioned DC franchises had cooled off and fallen dormant.

Bowing to $54.5 million on opening weekend that summer, X-Men delivered on its promise to attract fans of the source material and casual moviegoers with a big-budget action film led by Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, and Halle Berry in the roles of iconic Marvel characters. It marked the third highest debut of the year, not far behind Mission: Impossible II ($57.9 million) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas ($55.1 million).

The first X-Men film was generally well received and ultimately earned $157.3 million domestically (ranking 8th for the year) and $296.3 million worldwide (ranking 9th).

Those figures may seem quaint compared to the performance of comic book blockbusters since, but the film was a financial success for Fox (having produced it for just $75 million). Moreover, it was an early creative pencil-sharpener for Executive Producer Kevin Feige, who has gone on to captain the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

X-Men got the ball rolling on 21st century comic book films even before the blockbuster runs of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002 and Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy later on, and it’s also remembered for doing so with subject matters of tolerance and inclusiveness that remain relevant to this day.

The film was followed by a strongly reviewed, popular sequel in 2003 (X2: X-Men United), plus eight more entries — excluding the two Deadpool films — through 2019’s Dark Phoenix. 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past remains the top box office performer with its $747.9 million global haul, followed by Logan‘s $614.2 million in 2017.

In all, Fox’s ten X-Men films tallied nearly $4.5 billion worldwide (again, not counting Deadpool). Rumors persist that Feige is planning to introduce and/or reboot the franchise as part of the MCU in the near future, although no details have been confirmed yet.

Top 10 Three-Day Weekend Grosses for Weekend #28

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 ($169.2 million, 2011)
  2. Minions ($115.7 million, 2015)
  3. The Secret Life of Pets ($104.4 million, 2016)
  4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ($77.1 million, 2007)
  5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ($72.6 million, 2014)
  6. Despicable Me ($56.4 million, 2010)
  7. War for the Planet of the Apes ($56.3 million, 2017)
  8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ($56.2 million, 2005)
  9. X-Men ($54.5 million, 2000)
  10. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl ($46.6 million, 2003)

More Notable Three-Day Openings on Weekend #28

  • Ice Age: Continental Drift ($46.6 million, 2012)
  • Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation ($44.1 million, 2018)
  • Grown Ups 2 ($41.5 million, 2013)
  • Pacific Rim ($37.3 million, 2013)
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army ($34.5 million, 2008)
  • Lethal Weapon 4 ($34.1 million, 1998)
  • Wedding Crashers ($32.2 million, 2005)
  • Bruno ($30.6 million, 2009)
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy ($28.4 million, 2004)
  • True Lies ($25.9 million, 1994)
  • Skyscraper ($24.9 million, 2018)
  • Predators ($24.8 million, 2010)
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen ($23.1 million, 2003)
  • Road to Perdition ($22.1 million, 2002)
  • Little Man ($21.6 million, 2006)
  • You, Me and Dupree ($21.5 million, 2006)
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth ($21 million, 2008)
  • Contact ($20.6 million, 1997)
  • Legally Blonde ($20.4 million, 2001)
  • American Pie ($18.7 million, 1999)
  • Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates ($16.6 million, 2016)
  • In the Line of Fire ($15.3 million, 1993)
  • Small Soldiers ($14.1 million, 1998)
  • Under Siege 2: Dark Territory ($12.6 million, 1995)
  • Courage Under Fire ($12.5 million, 1996)
  • Ghost ($12.2 million, 1990)
  • Staying Alive ($12.2 million, 1983)
  • Crawl ($12 million, 2019)
  • One Hundred and One Dalmatians ($10.3 million, 1991 Re-Release)
  • Universal Soldier ($10.1 million, 1992)
  • Boyz n the Hood ($10 million, 1991)
  • Rookie of the Year ($9.1 million, 1993)
  • Angels in the Outfield ($8.9 million, 1994)
  • Licence to Kill ($8.8 million, 1989)
  • Point Break ($8.5 million, 1991)
  • The Jungle Book ($7.7 million, 1990 Re-Release)
  • Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome ($7.3 million, 1985)
  • The Last Starfighter ($6 million, 1984)
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ($6 million, 1983 Re-Release)
  • Peter Pan ($5.6 million, 1989 Re-Release)
  • TRON ($4.8 million, 1982)
  • The Muppets Take Manhattan ($4.4 million, 1984)
  • When Harry Met Sally ($1.1 million, 1989 Platform Release in 41 Theaters)

Suggestions for films or milestones to cover in future weekends? Let us know!

You can check out previous versions of this column in our archives.

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