This Weekend in Box Office History: Suicide Squad, Ninja Turtles Reboot, The Sixth Sense, The Help, The Fugitive, Unforgiven, & Comedy Hits Galore

Photo Credits: Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Disney, Universal Pictures

As summer (the calendar version) hits its midpoint and summer (the movie version) approaches its final weeks, our look back into the archives takes on a slightly different shape. The 32nd frame of the year has played host to the usual franchise titles, but also with a mix of word-of-mouth-driven hits and sleepers from the realms of comedy and drama — not all of which necessarily rank among the top ten openers.

Pre-pandemic, this particular weekend was poised for the release of 20th Century Studios’ horror flick The Empty Man and Paramount’s Infinite, starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Antoine Fuqua. The former of the two is now planned to debut on December 4, 2020, while the latter sci-fi movie has been re-dated for May 28, 2021.

Franchise Headliners

It wouldn’t be a summer weekend without plenty of franchises to cover, and this one is no exception.

Weekend #32’s benchmark currently belongs to Warner Bros. and DC’s Suicide Squad, which bowed to $133.7 million four years ago on the back of an enthusiastic fan base excited to see Will Smith star alongside Margot Robbie as the first live-action iteration of Harley Quinn. Not to be forgotten was excitement for Jared Leto’s Joker — the first live-action performance of the iconic villain since Heath Ledger’s iconic turn in 2008’s The Dark Knight — and a marketing campaign that made fantastic use of its soundtrack, notably Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” throughout multiple trailers.

Squad delivered the fifth highest debut of 2016 domestically, and the second best ever among non-Christopher Nolan-helmed DC films (trailing Batman v Superman‘s $166 million in March of the same year). Word of mouth and staying power were, objectively speaking, mixed as the film capped off with $325.1 million domestically, ranking ninth for 2016. Its $746.9 million global take ranked tenth for the year.

While the original was directed by David Ayer, the studio is planning a follow-up with some of the returning cast, to be written and helmed by Guardians of the Galaxy‘s James Gunn. The Suicide Squad is currently slated for August 6, 2021.

Two years earlier, this weekend’s record had been set by Paramount’s live-action reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it debuted to $65.6 million. Carried by a strong ad campaign, appeal to modern youngsters, and a dose of nostalgia for parents and 25-30-somethings who grew up on the series, the film exceeded even optimistic expectations — a particularly impressive feat given that it opened during the second frame of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

Turtles went on to develop solid legs as it ranked among the top two (with Guardians) in its first five weekends. With a $191.2 million domestic finish, the reboot ranked 13th in 2014, while earning $485 million worldwide for a 16th place ranking. The results were strong enough to convince the studio to push forward with a direct sequel in 2016 (Out of the Shadows), although it experienced noticeably diminished returns compared to this entry.

Seth Rogen is currently involved with the development of another reboot of the series, this time in animated form.

Another popular ’80s brand revival once held the throne for this weekend before the Turtles reboot. In 2009, Paramount brought Hasbro’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra to cinemas with a $54.7 million debut. It was a fair start at the time, although final domestic earnings of $150.2 million and a global take of $302.5 million were modest relative to the film’s $175 million product budget.

Still, the studio and toy-maker enjoyed plenty of merchandising tie-ins with the live-action adaptation, so the companies proceeded with a sequel in 2013 by adding Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis to the mix. G.I. Joe: Retaliation ended up being a stronger financial performer with $375.7 million worldwide off its $130 million production cost.

Another trio of franchise (and eventual franchise) titles make appearances in this weekend’s top ten, including 2007’s Rush Hour 3 ($50.2 million opening / $140.1 million domestic total / $258.1 million global total), 2002’s xXx ($44.5 million / $142.1 million / $277.5 million), and 2012’s The Bourne Legacy ($38.1 million / $113.2 million / $276.1 million).

Meanwhile, just two years ago, The Meg shattered expectations with its $45.4 million debut. Timed perfectly for late summer, the Jason Statham-led creature feature bowed in first place and spent another three weeks in the top two afterward. The film climbed to $145.4 million domestically and $530.2 million worldwide by the end of its run, ranking 22nd and 15th in 2018, respectively.

Comedy Breakouts

Despite the sparsity of big comedy hits in recent years, summer — and August, especially — used to be a staple for successful breakouts from the genre.

In terms of opening weekends for traditional comedies, American Pie 2 boasts the sixth best debut on this weekend with its $45.1 million mark back in 2001. The film was eagerly anticipated at the time following the massive pop culture success of 1999’s first film, and many fans came back for the gang’s sophomore outing as it delivered the second best live-action comedy opening of the year (trailing Rush Hour 2‘s $67.4 million opening one week prior).

American Pie 2 ultimately finished with $145.1 million stateside (11th for the year) and $287.6 million globally (13th). Those marks are tops among all films in the theatrically-released, four-film franchise.

The 10th best opener on this weekend belongs to another original comedy from Will Ferrell and directing partner Adam McKay. The star paired with Mark Wahlberg for the first time in 2010’s The Other Guys, driving a strong $35.5 million opening weekend — comparable to other Ferrell hits before it.

Other Guys was another leggy, late summer hit for the star following 2008’s Step Brothers and 2006’s Talledega Nights. The film earned $119.2 million domestically, ranking 18th for the year. Like his Ricky Bobby pic, the international release footprint wasn’t significant (nor was it expected to be at the time). The film drew $170.5 million globally.

Reuniting Jason Sudekis and Jennifer Aniston after their 2011 hit Horrible Bosses, Warner Bros. delivered one of 2013’s biggest sleeper hits with We’re the Millers on this weekend. The comedy leveraged its stars and an infectiously humorous marketing campaign to the tune of a $26.4 million three-day weekend bow, part of an overall $37.9 million five-day launch from Wednesday, beating every expectation of the original comedy. It was produced for only $37 million.

The outstanding results continued for weeks as it finished in second place three times and remained in the top five for six frames. Legging out to $150.4 million stateside, Millers was the 16th highest grossing film of the year — barely trailing The Heat ($159.6 million) as the top original comedy of 2013. Global earnings reached a solid $270 million.

Rounding out the top comedic openers are two more notable entries, starting with The Campaign ($26.6 million) as another Will Ferrell pic to plant a flag in August back in 2012. That film finished with $86.9 million domestically and $104.9 million worldwide.

Meanwhile, modern cult classic Pineapple Express also debuted on this frame with Seth Rogen and company fresh off the success of Superbad and Knocked Up the year before. Express, made for $27 million, debuted to $41.3 million in its five-day bow ($23.2 million for the three-day weekend) before finishing with $87.3 million domestically and $101.6 million globally.

Leggy Dramas & Prestige Films

As alluded to in previous columns, this time of year has become something of a haven for adult-driven content, whether of the popcorn variety or not. One of the biggest examples of that was 1999’s sleeper-turned-blockbuster The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan’s directorial debut.

The film began humbly enough with a $26.7 million debut weekend (aided by Bruce Willis’ star presence, and still a strong result compared to the movie’s $40 million production budget), but word of mouth spread like wildfire throughout the rest of summer and into fall. Haley Joel Osment’s “I see dead people” propelled the film into the pop culture zeitgeist, and moviegoers not in the know tried their best to avoid being spoiled of the climactic plot twist.

Sixth Sense ultimately developed into one of the most successful original films in modern history, winning five consecutive weekends at the domestic box office. It remained in the top five for nine frames, and the top ten for fifteen.

As the seemingly little thriller that came out of nowhere, Shyamalan’s freshman project ultimately finished with $276.1 million in North America and $672.8 million worldwide. Both of those figures were second only to Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 1999, and they still represent top marks in the auteur filmmaker’s career thus far.

Diversity and representation have become an increasingly important topic when it comes to Hollywood’s release slate, and one of the best examples of what a “counter-programmer” can achieve when adopting those principles was produced in August 2011 when The Help debuted.

Opening on a Wednesday and drawing $35.9 million in its first five days (including a $26 million three-day weekend), the drama (with some comedic elements) adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel won acclaim from audiences and critics alike. Although it opened in second place that weekend, the film spent its next three frames in first place and remained in the top ten for seven weekends.

The Help ultimately legged out to an incredible $169.7 million domestically (off just a $25 million production budget), plus another $46.9 million overseas for a $216.6 million global haul. The film earned four Oscar nominations, including a Best Picture nod, while Octavia Spencer took home the gold for Best Supporting Actress. Viola Davis (Best Actress) and Jessica Chastain (Best Supporting Actress) were also nominated.

After almost two decades of leading consistent moneymakers, Harrison Ford was tapped to lead the big screen adaptation of The Fugitive, a popular 1960s television series that lent itself well to the cinematic treatment. Ford and co-star Tommy Lee Jones provided a top-line duo with strong attraction from adults, helping the film draw $23.8 million on opening weekend — the third highest debut of 1993 behind Jurassic Park ($47 million) and The Firm ($25.4 million).

With strong word of mouth and reviews driving late summer and early autumn sales, the film spent its first six frames in first place, and a total of ten weekends in the top ten before its run came to a conclusion. The Fugitive proved to be one of the year’s (and the early ’90s’) biggest hits with $183.9 million domestically and $368.9 million worldwide — ranking third for 1993 releases on both fronts.

That staying power and acclaim was recognized come award season when The Fugitive was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Jones himself claimed the film’s lone victory with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Diving back into the territory of thrillers that kept drawing audiences for weeks on end, Nicole Kidman starred in an under-the-radar genre pic that became one of 2001’s most notable sleepers: The Others.

Produced for just $17 million, the film opened to $14.1 million stateside and proceeded to rank fourth on the weekend charts during each of its first five frames. Remaining in the top ten for nine weekends, never dropping more than 26.3 percent until its ninth, The Others legged out to $96.5 million domestically and $210 million worldwide.

There aren’t many summer weekends that can claim to have hosted a Best Picture Oscar-winner — but this one can.

In 1992, Clint Eastwood directed himself — alongside Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, and Richard Harris — in Unforgiven. The R-rated western was part of a brief comeback in popular cinema for the genre during the early ’90s (alongside films like Tombstone, The Quick and the Dead, and Wyatt Earp). Eastwood’s involvement offered a particular boost in interest given his career credentials throughout decades before.

Unforgiven opened to a relatively modest $15 million weekend, ranking in first place through its first three frames that summer. It remained in the top five for six weekends and ultimately played to strong reception that helped it remain in industry voters and audiences’ minds through award season.

That staying power and the reviews of high acclaim led to nine Oscar nominations, four of which the film took home — including trophies for Best Picture, Best Director (Eastwood), and Best Supporting Actor (Hackman).

As a western, the film didn’t receive much international play, but Unforgiven ended its run with $101.2 million domestically, ranking 11th for the year, and $159.2 million worldwide (ranking 13th). Nearly three decades later, Eastwood’s epic is still regarded as one of the shining examples of the western genre.

Top 10 Three-Day Weekend Grosses for Weekend #32

  1. Suicide Squad ($133.7 million, 2016)
  2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) ($65.6 million, 2014)
  3. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ($54.7 million, 2009)
  4. Rush Hour 3 ($50.2 million, 2007)
  5. The Meg ($45.4 million, 2018)
  6. American Pie 2 ($45.1 million, 2001)
  7. xXx ($44.5 million, 2002)
  8. The Bourne Legacy ($38.1 million, 2012)
  9. S.W.A.T. ($37.1 million, 2003)
  10. The Other Guys ($35.5 million, 2010)

More Notable Three-Day Openings on Weekend #32

  • Annabelle: Creation ($35.0 million, 2017)
  • Elysium ($29.8 million, 2013)
  • Fantastic Four (2015) ($25.7 million, 2015)
  • Collateral ($24.7 million, 2004)
  • Freaky Friday (2003) ($22.2 million, 2003)
  • Planes ($22.2 million, 2013)
  • Four Brothers ($21.2 million, 2005)
  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark ($20.9 million, 2019)
  • Step Up ($20.7 million, 2006)
  • Julie & Julia ($20 million, 2009)
  • Conspiracy Theory ($19.3 million, 1997)
  • World Trade Center ($18.7 million, 2006)
  • Final Destination 5 ($18 million, 2011)
  • Dora and the Lost City of Gold ($17.4 million, 2019)
  • Into the Storm ($17.35 million, 2014)
  • Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams ($16.7 million, 2002)
  • Snake Eyes ($16.3 million, 1998)
  • Halloween H20: 20 Years Later ($16.2 million, 1998)
  • The Skeleton Key ($16.1 million, 2005)
  • Step Up 3D ($15.8 million, 2010)
  • Dangerous Minds ($14.9 million, 1995)
  • Hope Springs ($14.7 million, 2012)
  • The Thomas Crown Affair ($14.6 million, 1999)
  • Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters ($14.4 million, 2013)
  • 30 Minutes or Less ($13.3 million, 2011)
  • The Gift ($11.9 million, 2015)
  • Jack ($11.2 million, 1996)
  • The Replacements ($11 million, 2000)
  • The Hundred-foot Journey ($11 million, 2014)
  • BlacKkKlansman ($10.85 million, 2018)
  • The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants ($10.7 million, 2008)
  • Flatliners ($10 million, 1990)
  • The Abyss ($9.3 million, 1989)
  • Escape from L.A. ($8.9 million, 1996)
  • Red Dawn ($8.2 million, 1984)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child ($8.1 million, 1989)
  • Air America ($8.1 million, 1990)
  • Double Impact ($7.6 million, 1991)
  • Cujo ($6.1 million, 1983)
  • 3 Ninjas ($5.9 million, 1992)
  • Summer Rental ($5.75 million, 1985)
  • The Iron Giant ($5.7 million, 1999)
  • Stakeout ($5.2 million, 1987)
  • Masters of the Universe ($4.9 million, 1987)
  • Pee-wee’s Big Adventure ($4.6 million, 1985)
  • Real Genius ($2.6 million, 1985)
  • The Transformers: The Movie ($1.78 million, 1986)
  • Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 ($1.73 million, 1983)
  • The Curse of the Pink Panther ($1.64 million, 1983)
  • Xanadu ($1.47 million, 1980)

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.

Photo Credits: Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Disney, Universal Pictures

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