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  • Writer's pictureHunter Howe Cates

The Biggest Opening Weekend Record Holders Of All Time

Originally published on August 13, 2020

Predicting box office results is the movie lover's favorite sport. Fantasy football geeks have nothing on us — our Super Bowl comes around every time a movie breaks the opening weekend record. In a culture divided by just about everything — most especially when it comes to what to watch — it's validating when a big chunk of us all come together to watch a movie in a theater.

More importantly to Hollywood, it gives huge bragging rights to the studio that breaks the record (until a new film inevitably tops it). Numerous franchises have worn the crown. Batman leads with four, Jurassic Park and Avengers are tied with three, while Spider-Man and Harry Potter are tied with two. What remains is a "Who's Who?" of blockbuster franchises.

Who made the cut and when? Some entries may surprise you. Here are the biggest opening weekend record holders of all time!

Avengers: Endgame goes to infinity... and beyond

File this under the "duh." More than a decade (and more than 20 blockbuster films) in the making, we all knew Avengers: Endgame would break the opening weekend record... but by how much? Oh man. It was a biggie. The "final" Avengers film blasted off with $1.2 billion worldwide in just three days. Seemingly the entire moviegoing world went to see this film. With the domination of Thanos' snap, Endgame obliterated the previous opening weekend record — held by its predecessor, Avengers: Infinity War — by more than $100 million.

With the domination of Thanos' snap, Endgame obliterated the previous opening weekend record — held by its predecessor, Avengers: Infinity War — by more than $100 million.

To put this achievement into context, no two films on this list have a greater gap. Infinity War's weekend was already astounding, and Endgame beat it by nearly 30 percent! Unreal. At this point it's hard to think of any film that could possibly reach these gargantuan heights. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? Avatar 2? Dora The Explorer? But seriously, this looks to be a record that will last for a long time.

Avengers: Infinity War snaps up the title

While it seems crazy in hindsight, there was actually some uncertainty among box office experts as to whether or not Avengers: Infinity War would set the opening weekend record. Yes, it was the culmination of ten years worth of storylines and featured characters from every Marvel franchise (sans Hawkeye and Ant-Man). But its predecessor, Avengers Age of Ultron, opened to "just" $191 million stateside, less than The Avengers in 2012. There was also the Star Wars factor, as The Force Awakens had delivered a then-unheard of opening weekend two years before.

Turns out Infinity War had nothing to worry about — it set the new opening weekend record with a "snap" (okay, no more snap jokes), earning $257 domestically on its way to a $678 million tally. Really, as remarkable as these numbers are, they've since been overshadowed by the insane money Endgame made just a year later. After Endgame, Infinity War's results just crumbled into dust (last snap joke, we swear).

Star Wars is a force to be reckoned with

Believe it or not, this is the only Star Wars film on this list, but The Force Awakens' domestic opening weekend record of $247 million is historic for other reasons. It beat the previous record holder, Jurassic World, by 16 percent. More impressively, it set the opening weekend record in December, one of only two holiday releases on this list. Most opening weekend records are set in the summer, when people rush to the theater because a new blockbuster opens every weekend.

During the holiday season you'll usually see lower openings but higher final earnings, because audiences see movies at different times. The top three opening weekends in December are Star Wars films, but the highest non-Star Wars December opening (and former December record-holder) is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, at $84 million — which means The Force Awakens beat the previous December opening by 66 percent.

The Force Awakens was an unparalleled double whammy — it opened like a summer blockbuster, but had legs like a holiday release, and it remains the highest-grossing domestic release of all time at $936 million. The force was certainly with this one.

Dinosaurs? More like dino$aurs

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. When that nostalgia is paired with a fresh take on a beloved franchise that has lain dormant for 14 years, you get Jurassic World's $208 million domestic opening weekend record. While Jurassic World held the record for only six months, one of the shortest reigns of any film on this list, it wasn't supposed to happen at all. Summer 2015 was supposed to belong to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Alas, this was one summer Marvel didn't win, and instead it went to the dinosaurs. In hindsight, we shouldn't have been shocked. Three of the five Jurassic Park films have set the opening weekend record, and all of them have been hits (yes, even Jurassic Park III).

What's also interesting is that Jurassic Park is the only franchise on this list that features non-human stars. Sure, there's Chris Pratt as Owen, Sam Neil as Alan Grant, and of course, Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm. But it's the dinosaurs people pay to see. Kinda crazy thinking that an animal species that went extinct 65 million years ago is one of our biggest box office attractions. Hopefully they get royalties.

Avenger$ Assemble

Crossovers and cinematic universes are commonplace now, perhaps even cliche, but not in 2012. Back then the only cinematic universe was glimpsed in The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones.

There was a time the Avengers was just a far-fetched fanboy fantasy (no, not this one). Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk in the same movie? Get outta here. Yet here we are. While it seems like a no-brainer now, The Avengers was somewhat risky precisely because it had never been done before.

Crossovers and cinematic universes are commonplace now but in 2012 the only cinematic universe was glimpsed in The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones.

There was also the fact that of the main characters, only Iron Man had reached blockbuster status. Yes, chances were that the movie would open high, if only because people were curious... but what if it was bad? Bye bye MCU. The risk paid off: The Avengers not only became the first movie to open above $200 million, it beat the previous record holder by nearly $40 million. As impressive as The Avengers' $207 million take was, its greatest feat still remains the franchise that followed in its wake.

Harry makes magic at the box office

The final film in the Harry Potter saga topped an opening weekend record that had been in place for three years by a nice cushion of about $11 million. Equally impressive, the previous film was from Warner Bros., which also distributed the Potter films, so the studio broke its own record, which wouldn't happen again until Disney did so with the Star Wars and Avengers three-peat.

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 also far outperformed the openings for the other films in its franchise, topping the opening weekend of the next closest one, Deathly Hallows, Part 1, by an impressive margin of $44 million. Deathly Hallows, Part 2 was very front-loaded, though, and collapsed 72 percent to earn $47 million in its second weekend. Its steep descent continued, but with a $381 million domestic take, we imagine the suits at WB weren't crying into their $100 bills.

The Dark Knight makes Bruce Wayne money

Batman is arguably the most popular character in all of pop culture. The most recent of his four appearances on this list, The Dark Knight, was an anomaly. Its predecessor, Batman Begins, was well received, but opened with a middling $48 million. Meanwhile, summer 2008 was supposed to belong to Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull — and after Indy 4 underwhelmed, observers worried summer 2008 would be a bust.

Hoo boy, they had no idea. Batman Begins had legs, so it was assumed its sequel would do better. But with the posthumous allure of Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker, The Dark Knight didn't just do better, it more than tripled Batman Begins' opening weekend, earning $158 million — nearly as much as Batman Begins did domestically in its entire run.

The Dark Knight was also the first film in more than ten years to cross $500 million, becoming the then-second highest grossing movie ever after Titanic. The Dark Knight was more than a blockbuster; it was an event movie, a seminal cinematic moment that captured the zeitgeist like few blockbuster films ever do.

The itsy, bitsy spider takes his record back

Spider-Man is the only Marvel character to break the opening weekend record on his own (no Avengers needed). And he did it not just once, but twice. Besides, of the three opening weekend record-setting Avengers films, Spider-Man was in two. So yeah, people seem to like this Spider-Man guy.

While it seems like eons ago, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man franchise was once the biggest thing in movies: Two of Raimi's three Spider-Man films set the opening weekend record. Spider-Man's historic opening weekend was topped by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest in 2006, but the itsy bitsy spider took his record back in summer 2007.

Spider-Man 3 earned a pretty incredible $151 million opening weekend, beating the previous record holder by $16 million, and Spider-Man's opening weekend by $35 million. However, the wall-crawler received poor word-of-mouth and tapped out at $336 million domestically, significantly less than both of the previous Spider-Man movies.

Pirates 2 takes in treasure

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (specifically the year 2006), Pirates of the Caribbean was one of the biggest franchises at the movies. Even more astoundingly, it was Disney's only blockbuster live-action franchise. Think about that: Disney once only had Pirates and Pixar. Well, and theme parks, billions in licensing, and a universally beloved brand, but still.

With its $135 million domestic take, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest beat an opening weekend record that had stood for four years, and at that point seemed all but unsinkable. And it did so with a remarkably simple tagline: "Captain Jack is back."

Think about that: Disney once only had Pirates and Pixar. Well, and theme parks, billions in licensing, and a universally beloved brand, but still.

Is it any wonder Disney paid Johnny Depp a small fortune? While Pirates 2 finished with a $423 million domestic haul, making it the then-fourth highest grossing film ever, the franchise continued to sail long after its expiration date. However, given its popularity in international waters, don't expect it to sink to the briny depths anytime soon.

Spider-Man swings into the history books

It is the year 2002. X-Men had done well in 2000, but it didn't break any records. Batman, the lone viable superhero franchise for most of the previous decade, had collapsed in the dumpster fire that was Batman & Robin. Hard to believe, but when it comes to superhero movies, that's about it. Spider-Man changed everything.

Anticipation for a Spider-Man film had been years in the making, so observers knew it was going to be big. But how big? Before Spider-Man, a movie making $100 million in the U.S. over just three days was unfathomable. Spider-Man did so, with $14 million to spare, earning an unprecedented $114 million opening weekend, topping the previous entry by $24 million. Spider-Man held this record for four years.

It was also Sony's highest grossing film ever for 15 years, until Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (which only barely topped it thanks to inflation). While many films on this list broke records, few changed the game. Spider-Man did.

Who needs magic when you make this much money?

You can also file this under the "duh" category. The Harry Potter books reinvigorated the publishing industry, becoming one of the most popular book series of all time. It was truly a phenomenon.

Fans of all ages would camp outside bookstores and line up for blocks waiting for each new book in the series to be released. This was common for major movies and music releases... but for books? Unheard of.

So with the incredibly popular source material, and Chris Columbus of Home Alone fame at the helm, Harry Potter was clearly destined for greatness. The question was, how much would the movie make?

Had it opened in May instead of November, there's a chance Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone could have crossed the $100 million mark before Spider-Man did six months later. However, its $90 million haul still set the record by a country mile, topping the previous record holder by $18 million.

Was The Lost World set on Isla Dinero?

There's an 18-year gap between Jurassic World's record-breaking opening weekend and the second Jurassic Park record-breaker, which just goes to show this franchise's remarkable popularity and staying power. Coming out four years after the landmark first film, and with Steven Spielberg back in the director's chair (also for the first time in four years), The Lost World was about as anticipated as a movie has ever been.

The result was a $72 million opening weekend in May 1997, topping the previous record-holder by an incredible $20 million. As impressive as this was, it wasn't the big story in 1997. That would be Titanic's $600 million domestic haul, after opening at just $28 million, a mere 38 percent of The Lost World's opening gross. Guess you could say Titanic was the little engine that could (crash into an iceberg).

Riddle me this: How did Batman Forever make so much?

Batman again! The Burton-Schumacher Batman series spanned four films, three of which set the opening weekend record — a feat only matched by Marvel's The Avengers series. In 1992, Tim Burton's Batman Returns famously freaked out filmgoers of all ages; in 1995, Warner Bros. went all in on Joel Schumacher's neon-tinted aesthetic. However one feels about the results, it certainly made a lot of money (and not just at the box office).

Seriously, with its product placement and endless supply of gadgets whose only discernible purpose was to sell toys and Happy Meals, Batman Forever may be the quintessential '90s blockbuster. All that's missing is Will Smith.

With its product placement and endless supply of gadgets whose only discernible purpose was to sell toys and Happy Meals, Batman Forever may be the quintessential '90s blockbuster. All that's missing is Will Smith.

But with the hugely popular Jim Carrey as the Riddler and a studio marketing campaign canvassing the culture (plus one of the coolest titles in the entire series), Batman Forever earned a record $52 million in the U.S. across its opening weekend in June 1995, on its way to a $184 million domestic haul.

Welcome to Jura$$ic Park!

Michael Crichton's popular novel Jurassic Park set off a bidding war between Hollywood's biggest studios. Warner Bros. bid on the rights, with Tim Burton attached to direct, but Universal won, with Steven Spielberg taking the reins, and the rest was blockbuster history.

It's no surprise every studio wanted this property, as Jurassic Park had huge hit written all over it — and with Steven Spielberg in the director's chair (y'know, the guy behind Jaws, E.T. and Indiana Jones), Universal waited with bated breath for the film's June 11, 1993 release date.

They weren't disappointed: Jurassic Park set the domestic opening weekend record with $47 million. More impressively, it had legs, and would become the then highest-grossing film ever worldwide, and the second highest-grossing domestically, only behind Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. It also launched one of cinema's most popular franchises, with three former opening weekend record-holders (and counting?).

Batman Returns (to make a lot of money!)

Batman... again. Audiences love Batman. Batman Returns is legendary for being the film that got Tim Burton booted off the coveted Bat-franchise, but what's forgotten is just how highly anticipated it was. Seriously, this was the followup to Batman, which was one of the biggest hits of the 1980s. The excitement level for Batman Returns was so high, the film set the opening weekend record, earning $45 million in June 1992. In so doing, it broke the record Batman had set just three years before.

Thanks to mixed word-of-mouth (and y'know, children running out of the theater screaming), Batman Returns tapped out at $162 million domestically.

However, thanks to mixed word-of-mouth (and y'know, children running out of the theater screaming), Batman Returns tapped out at $162 million domestically. Those would be impressive legs today, but films were less front-loaded then, and that tally was a steep 36 percent drop from the previous film in the franchise. Clearly a change was in order.

Bat-Mania changes everything

Batman is the film that started it all. Jaws and Stars Wars inaugurated the summer blockbuster season; Batman cemented it, and established the opening weekend as the pinnacle event. While 2015 had two opening weekend record-breakers (Jurassic World in June and Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December), 1989 had three, all within a few weeks of each other.

Before Batman, the summer was a movie season. After Batman, the opening weekend ruled. And Hollywood has never been the same since.

Summer 1989 was the most exciting time for box office observers ever: Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade opened to a record $29.4 million on May 24. A few weeks later, Ghostbusters II barely topped it, earning $29.5 million on June 16. Batman said "that's cute" and the very next week made $40 million stateside on its way to $251 million, the highest-grossing film of 1989 by far.

Before Batman, the summer was a movie season. After Batman, the opening weekend ruled. And Hollywood has never been the same since.

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