With the calendar fully turned to May, our look back into the box office archives rolls on with a number of early summer hits that opened on this very weekend in years past.
Captain America: Civil War
May 6 – 8, 2016
If there’s been a recurring theme of this column lately, it’s the steady presence of Marvel films releasing in late April and early May. That status quo doesn’t change much this week with a brief recollection of this middle-act, quasi-cliffhanger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was technically the third film in Captain America‘s trilogy but ultimately served as the bridge between the first and last two Avengers films with the original casts.
Civil War united, for lack of a better word, most of the then-current Avenger characters (sans Thor and Hulk) — only to see a fallout brew over the political and human consequences of the actions taken by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes over the years. Robert Downey, Jr., of course, was a major draw here, but Chris Evans remained the technical star of the film as his Steve Rogers reached an existential crossroads over how far he was willing to go in satisfying the world’s ability to control superheroes while still honoring his ideals of freedom and the desire to serve humanity.
The divide between Rogers and Tony Stark, of course, became a major plot point (mirroring its source comic material) for the franchise and had numerous ramifications on the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame in the years after.
Civil War opened with $179.1 million at the domestic box office, which remains the third best May opening in history behind only the first Avengers ($207.4 million) and its sequel, Age of Ultron ($191.3 million). The blockbuster tallied $408.1 million domestically (third highest of 2016) and $1.15 billion globally (number one for the year) by the end of its theatrical run.
May 13 – 15, 2011
Judd Apatow had already established his reputation for bringing some of comedy’s best and brightest talent to the forefront with leading cinematic roles by the early 2010s, having either directed, produced, and/or written for productions like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. This was the first time he produced a female-led cast, and the result provided one of the biggest comedy hits of the decade.
Opening to $26.3 million, which was mostly expected for an Apatow film at the time, its initial start was more humble than its eventual impact. In fact, the film opened in second place behind Thor‘s second weekend of $34.7 million. Word of mouth caught on like wildfire, though, as the film dropped just 20 percent in its second frame, 21 percent in its third, and never dropped more than 35.4 percent until the weekend after Labor Day that September — its 18th weekend in theaters.
Bridesmaids took that modest first weekend and ran all the way to a stellar $169.1 million domestic box office haul, capping off at $288.4 million globally. It was the second highest grossing comedy of 2011 (behind only The Hangover Part II‘s $254.5 million), but it has arguably had just as much impact as any comedy released since thanks to its announcement to the world of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Maya Rudolph (among many others) as strong leading actors.
May 8 – 10, 2009
If there was a franchise in desperate need of a fresh vision by the end of the 2000s, this was it. Fans of the iconic Trek mythos had endured several whimpers in the early part of the decade with the four-season run of the television series Enterprise and, before that, a widely maligned send-off to the Next Generation‘s movie era in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis.
After two roaring decades in the 1980s and 1990s, which spawned three successful (and, often, influential) spin-off series and nine feature films, even fans were wondering if the brand’s heyday had officially passed.
In stepped J.J. Abrams, fresh off his successful first venture as a film director with 2006’s Mission: Impossible III, not to mention his television credentials from Lost and Alias. He combined his sensibilities for strong ensembles and high-stakes entertainment with the roots of the franchise, capturing the spirit and chemistry of beloved characters necessary for die-hard fans, while eliminating most of the barrier to entry for the uninitiated.
Casting mostly unknowns or up-and-coming actors at the time, the Star Trek reboot both honored and succeeded the original crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise in a way even fans of the William Shatner / Leonard Nimoy era couldn’t help but appreciate.
Perhaps just as importantly, though, Abrams’ flair for action balanced with character development helped introduce the franchise to a new generation of viewers. For some on the younger side, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, et al became the only faces they had ever known or related to in the Trek universe.
The film’s marketing was a grand slam out of the gate with trailers that promised a big, fun space adventure tailor-made for summer movie season. The efforts weren’t in vain as the reboot bowed to $75.2 million on opening weekend (excluding a $4 million Thursday night opening), which set the pace for a box office run propelled by excellent word of mouth that pushed it to $257.7 million stateside by the end of its run.
Abrams’ second of three (so far) major franchise revivals spawned two direct sequels in 2013 and 2016, and its influence has further carried over to the recent Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard television series.
To date, the 2009 reboot remains the highest grossing of the 54-year-old Trek franchise — even when accounting for ticket price inflation.
More Notable Openings in This Weekend’s History
- Pokemon: Detective Pikachu bowed with $54.4 million in 2019, the highest ever for a video game adaptation at the time.
- Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, and Zac Efron pushed Neighbors to a strong $49 million bow, providing one of the biggest comedy hits of 2014.
- Leonardo DiCaprio anchored Baz Luhrmann’s remake of The Great Gatsby, beginning to solidify the former’s status as the decade’s most consistent box office draw as an actor. The film opened to $50.1 million in 2013.
- Iron Man 2 launched with $128.1 million in 2010, continuing the early success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- A Knight’s Tale opened modestly in 2001 with $16.5 million, but has since gone on to become a cult-classic and one of Heath Ledger’s most popular films outside The Dark Knight.
- Battlefield Earth opened with $11.6 million in 2000.
- The Mummy reboot launched a franchise in 1999 with $43.4 million on opening weekend, going on to become of the biggest word-of-mouth blockbuster hits of the year.
- Deep Impact bowed to $41.2 million in 1998, continuing the success of the “disaster film” sub-genre that came to prominence in the 1990s.
- The Fifth Element, another cult classic, launched with $17 million in 1997.
- Twister stormed cinemas with $41.1 million on opening weekend before legging out to $241.7 million stateside and $495 million worldwide, trailing only Independence Day for top box office glory in 1996.
- Crimson Tide united Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington for an adult-leaning summer thriller, opening to $18.6 million in 1995.
- Short Circuit introduced the iconic Johnny 5 to the world with a $5.4 million opening in 1986.
- Friday the 13th christened a new era of slasher horror films as the original Jason Voorhees pic opened to $5.8 million in 1980.
You can find previous editions of this column in our archives.