We’re all used to breathlessly hyperbolic box-office reporting, in which studios cling to the most tenuous, meaningless records. Highest Tuesday opening. Biggest fourth weekend. Best gross from 5 p.m. shows in cities beginning with the letter “Q.”
But this perpetually winded group of writers blew particularly hot air this week in declaring “Man of Steel’s” $116 million opening weekend “the third highest ever for a non-sequel.”
Technically correct? Sure. But he’s a 75-year-old character from numerous comic books, movies and TV series of old. Plus, look at the films that bested it or came close.
- “The Avengers,” based on a legendary comic book and a combination of characters individually featured in five separately released hits.
- “The Hunger Games,” adapted from a YA-literature juggernaut that remained on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly two years straight.
- “Alice in Wonderland,” inspired by a then 145-year-old novel recalibrated on screens large and small countless times before.
- “Spider-Man,” which depicted a teenager’s discovery of his super powers but was, at the time, a 40-year-old comic-book property.
So that got me wondering: What if we threw out this “non-sequel” nonsense? What truly original live-action films have had the biggest opening weekends of all time?
I left it at live action because fewer-and-farther-between animated films are often an event no matter their source material. And by original, I mean based on nothing previous — including WWII history (sorry, Michael) or religious texts (sorry, Mel).
The list is eclectic, to say the least. It includes the highest-grossing film ever, several that crawled past $100 million and one that didn’t even get there.
No bluster. No BS. No creative vocabulary accounting. Here is the real list of 25 original movies with the largest opening weekends.
1. “Avatar,” $77,025,481 – released in 2009
You’ve got to go 48 spots down the all-time opening weekend list for this, meaning 47 bigger openings came from pre-existing properties. “Avatar” had all the makings of a hit, but few predicted it would usurp “Titanic.” Naturally, sequels are coming.
2. “The Day After Tomorrow,” $68,743,584 – released in 2004
This movie didn’t even open at No. 1, frozen out by a second weekend of “Shrek 2.” But it did place director Roland Emmerich back in his easily identified element of global destruction that he’d created eight years earlier with “Independence Day.”
3. “Bruce Almighty,” $67,953,330 – released in 2003
Jim Carrey’s biggest opening weekend had Memorial Day all to itself after “Matrix Reloaded” fatigue. Plus, every summer has a comedy that, if only for lack of better options, becomes a default for families with older kids. Its sequel? Not so successful.
4. “2012,” $65,237,614 – released in 2009
As “Tomorrow” was to “Independence,” “2012” was to “Tomorrow.” Emmerich reliably brought another doomsday scenario to life with maximum cheese. Plus, it was that November’s last calm before the storm of the first “Twilight” sequel.
5. “Inception,” $62,785,337 – released in 2010
“Inception” had the benefit of promoting Christopher Nolan’s fame, cemented by his terrific handling of another DC superhero just a hair younger than Superman. Plus, like “The Matrix” before it, trailers sold the intriguing allure of its original mystery.
6. “Hancock,” $62,603,879 – released in 2008
Will Smith’s last huge hit sure feels longer ago than five years, huh? This rare original live-action superhero film was sold on the snippier side of Smith’s persona. Sequel talk simmers, but it could be a bigger risk than reward after “After Earth.”
7. “Signs,” $60,117,080 – released in 2002
Speaking of M. Night Shyamalan, chalk this up to great marketing because “Unbreakable” came nowhere close to matching Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense.” That said, “the next Spielberg’s” name still meant something then, and it held court as a late-August smash.
8. “Valentine’s Day,” $56,260,707 – released in 2010
Yes, that “Valentine’s Day,” as derp-derp a movie to drop on the Hallmark holiday if ever there was one, as well as the highest-ranking title on this list to barely slink past $100 million. A spiritual sequel, “New Year’s Eve,” made less overall than this one’s opening frame.
9. “Ted,” $54,415,205 – released in 2012
The list’s newest film was a legitimately surprising over-performer. But it also reflects longstanding popularity of co-writer/director Seth MacFarlane’s aggressively syndicated “Family Guy.” A sequel is high on Universal’s priorities.
10. “8 Mile,” $51,240,555 – released in 2002
Another wildly frontloaded, fast flameout that earned $116 million total on the strength of Eminem’s peak popularity and a hit song. The weirdest thing: Upon its release, “8 Mile” would have been No. 2 on this list.
11. “The Village,” $50,746,142 – released in 2004
The last time audiences provided the M. Night Discount (as Joe Shearer might say). It barely doubled its opening-weekend take, perhaps because most viewers, like this one, wondered what the hell a Chihuahua was doing in 19th-century Pennsylvania.
12. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” $50,342,878 – released in 2005
“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” had tabloid curiosity on its side as a film that tore asunder Brad Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston (whose own “The Break-Up” is 29th on this list). People found a good action flick in the process, and it flirted with $200 million.
13. “Independence Day,” $50,228,264 – released in 1996
The granddaddy of modern-day disaster films built a template Emmerich followed to the letter for “Tomorrow” and “2012.” Of note: This was only the second-ever $50-million-plus opening in box-office history, after 1995’s “Batman Forever.”
14. “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” $47,042,215 – released in 2006
This opening was more likely pinned to NASCAR’s pinnacle of popularity at the time than the specific bankability of Will Ferrell — still smarting from the previous summer’s double kidney-punch of “Bewitched” and “Kicking & Screaming.”
15. “The Hangover,” $44,979,319 – released in 2009
What became the highest-grossing R-rated comedy ever boasted a can’t-miss premise and was boosted by that summer’s lackluster early offerings. Its sequel nearly doubled this opening, while its recent threequel actually opened with less.
16. “xXx,” $44,506,103 – released in 2002
This rode the wave of Vin Diesel’s success in “The Fast & the Furious” (omitted from this list as it was based on a magazine article). After killing Diesel’s character off, a sequel grossed nearly $20 million less in its entire run than this did in one weekend.
17. “Hitch,” $43,142,214 – released in 2005
Will Smith’s only romantic comedy is also one of his most eminently rewatchable efforts. While there will never be a straight-up sequel to “Hitch,” the romcom might be a well to which Smith would wisely return instead of sequelizing past efforts.
18. “Anger Management,” $42,220,847 – released in 2003
19. “Big Daddy,” $41,536,370 – released in 1999
Since 1998, there have only been two years without a $100 million Adam Sandler movie — 2000, with “Little Nicky,” and 2009, with “Funny People”. Never mind most of these movies are moneymakers people would be hard-pressed to remember watching. (But that’s another article altogether). “Anger” boasted an odd-couple pairing with Jack Nicholson, and “Daddy” was Sandler’s immediate follow-up to his breakout hit, “The Waterboy.”
20. “Deep Impact,” $41,152,375 – released in 1998
21. “Twister,” $41,059,409 – released in 1996
Both films were their summers’ opening salvos. “Impact” took advantage of an atypically weak May to more or less play all the way until “Armageddon” took a less somber spin on the same story. And credit “Twister’s” brilliant teaser for drawing audiences in. Also, Warner Brothers wisely promoted it as “from the director of ‘Speed’ ” even if folks in Tornado Alley never knew how to pronounce Jan de Bont.
22. “Grown Ups,” $40,506,562
This was Sandler’s turn to hit summer’s default family-comedy sweet spot. If you liked this, well, watch a moose piss on Sandler’s face and David Spade unwittingly enter Kevin James in “Grown Ups 2,” Sandler’s first sequel, later this summer.
23. “Safe House,” $40,172,720
Denzel Washington’s “American Gangster” made more in weekend one, but it was based on a magazine article. This built on “Taken’s” wake-up punch to the early-year, post-Oscar rush malaise from a few years earlier. Sequel? It’s a possibility.
24. “Cloverfield,” $40,058,229
An outstanding marketing campaign resulted in an en-masse opening … with a 63% tumble the following week in which it was toppled by “Meet the Spartans.” Plus, it’s the only movie on this list to not make $100 million, topping out around $80 million.
25. “Click,” $40,011,365
Boy, Sandler owns the bottom half of this list. It’s also the best of his four films on it — and one that played to a slightly different crowd, with a high-concept fantasy plot that skewed closer to “Bruce Almighty” than “Billy Madison.”