Sometimes scoring a top box office weekend isn’t always the key to cinematic immortality. In fact, a lot of movies have had that distinction — and still fallen by the wayside at a theater near you in the weeks that followed. Let’s take a trip through cinema history and look at some forgotten flicks that actually won a box office weekend.
Backdraft – 1991
Ron Howard’s firefighter drama/thriller Backdraft is a movie you might not think of as a #1 weekend winner at the box office by today’s standards. But the all-star drama — starring Kurt Russell, Robert DeNiro, and Jennifer Jason Leigh — scored those honors back when it released in 1991.
Sneakers – 1992
“Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, and the River Phoenix are trying to stop a madman who wants to hack the world.” It was a premise that sounded pretty advanced in 1992, and it’s what helped land Sneakers in the top slot of its opening weekend that same year.
The Good Son – 1993
If you’re of the thinking hat Kevin McCallister is the real villain of Home Alone, thanks to all of Harry and Marv’s iconic injuries, then you probably accept 1993’s The Good Son as a head canon sequel. In which case, you might also be one of the audience members that helped the movie earn first place when it opened. So who’s the bad guy now?
Disclosure – 1994
Author Michael Crichton’s work was so hot after the successful launch of the Jurassic Park universe, which led to his books being optioned for movies all the quicker. Disclosure’s source novel released in January 1994 and, in December of that same year, the film version — which starred Michael Douglas and Demi Moore — hit theaters, taking the #1 slot.
Dangerous Minds – 1995
This Michelle Pfieffer-led drama seemed to blaze brightly for a time, as it opened at #1 and became quite a hit. Nowadays, most people probably remember Dangerous Minds for its mega popular single “Gangsta’s Paradise,” but this movie proved to be popular enough to inspire one of the most iffy of Hollywood practices: the TV series remake.
Mr. Holland’s Opus – 1996
Unlike most of the movies featured in this rundown, Mr. Holland’s Opus wasn’t an automatic #1 success. Rather, it took three weekends for Richard Dreyfuss’ decades-spanning epic to get the top spot; more than likely due to a limited release strategy that preceeded a wider opening.
The Peacemaker – 1997
George Clooney and Nicole Kidman starred in the The Peacemaker, which reached #1 during its initial weekend and was the inaugural production of a major studio. The first movie to bear the DreamWorks Pictures banner, the flick marked a fantastic start for something new in the Hollywood world. How or why we never got a sequel is still to be debated.
Lost In Space – 1998
Sometimes all you have to do is be the underdog to a long-reigning champ, and your first place success is a given. Just as many know how Lost In Space’s time travel works, a number of people could tell you that by the time it arrived in theaters in April 1998, people were ready to let Titanic go for the time being.
Double Jeopardy – 1999
Someone trying to murder a Bruce Greenwood-played character isn’t that big of a surprise, as Netflix’s The Fall of the House of Usher has turned that development into a limited series. However, in 1999, moviegoers got to see Ashley Judd plotting the same thing in Double Jeopardy, with Tommy Lee Jones trying to stop her every step of the way. Maybe it was that residual Fugitive energy but, whatever the case, the film landed a first-place opening and saw two additional weeks on top.
Me, Myself, And Irene – 2000
There was once a time where the Farrelly Brothers and Jim Carrey could guarantee you a box office hit. 2000’s Me, Myself & Irene proved that to be true at the turn of the century, beating the likes of Chicken Run to snag that slot. An R-rated comedy beating a family movie at the movies: how often do you see that happening these days?
Save The Last Dance – 2001
Julia Stiles and and Sean Patrick Thomas showed some impeccable footwork through their roles in Save the Last Dance. However, they also stole the hearts of movie theater patrons upon the film’s opening in January 2001. Which is more than likely why the only movie more overlooked than this particular romance drama is its direct-to-video sequel.
We Were Soldiers – 2002
Mel Gibson reteamed with his Braveheart writer, Randall Wallace, and that resulted in We Were Soldiers, which headed to theaters in March 2002. The wildest thing about that fact is that Gibson, and an all-star cast of notable faces and up and comers, managed to secure victory in a market that also saw movies like 40 Days and 40 Nights and John Q fighting for cinematic real estate.
Bringing Down The House – 2003
Steve Martin, Eugene Levy and Queen Latifah still make up a team that one could wager audiences would show up to watch. That’s not said lightly either, as the only time this happened was in 2003, when the trio starred in the comedy Bringing Down the House. It saw a first-place finish when it arrived, and good luck trying to convince anyone that the team wouldn’t still kill it.
You Got Served – 2004
Oh, those early days of the Internet, when a movie could gather steam through using hot trends and easily memeable titles. You Got Served’s 1st place victory upon its 2004 opening plays to both of those aspects, as hot dance trends and a catchy title probably helped make it all possible.
Robots – 2005
Blue Sky Animation struck it big with the Ice Age franchise, but how often do you hear people mention the movie Robots? Even with a first-place opening, an all-star cast that boasts Ewan McGregor and Halle Berry and another animated wild man played by Robin Williams, this one seems to lurk in the shadows of animation past.
The Pink Panther – 2006
Sometimes remakes can prove themselves to be a good idea, both in practice and in execution. The Pink Panther’s 2006 iteration seems to be further proof of that point, at least on paper. Steve Martin’s attempt to revive Inspector Clouseau may not be the last though, as Eddie Murphy’s Pink Panther remake is surely hoping to score the same sort of victory.
Disturbia – 2007
It wasn’t all Transformers movies for Shia LaBeouf in the limelight of his career. His first pseudo-Hitchcockian remake with director D.J. Caruso, Disturbia, made a killing at the box office in 2007; with this modern spin on Rear Window bringing in a #1 title upon its opening weekend. What’s more, this beauty stayed on top for two more weekends after that!
21 – 2008
Just before author Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires would give way to The Social Network, his previous book, Bringing Down The House, inspired a box office hit in 21. The title may not be a grabber, as the source material’s name is shared with a Steve Martin/Queen Latifah comedy from 2003 and needed a change. But apparently, Jim Sturgess and Kevin Spacey were enough to bring people in to crown it with a 1st place opening weekend.
G-Force – 2009
A movie about a team of guinea pig specialists saving the world isn’t exactly what you’d expect Jerry Bruckheimer to produce. And yet, surprise surprise, G-Force is exactly the project that saw him break those expectations. Ultimately, it resulted in a commanding opening weekend that led to a healthy performance, and almost instant obscurity.
Dear John – 2010
Nicholas Sparks is the Michael Crichton of romantic dramas. The dude hit a hot streak of adaptations, spanning from the late ‘90s into the 2010s. Dear John helped kick off that last frame of glory, as Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried’s cinematic love story launched just in time for the Valentine’s Day crowd to glom onto it.
Rio – 2011
For three weekends in a row, Blue Sky Studios’ Rio ruled the roost at the movies. Not even Hop, Universal’s Easter themed CGI/Live-Action hybrid, could unseat it; and this was the timeframe that included that holiday in its sights. Yes, Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway’s box office energy was apparently that strong at this point in time.
Act Of Valor – 2012
For a movie with no household names and the lack of major studio backing, Act of Valor’s performance at the box office is astounding to behold. Starring actual Navy SEALs in an action-adventure that feels “ripped from the headlines,” this film crushed in a weekend where future Netflix hit Safe House and the family friendly Journey 2: The Mysterious Island were both available to the public.
Identity Thief – 2013
The early days of Melissa McCarthy’s cinematic career were pretty remarkable when it came to landing an almost assured #1 opening for any project she touched. 2013’s Identity Thief is one such success that many don’t talk about anymore, even with her being effectively paired with fellow comedic powerhouse Jason Bateman. And that’s with the movie scoring yet another 1st place win in its third weekend of release!
Noah – 2014
Pairing Russell Crowe and Darren Aronofsky had to have seemed like a decision of biblical proportions; even putting aside the fact that 2014’s Noah kind of had that built in from day one. Telling an epic story of survival and ingenuity, moviegoers flocked to this ark when it opened, giving all involved something to float their respective boats.
Tomorrowland – 2015
Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland was a gamble from day one, but Disney was riding high enough to roll the dice on a utopian action-adventure starring George Clooney. Carrying the Memorial Day weekend of 2015, irony would eventually come knocking when the apocalyptic Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie that was the antithesis of the message of Tomorrowland, would eventually outgross the film by a healthy margin.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – 2016
You would have thought that a series of popular YA novels being adapted by Tim Burton would have seen the entire lot adapted for all to see. And the first-place opening of 2016’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children would have seemed like an early sign that it would happen too! Unfortunately, Ransom Riggs’ trilogy is still unfinished in its cinematic form, even with a decent overall showing.
The Dark Tower – 2017
Matthew McConaughey led adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal novel even landed the top slot for its troubles back in 2017. Fans’ opinions of The Dark Tower weren’t as rosy as those early fortunes though, with our own Eric Eisenberg considering it “an insult to the work of Stephen King.” So yeah… no pressure, Mike Flanagan.
Rampage – 2018
In the long run, the big-screen adaptation of Rampage feels like a fever dream. A Dwayne Johnson/Naomie Harris-led film that’s boosted by the charms of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, it does in fact exist in this universe. It even nabbed a box office win upon opening in 2018! But good luck finding anyone to tell you what it was about.
Midway – 2019
Picture it: November 2019! A new Terminator movie and the long awaited sequel to The Shining are opening in theaters. Poised to do battle, Dark Fate and Doctor Sleep touched gloves and did the dance of fists that saw one victor emerge. And its name was… Midway, Roland Emmerich’s World War II drama about that iconic battle in the Pacific. That’s still one hell of a twist if you ask us.
Unhinged – 2020
The early pandemic box office was a wild time, and look no further than the fact that Unhinged saw a demented Russell Crowe rise to the top of the box office pack. What’s even wilder is that this didn’t even happen on opening weekend, as The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run bested this thriller for the first frame. The sponge got the message on the second weekend though, leaving Crowe to slam into first place.
Wrath of Man – 2021
Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham took decades to reteam together after coming up with Lock Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels. When they finally pooled their resources together, the film Wrath of Man was their project of choice, and audiences clearly thought it was worth showing up for. Opening weekend saw The Statham crushing the competition, with a nice “W” to take home on his record.
The Woman King – 2022
There was a lot of buzz surrounding The Woman King‘s march to theaters, with the Viola Davis-fronted film seeming to cash in on that hype with a first place debut. Past that point, all that the film has to show for it is a decent overall bank, and some very controversial opinions on how it choose to tell this corner of history.
You never know what box office victor of today is going to become the forgotten child of tomorrow. So if you happen to see a movie you like or despise making it big on any given weekend, don’t despair. As we all know by this point, history is written by the victors, and money isn’t the only way a movie can thrive when it leaves the theater.