The coming weeks will be challenging for us all to face, including movie fans who are eagerly awaiting the near future when the world begins to recover from COVID-19’s impact and theaters may reopen.
In the interim, though, now is the perfect opportunity to remember some of the most notable achievements in popular cinema as we celebrate the joy of moviegoing and anxiously look forward to its return — stronger than ever before.
In lieu of our traditional Weekend Forecast, (temporarily, of course), this new weekly column will take a look back at standout box office weekends of yore.
For the inaugural edition, let’s look back at the beginning of a beloved animated franchise, a former all-time box office champion, everyone’s favorite martial arts-performing reptiles, and Star Wars…
How to Train Your Dragon Takes Flight
March 26 – 28, 2010
It was exactly ten years ago when DreamWorks Animation launched what has gone on to become its most successful franchise not named Shrek.
Under the screenwriting and directorial guidance of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, author Cressida Cowell’s popular children’s novels discovered an entirely new audience with this wildly successful feature. The film still boasts one of the highest Rotten Tomatoes critics’ scores in history (across all films, not just animation) at 99 percent, not to mention its 91 percent audience score.
The original Dragon bowed in first place at the domestic box office with $43.7 million, a respectable figure but one not nearly as impressive as its staying power in the weeks to come. The film dropped just 34 percent in its sophomore weekend (when Easter landed), and then proceeded to drop less than 22 percent in each of the following three frames. The film never declined more than 37.1 percent until its ninth weekend in release — when Shrek Forever After opened over Memorial Day weekend.
Dragon ultimately earned $217.6 million domestically, representing an incredible 4.98x multiplier from its opening, and $495 million worldwide. Its prestige factor shouldn’t be forgotten, either, as it was nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score (John Powell) at that year’s Oscars.
To this day, the film remains a modern beloved classic among all ages. It ultimately spawned one of the most well-received trilogies in history as 2014’s How to Train Your Dragon 2 and 2019’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World also earned Best Animated Feature nods at the Academy Awards, while earning 92 percent and 91 percent Rotten Tomatoes critics’ scores (respectively).
Worldwide, the three films earned a combined $1.64 billion at the box office.
Titanic‘s Record 15th Consecutive (and Final) Weekend at #1
March 27 – 29, 1998
James Cameron’s Titanic was a game-changer in more ways than this column can succinctly measure. It was the highest grossing film of all-time until Cameron’s own Avatar surpassed it 12 years on, it’s tied for a record 11 Oscar wins (alongside 1959’s Ben-Hur and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), and it made household names of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
But what younger box office followers and movie fans might not recall is how dominating the film’s week-to-week run was, scoring 15 straight weekend finishes at the top of the domestic box office from its December 19, 1997 opening all the way through the end of March 1998. No film has ever reigned that many weeks in a row, and Titanic itself fell only one weekend shy of tying E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial‘s overall record of 16 weekends in first place.
Of course, those who were around at the time may recall what movie it was that finally managed to sink the unsinkable ship: Lost in Space.
Still, Titanic didn’t stop there. Having earned $530.4 million domestically through the end of that weekend, the film’s foothold in theaters remained for another six months before finally closing in October 1998 with $600.8 million domestically (not counting an additional $58.6 million from a 2012 re-release).
It’s the kind of leggy run that would be highly difficult — if not impossible — to achieve in today’s far more crowded marketplace, but that doesn’t diminish the achievement by any means.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Goes Live Action
March 30 – April 1, 1990
In fairness, this is a slightly more biased pick as a 1990s kid.
The Turtles were at the peak of their popularity in the late 80s and early 90s, and this live action feature film showcased that with a $25.4 million opening in first place — one of 1990’s biggest debuts. The film ultimately posted $135.3 million at the domestic box office and became the fifth highest-grosser of the year, trailing only Home Alone ($285.8 million), Ghost ($217.6 million), Dances with Wolves ($184.2 million), and Pretty Woman ($178.4 million).
For perspective, those opening and domestic totals would equate to over $55 million and nearly $300 million using today’s ticket prices.
The massive success of that film spawned two sequels in 1991 and 1993 (which didn’t quite live up to the same standard of success, but still won over kids), before taking a live-action hiatus from the big screen until 2014’s successful reboot Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a sequel to that film, Out of the Shadows, in 2016.
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi Re-Releases in 1985
March 29 – 31, 1985
Last, but not least, we’d be remiss to not include Star Wars when possible. Return of the Jedi, the “end” of the saga at the time, entered re-release in early 1985 two years after its original run.
This was a far less ceremonious return to theaters than its Special Edition re-release in 1997, but it warrants a mention nonetheless.
ROTJ‘s 1985 return scored $3.21 million on “opening” weekend, landing in sixth place that frame. It ultimately added $11.3 million to the film’s overall domestic run, pushing it up to $263.8 million at the time (which translates to over $760 million in modern day ticket prices, not accounting for major shifts in the business over the past 37 years).
Suggestions for films or milestones to cover in future weekends? Let us know!