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How Often Do Legitimately Great Movies Have $100 Million Opening Weekends?

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | March 25, 2012 |

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | March 25, 2012 |

Box-office reporting never seems at a loss for a good story (relatively speaking). Thanks to inflation and rising ticket prices, some box-office record somewhere is always falling. Opening weekend records rarely last much longer than a couple of years. The Pirates of Caribbean, Harry Potter, Batman and Twilight movies have been trading the biggest opening weekend, opening day, and most successful midnight screening for years now.

But how many of those huge blockbuster opening weekend records are actually broken by good movies? More often than not, they’re a result of marketing prowess, huge ad spends, and empty hype, and the Monday morning box-office report reads something along the lines of, “Ugh, this movie broke the record? Why?

The Hunger Games is one of those grand exceptions: A movie that scored huge numbers on opening weekend and actually kind of deserved the millions it made. Yes, there was a huge push behind the movie; the marketing budget probably topped $50 million. But, the product actually backed the hype. The Hunger Games scored $155 million over the weekend, good for the third highest grossing opening weekend of all time, and the highest grossing opening weekend for a non-sequel, and the highest grossing opening weekend in March. More than that, it also had the second best hold from Friday to Saturday (meaning it wasn’t front-loaded like the Twilight movies) and, in three days, it’s already become Lionsgate’s biggest movie of all time, surpassing Fahrenheit 9/11.

How rare is it that a great movie has an opening weekend that tops $100 million?

Here’s the top ten opening weekends for movies that have scored over an 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II — $169 million (96% Tomatometer)

2. The Dark Knight — $158 million (94%)

3. The Hunger Games — $155 million (86%)

4. Spider-Man — $114 million (89%)

5. Toy Story 3 — $110 million (99%)

6. Shrek 2 — $108 million (89%)

7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — $102 million (87%)

8. Iron Man — $98 million (94%)

9. Harry Potter and the Prisonser of Azkaban — $93 million (91%)

10. Spider-Man 2 — $88 million (93%)

Including all movies, Spider-man 2 has the 28th biggest opening weekend of all time, which
shows you how many mediocre to bad offerings benefited from hype over substance. For fans of substance, The Hunger Games opening is heartening. And even though the novels were not great literature, the opening was heartening for book readers, too. I admit I’m now anxious to find and read the next The Hunger Games or Harry Potter series just so I can say I was in on the ground floor. If anyone has any idea what that might be, say so in the comments. I’m sure we could all use a good entertaining book recommendation.

There were other movies playing this weekend. In fact, it was the ninth highest grossing weekend of all time for all movies aggregated. 21 Jump Street continued to play well, for instance, adding another $21 million to bring its total to $71 million (and yes, a sequel is already in the works). The Lorax added another $13 million to bring its total to $177 million. The Lorax stands as the highest grossing film of the year, but it will be surpassed by The Hunger Games before next weekend. John Carter had another huge 63 percent drop, and it now stands to lose over $200 million. Finally, Act of Valor held tight at number five, adding another $2 million.

If there was one disappointment at the weekend’s box office, however, it was Raid: Redemption, the best reviewed film of the year. It opened with a solid, but not spectacular, $15,000 per screen average in 14 theaters around the country. I kind of wish Gareth Evans had gotten a crack at The Hunger Games, if only to see how many middle-schoolers he could’ve made shit their pants. There wouldn’t have been any complaints about lack of violence.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.