This Weekend in Box Office History: Wonder Woman, Harry Potter, Disney and Pixar Blockbusters, & More

Photo Credits: Warner Bros., DC, Disney, Pixar, Fox

This week, we’re taking a look back at the biggest opening weekends to make a splash immediately after Memorial Day, typically the 22nd frame of the year (although not always).

The holiday is well known as a secondary launching point for the start of summer movie season (in fact, it used to be considered the main one), but a number of films have leveraged the post-holiday corridor and beginning of work and school vacations into major box office success.

Wonder Woman
June 2 – 4, 2017

There’s no bigger example of how lucrative the post-Memorial Day frame can be than DC’s origin story for Diana Prince. Opening to $103.3 million on this weekend three years ago, the film was a massive cultural milestone as it became the first directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins) to open over $100 million.

For Warner Bros. and DC, the film was instrumental in winning overdue positive sentiment following mixed results from previous films in their post-Nolan/Dark Knight era launched by Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad.

Wonder Woman showed off great staying power at the box office with a finish of $412.6 million domestically and $821.5 million worldwide, ranking third and tenth for 2017, respectively.

The highly anticipated sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, is slated to open August 14 following its delay from early June due to COVID-19.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
June 4 – 6, 2004

The third film in the Harry Potter franchise bowed to a then-June-record $93.7 million upon its summer 2004 release, even eclipsing the first Potter film’s $90.3 million opening in November 2001.

Azkaban‘s staying power was a bit shorter than its predecessors’ with a $249.5 million domestic and $795.6 million global finish, ultimately becoming the lowest earner of the franchise’s eight films. The pic finished sixth domestically in 2004, but still climbed to second worldwide behind Shrek 2.

Ultimately, time has been very kind to the third chapter as it left an indelible mark on fans. Alfonso Cuarón’s entry into the series has gone on to become remembered as one of the most popular of Potter’s cinematic renditions.

Finding Nemo
May 30 – June 1, 2003

Pixar was already established as an animation powerhouse by the early 2000s, but Nemo sent them over the edge. Bowing to $70.3 million after the Memorial holiday, Pixar’s fifth film drew the best opening ever for an animated film at the time.

Just as impressive was its $339.7 million domestic and $871 million global finish, ranking as the second highest box office earner of the year on both fronts behind The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Nemo remains one of the studio’s most beloved and successful titles in their quarter-century history, winning the Oscar for Best Animated Film in 2003, adding another $41 million with 2012’s 3D re-release, inspiring 2016’s blockbuster sequel Finding Dory, and still ranking second among Pixar’s original films in terms of overall box office (surpassed in 2015 by Inside Out).

May 30 – June 1, 2014

Disney was in the nascent stages of remaking beloved classics into live action films during the early 2010s. After the blockbuster run of Alice in Wonderland, this one proved the brand name could elevate even anti-heroes to box office glory.

With the undoubted help of starring Angelina Jolie, Sleeping Beauty’s classic villain opened her own film to $69.4 million domestically in summer 2014 and ultimately finished with $241.4 million. The film was an even bigger international hit with $517 million, giving it a massive $758.4 million global haul in the end.

Ranking eighth and fourth, respectively, on the domestic and worldwide fronts that year, the film introduced a new generation of fans to the fairy tale world and eventually triggered 2019’s sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.

May 29 – 31, 2009

Pixar was no stranger to summer success by the time Up debuted in summer 2009 with $68.1 million on opening weekend, one of the studio’s top opening weekends up to that point and not far off of Nemo‘s launch six years earlier.

The beloved film was a hit across multiple generations, showing as much with its leggy box office run that culminated with $293 million domestically and $735.1 million worldwide. Those marks were strong enough to rank fifth and sixth, respectively, among all 2009 releases.

Nominated for five more Oscars, Pixar won the Best Animation trophy again for Up.

Honorable Mentions

Not far behind the top five post-Memorial Day openers are a few other recent films that made impacts in various ways.

Sex and the City
May 30 – June 1, 2008

Summer movie season isn’t just for kids, and prominent in that conversation is the feature adaptation of HBO’s popular series, Sex and the City, an instant winner upon its $57 million opening weekend in 2008. Counter-programming the typical summer fare with an R-rated comedy aimed at adult women proved incredibly smart as it earned $152.7 million stateside and an impressive $418.8 million worldwide, ranking eleventh for 2008 on both fronts — the highest earning R-rated film of the year. Its success spawned a sequel in 2010.

Snow White and the Huntsman
June 1 – 3, 2012

Led by Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth fresh off their respective success in the Twilight and Marvel franchises, this re-imagining was an early summer success story as it earned $155.3 million stateside and $396.6 million worldwide off a $56.2 million domestic start, spawning a sequel in 2016.

X-Men: First Class
June 3 – 5, 2011

Following a couple of creative whiffs in the mid-to-late 2000s, the X-Men series turned to director Matthew Vaughn to revitalize the popular brand with this reboot, often cited among the most popular films in the overall franchise to date. The effort spawned a new series with a younger cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as First Class debuted to $55.1 million on its way to a $146.4 million domestic and $352.6 million global finish.

San Andreas
May 29 – 31, 2015

Dwayne Johnson’s rise to stardom was steadily building in the years leading up to this summertime disaster flick, punctuated by the film’s $54.6 million debut weekend being achieved mostly on the shoulders of his presence and blockbuster marketing. The pic finished with $155.2 million domestically and $474 million worldwide, representing one of the biggest non-franchise earners in 2015.

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., DC, Disney, Pixar, Fox

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