10 Biggest Memorial Day Blockbusters in Movie History

You may think of Memorial Day weekend as the beginning of summer, but Hollywood begs to differ.

In fact, of the top-grossing summer films of the last decade, exactly none of them opened on Memorial Day weekend. The summer's top-grossing film hasn't opened on Memorial Day weekend since Beverly Hills Cop II all the way back in 1987, according to Box Office Mojo.

We aren't saying that Memorial Day weekend isn't lucrative. We're just saying that it tends to get a little swamped. Consider that the last motion picture to reach the top of the box office on Memorial Day weekend and hold its lead throughout the summer was DreamWorks's Shrek II back in 2004. 

Just three years ago, the summer's biggest film -- Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy -- didn't hit theaters until August first. That not only means that a Memorial Day launch isn't a sure thing, it also means that your summer blockbuster may be completely lost in the crowd by summer's end. With some help from Box Office Mojo, we found the ten films with the biggest Memorial Day debuts and learned that not only are there few classics in the bunch, but some seem downright regrettable a few summers later:

10. X-Men: Apocalypse 

Year released: 2016

Memorial Day weekend take: $79.8 million

Total take: $155.4 million

Hey, let's take a lucrative action series with incredible actors and force an awful, stiff script on them because they're stuck in a contract. 

Of course the movie did well because it's X-Men and the stacked cast included the likes of everyone from Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence to Oscar Isaac as the world's first mutant, Apocalypse. Once again the X-Men must unite to defeat the bad guy's plan, and make a lot of money for Fox. 

This was the ninth X-Men movie in the franchise and the sequel to X-Men: Days of Future Past. Which was honestly a lot better than this tired trope of mass annihilation at the hands of the four horseman (who are surprise, mutants). 

9. Bruce Almighty
9. Bruce Almighty

Year released: 2003

Memorial Day weekend take: $85.7 million

Total take: $242.8 million

By this time, Jim Carrey was well beyond the rubber-faced human-cartoon antics of Ace Ventura, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber and well into his attempt at becoming Tom Hanks 2.0 with Liar, Liar, The Truman Show and The Majestic. With Bruce Almighty, however, Carrey went way beyond Hanks territory and shot for Hanks's muse: Jimmy Stewart.

Carrey's character gets to be God for a week, Morgan Freeman goes from simply the voice of God to God himself and Jennifer Aniston fills in as a sweet-as-pie love interest named Grace. This was a film that couldn't have been more tooth-achingly sweet if it was dipped in honey and spun around in a bucket of Stevia for half an hour. However, that was exactly what post-9/11 audiences were looking for, as evidenced by the film that went on the claim the No. 1 spot that year: the Pixar tear factory known as Finding Nemo. While neither Steve Carrell nor his Evan Almighty follow-up fared nearly as well in 2007, Bruce Almighty still haunts the dark corners of 2000s parents' DVD collections to this day.

8. The Day After Tomorrow
8. The Day After Tomorrow

Year released: 2004

Memorial Day weekend take: $85.8 million

Total take: $186.7 million

Every so often, you get an environmental hot take reminding you that portions of this film could actually happen. Granted, they aren't the portions where ecological disaster unleashes a second Ice Age that forces Dennis Quaid to hike across snow-engulfed New Jersey malls to rescue Jake Gyllenhaal from the New York Public Library, but they're totally events that are within the realm of possibility.

Granted, this was released just two years before Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and four years before M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, but it appeared right at the crest of a wave on environmental horror stories that could totally happen here. Sadly, you know what moviegoing audiences don't want to spend their summers doing? Bumming themselves out while watching a Gyllenhaal nearly freeze to death. Not surprisingly, moviegoers opted to busy themselves with Shrek, Spider-Man and Harry Potter for the rest of the summer while The Day After Tomorrow tumbled into fourth place.

7. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
7. The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Year released: 1997

Memorial Day weekend take: $90.2 million

Total take: $229.1 million

Remember when last year's Jurassic World skipped right from 1993's Jurassic Park to the present? This was one of the films it glossed over.

This is the one where a T. Rex runs through San Diego. It's the one with Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn. It's the one from the book Michael Crichton didn't want to write that turned into a film Stephen Spielberg didn't want to make.

Yep, it's Jurassic Park without the park and with a whole big island of dinosaurs that don't offer much in the way of dramatic tension or urgency. It's also clearly a film in which all parties involved wondered, "What if we brought the dinosaurs ashore?" It's also the cautionary tale for any Jurassic World sequel: if you want folks to stick around for the next installment, you have to give them more than CGI and stiff acting. What do you think this is, the Transformers series?

6. The Hangover Part II
6. The Hangover Part II

Year released: 2011

Memorial Day weekend take: $103.4 million

Total take: $254.5 million

Oh, man: They totally got wasted and did it again! Only instead of Vegas... it's Thailand! The Chinese gangster, the mystery drugs, Mike Tyson... they're all back!

Yes, this was exactly as formulaic as it sounded, but that didn't stop it from becoming the top-grossing R-rated film of all time to that point. This may have been 2011, but it was during the waning days of Entourage's HBO run, when even a half-assed Wolfpack was better than none at all. Unfortunately, the fact that this sad facsimile of the original did so well only led to The Hangover III in 2013 and a reminder of just how little interest even the Maxim-subscribing, Barstool Sports-reading public still had in this venture.

5. X-Men: Days Of Future Past
5. X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Year released: 2014

Memorial Day weekend take: $110.6 million

Total take: $233.9 million

The world didn't mind the X-Men series when director Brian Singer was at the helm. It was only when Brett Ratner took control of X-Men: The Last Stand, killed off beloved characters and made a mockery of the proceedings that public opinion turned on Marvel's favorite mutants.

Standalone Wolverine movies weren't cutting it, and while Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class reboot/prequel excelled with Singer's help, something was still missing. It became immediately apparent what that was when Singer returned in 2014, brought back much of the cast from his original X-Men films and revived one of the greatest storylines in comic-book history: jumping timelines to prevent an assassination that leads to a mutant genocide.

Unsurprisingly, fans of the original X-Men series felt redeemed, while fans of the new X-Men series finally got more than a cameo to tie the two together. While it wasn't enough to overcome Maleficent, Transformers: Age of Extinction or Guardians of the Galaxy that summer, it was enough to make the film the highest-grossing in the X-Men series since the original trilogy ended in 2006. It was also enough to make this weekend's X-Men: Apocalypse a no-brainer for Fox.

4. Fast & Furious 6
4. Fast & Furious 6

Year released: 2013

Memorial Day weekend take: $117.0 million

Total take: $238.7 million

This film basically seals the series's improbable transformation from a gearheaded crime drama to an all-out, globetrotting, heavy-artillery, spy-centric action franchise.

Sure, it's easy to label the Fast series as brainless summer film fodder, but it does a disservice to what writer Chris Morgan has been able to do with the material that Gary Scott Thompson adapted from Ken Li's Racer X in the first film. He created an entire universe that director James Wan was able to usher into a completely different environment than the tiny box that Dom and Brian were originally sealed into. The fact that this was the last film in the series to release before Paul Walker's death is tragic, but it allowed Walker to leave his stamp on work that he continued to develop right into last year's Furious 7.

This series may not be everyone's idea of a great summer outing, but developing the characters played by Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese and Ludacris while adding Dwayne Johnson and Gina Carano midstream made this series more compelling and less meatheaded than the films that birthed it.

3. X-Men: The Last Stand
3. X-Men: The Last Stand

Year released: 2006

Memorial Day weekend take: $122.9 million

Total take: $234.4 million

Everything about this film -- aside from its box-office return -- was horrendous.

First, director Bryan Singer left the X-Men series to focus on the ham-fisted Superman Returns and wasn't available. The second choice, Matthew Vaughn (who'd eventually direct X-Men: First Class) was basically hounded off the project. That left Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, who let studio execs at Fox have their way with interpreting the X-Men's Phoenix Saga from the comic books. Characters were cut, others were killed off for seemingly no reason and minimal dramatic return and the whole plot seemed muddled with entirely too many stories.

Both Vaughn and Singer leveled some weighty criticism at the finished product, but perhaps none was more damning than their work on the X-Men films that followed. This was a summer blockbuster that warranted an apology, and Fox, Singer and Vaughn have offered ample apologies since.

2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Year released: 2008

Memorial Day weekend take: $126.9 million

Total take: $317.1 million

This held to the theory that every other Indiana Jones film is destined to be awful. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a classic. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was lackluster, rushed and just a wee bit racist. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade strapped the franchise to Sean Connery's back and redeemed it. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, to quote its own meme, nuked the fridge.

The fact that a 66-year-old Harrison Ford playing an action hero wasn't the most ridiculous portion of this undertaking implies what kind of license the film took with its material. Rocket sleds, Jeep-top swordfights and a mystery resolved by aliens and a flying saucer (it's been eight years, no spoiler alerts) -- not to mention the presence of Shia LaBeouf -- all conspired to take whatever equity the Indiana Jones series had left, wring it into a sewer and flush it out with a tanker truck's worth of bleach. It wasn't going to win a summer that included The Dark Knight and Iron Man, but Crystal Skull has lost ground to both of those offerings as it has aged. As Indy himself should know, history can be fickle.

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Year released: 2007

Memorial Day weekend take: $139.8 million

Total take: $309.4 million

Your winner: Some random Disney Pirates movie!

The combination of director Gore Verbinski, a possessed Johnny Depp and some good sports in both Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley made this franchise a huge global success for Disney -- which seemingly made the first film just to keep a theme park ride of the same name relevant. However, in fairness to this film, it was shaping up to be the final installment of the series and really pulled out all the stops.

Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones guitarist who Depp channeled while playing Captain Jack Sparrow, was cast as Sparrow's father and almost didn't make it after he injured himself falling out of a tree. Geoffrey Rush, Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgard and Chow Yun-Fat -- all folks who could (and have) led films of their own -- round out the cast. This film finished No. 4 in the U.S. that summer behind Transformers, Shrek The Third and Spider-Man 3, but was the top-grossing film in the world, making $963.5 million.

The follow-up, 2011's On Stranger Tides, was the lowest-grossing film of the series in the U.S. at just $241 million, but made more than $1 billion worldwide. Thus, whether you like it or not, a fifth installment is coming next year. And you wonder why summer blockbusters have no respect for U.S. holidays.


This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

More from Stocks

Children's Place, Synchrony, Yeti and more: 'Mad Money' Lightning Round

Children's Place, Synchrony, Yeti and more: 'Mad Money' Lightning Round

Economist Perspective: Brexit Endgame in Sight?

Economist Perspective: Brexit Endgame in Sight?

Smaller Cap Stocks Could Make Great Stocking Stuffers Ahead of 2019

Smaller Cap Stocks Could Make Great Stocking Stuffers Ahead of 2019

Dow, S&P, Nasdaq Are All in Correction Territory Following Stock Selloff

Dow, S&P, Nasdaq Are All in Correction Territory Following Stock Selloff

Chart of the Day: The Cloud Kings Lost Their Crown in the Fourth Quarter

Chart of the Day: The Cloud Kings Lost Their Crown in the Fourth Quarter