As we continue looking back at memorable box office performances of yesteryear, the heart of summer comes more and more into focus with each passing week. That’s perhaps never been more evident than in this edition, focusing on the 24th weekend of the year — a frame that’s delivered some of the biggest and most popular blockbusters of all time.
Modern Day Events
Just two years ago, Pixar’s highly anticipated sequel to one of their most beloved films finally arrived after a 14-year wait. Incredibles 2 smashed expectations and records in its wake, bowing to $182.7 million on opening weekend. That set a new record for animated movies, well above the previous standard-bearer, Pixar’s own Finding Dory ($135.1 million in 2016).
Capitalizing on the goodwill of the original Incredibles, the growth of superhero popularity since its release, and the grown-up, multi-generational audience, this sequel became the highest earning animated film in history with $608.6 million domestically. Globally, with regards to the animated medium, Incredibles 2‘s $1.24 billion haul has only been surpassed by Disney’s two Frozen films ($1.27 billion and $1.45 billion, respectively).
Three years prior, Universal launched another long-awaited sequel in Jurassic World — the fourth entry of the franchise, but the first in 14 years. Its $208.8 million domestic bow unseated 2012’s The Avengers ($207.4 million) as the all-time weekend champion, a title the Jurassic sequel would hold for six months before Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($248 million) swiped it away in late 2015.
Jurassic World offered up the scale, nostalgia, and star power via Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard that made it an event for audiences who grew up with the original films and the generations behind them. Earning $652.3 million domestically and $1.67 billion globally, Jurassic World remains the biggest earner of the franchise in raw dollars, and the most attended in theaters since the 1993 original.
Speaking of that 1993 film, this weekend also marks the anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park adaptation from Michael Crichton’s novel, a film that pushed technical boundaries for its time as much as it cemented a new classic summer blockbuster in the hearts and minds of movie lovers.
Jurassic Park opened to $47 million in its first weekend after a midweek release, which virtually tied Batman Returns‘ $50.1 million opening weekend record the year before if factoring Park‘s $3.1 million Thursday-to-Friday midnight screenings into the weekend gross (they were counted toward Thursday at the time). Jurassic spent 15 weeks in the top ten in North America, and over a full year in theatrical release, going on to become the second-highest grossing film in history with $357.1 million domestically and number one worldwide with $913 million, benchmarks that stood strong until Titanic claimed both thrones over four years later.
Of course, that film landed in second place in the domestic history books behind another Spielberg mega-hit. He had cast the same magic over cinema eleven years earlier, in 1982, with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial — which also opened on this weekend. Its $11.8 million debut looks modest by today’s standards, but the film was an instant beloved hit. It remained in the top ten for an astonishing 33 consecutive weeks (and another nine afterward as it remained in theaters for over a year in its original release).
E.T. ultimately banked $359.2 million domestically in its original run, part of more than $663 million globally — numbers that still position it as one of the highest attended films in history when considering the inflation of ticket prices in the near-four decades since its release. E.T. became the highest grossing film of all time during its original run, a position it wouldn’t yield until 1997 when the Special Edition re-release of Star Wars: A New Hope gave it the necessary box office bump past Spielberg’s film.
All of that, of course, was achieved just one year after Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced the world to Indiana Jones. As a highly touted collaboration between star Harrison Ford, the directing Spielberg, and George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan (writer of The Empire Strikes Back), Raiders offered a true dream team of creative teamwork that birthed a classic adventure franchise which has stood the test of decades.
Raiders bowed to $8.3 million during its first weekend in 1981, and while complete box office stats from then aren’t available, the film was as leggy as they came back then as it achieved top ten performances nine months after opening. Indy’s first chapter whipped up a $212.2 million domestic run, making it the top film of its release year by a significant margin, and inspired three more sequels with mega box office returns in the years and decades that followed. A fifth film is currently planned to release in 2022.
Comic Book Hits
Naturally, the proliferation of superhero and comic book films in recent years means that almost any given summer weekend will feature at least one from the sub-genre in a look-back column. Intriguingly, it’s been seven years since the last one bowed on this particular frame: 2013’s Man of Steel, a complete reboot of Superman lore by Zack Snyder for what would become Warner Bros.’ DC Cinematic Universe.
The film was a relatively strong re-launching point for the brand as it capitalized on excellent marketing and goodwill from Snyder’s success with 300, plus Christopher Nolan’s frequently advertised producing credit. The pic soared to a $116.6 million opening weekend, finishing with $291 million domestically and $668 million worldwide.
Two years prior, Green Lantern also debuted this weekend with $53.2 million — a respectable number by itself, but one that was undermined by the kind of reception star Ryan Reynolds has gone on to frequently make fun of himself for. It finished with just $116.6 million domestically and $220 million worldwide, barely more than its $200 million production budget.
Three years prior, another “green” comic book character made another big screen effort: The Incredible Hulk. Recast with Edward Norton, the film was a fair success with $55.4 million in its debut. Although the role was eventually recast again with Mark Ruffalo taking over in The Avengers, this 2008 film remains an official part of Marvel Cinematic Universe canon. It was the second film to release after Iron Man earlier that summer, and even features a cameo by Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark.
Perhaps the most influential superhero film on this weekend’s list is the aforementioned Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2020. The first chapter in his Dark Knight Trilogy was one of the very early examples of how to successfully “reboot” a franchise — a term that came into popular industry vernacular largely because of this very film. Its opening was modest at the time, though, with $48.8 million appearing lukewarm considering the franchise’s previous box office records.
Perspective lends a more positive story, though, as Begins had to win back many audiences after the missteps of Batman & Robin in 1998 — plus Begins‘ own lack of consistent marketing tone and personality (more on that here). The film ultimately legged out to a solid $205 million domestically, evolved into a smash hit in the home video and television markets, and directly led to the massive success of 2008’s The Dark Knight.
Other notable titles here include Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer ($58.1 million opening in 2007), Batman Forever ($52.8 million in 1995 — the all-time record back then), and Superman III ($13.4 million in 1983).
Franchises have come to dominate the industry, particularly during summer release schedules, and this weekend has seen a number of them stand out in various ways. These include, but aren’t necessarily limited to:
- Cars 3 ($53.7 million opening in 2017)
- The Conjuring 2 ($40.4 million in 2016)
- 22 Jump Street ($57.1 million in 2014)
- How to Train Your Dragon 2 ($49.5 million in 2014)
- The Karate Kid ($55.7 million in 2010)
- The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift ($24 million in 2006)
- Scooby-Doo ($54.2 million in 2002)
- Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ($47.7 million in 2001)
- Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me ($54.9 million in 1999)
- Ghostbusters II ($29.5 million in 1989 — an all-time record then)
- Rocky II ($6.4 million in 1979)
- Jaws 2 ($9.9 million in 1978 — an all-time record then)
Last, but not least, this weekend has been home to a number of original and adapted films that have either gone on to become standalone classics, and/or provided the foundations of eventual franchises.
- This Is the End ($20.7 million three-day opening in 2013)
- Nacho Libre ($28.3 million in 2006)
- The Bourne Identity ($27.1 million in 2002)
- The Cable Guy ($19.8 million in 1998)
- Pocahontas ($2.7 million, 6-theater platform release in 1995)
- The Lion King ($1.6 million, 2-theater platform release in 1994)
- Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ($25.6 million in 1991)
- Dick Tracy ($22.5 million in 1990)
- Predator ($12 million in 1987)
- Back to School ($8.9 million in 1986)
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off ($6.3 million in 1986)
- Grease ($8.9 million in 1978 — topped Superman as 1978’s top box office earner)
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.