A-List: Best of the Top Opening Weekend-Grossing Movies

By J. Don Birnam

April 16, 2015

A round of applause for The Dark Knight!

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Continuing to grab headlines in the movie world over the past 10 days is the stunning success of Furious 7, particularly after its record-breaking opening weekend. Today I’ll explore my favorite amongst the movies that have grossed the most money in their opening weekends.

The idea for this column came after Furious 7 it made it so high into the all-time list, which prompted me to look at the top 100 three-day weekend openers. To be clear, I looked at the official lists published by established Internet websites that collect historical box office data. Unsurprisingly, most of these movies came out in the past 10 or even five years. The lists are not adjusted for inflation, and theater counts and movie ticket prices have been rising.

But if one looks simply at the top 100 list, there is some solid fare, but also some surprise entries consisting of recent movies like Cinderella or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake, both of which have no place in the list of top anything other than bland remakes. That the fourth Installment of the Indiana Jones franchise is on the list is telling.

On the other hand, it is also revealing that movies like Avatar are on the top 100 list. It shows that in a vast sea of comic book movies and Harry Potter and Star Wars movies, there are some isolated gems that stand out in their lonesome. Thus, a list of the best fives movies whose opening weekends are in the top 100 would have read something along the lines of: Avatar, The Return of The King, Frozen, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. None of these movies, however, crack the top 50. Moreover, the choices are somewhat obvious when the competition is most of the Twilight, Hunger Games, and Transformers openers.


Thus, to make matters more interesting, the only limiting rule this time around is the requirement that the movie be in the top 50 opening weekends of all time, as opposed to top 100. Not only will these be more lasting than the as-of-now-in-peril opening records held by movies such as, say, Maleficient (#78 on the list, before Furious 7) or The Day After Tomorrow (#80), it will provide for more interesting choices among the sequels and superhero movies. When the 51st through 100th entries are eliminated, “prestige” films like those in the drive-by list I prepared above fall off, leaving us with much harder choices.

I will mention three comic book movies as honorable mentions, to start. The original Spider-Man, released in 2002 and starring Tobey Maguire, was in its day the highest-grossing opener of all time, with an astonishing $114 million to swing past the new record recently established by the Harry Potter opener. Today, the movie sits at #19 and is still remembered by movie buffs as an opening weekend phenomenon.

I also have to mention the first Iron Man movie, which opened just shy of $100 million in 2008, revived Robert Downey Jr.’s career, and spawned two sequels, one of which is currently the second highest opening weekend record-holder (Iron Man 3). Iron Man’s success is noteworthy because the movie sort of came out of nowhere and is solid entertainment. Today, it sits at #29. I’ll also mention Guardians of the Galaxy, today #33 on the list, as a recent favorite of mine, which also opened very surprisingly at $94 million in 2014, blowing past expectations.

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