Shop Talk: Memorial Day

By Jason Barney

May 22, 2013

Uh oh. This looks bad for Zach Galifianakis.

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Have you taken a look at the movie release schedule lately? We are now on the doorstep of a potentially record setting Memorial Day run. This year’s calendar has the holiday weekend falling between the night of Thursday, May 23rd through the evening of Monday, May 27th. The prospect of gigantic box office numbers is a foregone conclusion. The slate of big May offerings like Iron Man, The Great Gatsby, and Star Trek Into Darkness built the ground work with exceptionally strong openings. In a few days Epic, The Hangover Part III, and Fast & Furious 6 could draw behemoth interest, which they should, and this Memorial Day could become the most successful of all time. Caution is always warranted when someone is trying to sell you the idea records are about to be broken, but the potential of a box office mega weekend has never been better.

First, there is the historical competition. Memorial Day weekend has only been huge and competitive for about the last decade. Twenty years ago movie going was a different era, and performance in theaters was measured in a totally different way. Things changed in the late 1990s, and by 2000 blockbuster openings were the new trend. Mission: Impossible II and Shanghai Noon were strong that year, and holdovers like Gladiator, Dinosaur, and Road Trip each earned over $13 million. They garnered $184 million in receipts. By today’s revved up standards this is not enormous, but it will serve as an anchor for our analysis.

In 2001 Pearl Harbor opened to an enormous $75 million, and returning films Shrek and The Mummy Returns helped propel that Memorial Day frame to $181 million. In 2002 it was the earlier releases like Attack of the Clones and Spiderman that led the way, combining with three new flicks for $200 million. You get the picture. May is a huge month for the box office, and studios roll out some of the biggest pictures of the year. The holiday weekend of May is the icing on the cake; a lot of coin is made.


The rungs on the ladder of success continued to get higher throughout the last decade, with studios starting to count on the money like a man who works a few hours of overtime. In 2004 the paycheck equaled an amazing $248 million. Shrek 2 and The Day After Tomorrow both earned over $68 million, a truly remarkable accomplishment.

Theaters were packed full of excited movie goers in 2005 when $232 million was brought in. Three films, Revenge of the Sith, Madagascar, and The Longest Year Yard each took in over $58 million. The sci-fi flick, a comedy, and a kids film were all designed to appeal to different audiences. It was somewhat of a gamble, as even on holiday weekends there are only so many people to see movies. However, three different wide releases, all tailored to different viewers paid off. Keep this strategy in mind.

2007 presented a similar rollout from studios. Comic book action geeks could enjoy Spiderman 3, which earned close to $20 million. Far north of that was Shrek 3, an offering for families and children, which pulled in an impressive $67 million in weekend number two. The monster in the room was Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which plundered fans for nearly $140 million of box office treasure. Combined with all the other offerings, 2007 set the then box office record with $255 million.

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