Looking Back: Ten Movies That Kicked Off Summer

By at April 30, 2009 | 11:02 pm | Print

It’s widely believed the official beginning of summer movie season is Friday, with the much-anticipated release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And everyone knows a strong summer means everything to a studio, especially if they have that special blockbuster “tentpole” movie to hold up the rest of their lineup.

So I thought it would be fun to check out the giant-sized movies that held that “first weekend” spot in previous summer seasons. It should come as no surprise that, regardless of setting, every one of these is an action film. Here’s how they fared…

2008: Iron Man
Released: May 2
Final U.S. Box Office: $318M
Notes: And nobody saw it coming… a critical favorite, a huge financial success, and sequels to come for the reinvigorated Robert Downey, Jr. and director Jon Favreau. Followed two weeks later by The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

2007: Spider-Man 3
Released: May 4
Final U.S. Box Office: $336M
Notes: The “kitchen sink” episode in Sam Raimi’s initial trilogy, with lots of everything thrown at Spidey. Usually considered the weakest of the three films. Followed two weeks later by Shrek the Third.

2006: Mission: Impossible III
Released: May 5
Final U.S. Box Office: $133M
Notes: Directed by this guy named J.J. Abrams. I hear he’s popular with those sci-fi action fans. Followed two weeks later by The Da Vinci Code.

2005: Kingdom of Heaven
Released: May 6
Final U.S. Box Office: $47M
Notes: An actioner set in ancient times, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Orlando Bloom?! Still didn’t work. Popular enough on DVD, but a bust in theaters. The first screenplay for William Monahan, Oscar winner for The Departed. Followed two weeks later by Star Wars: Episode III.

2004: Van Helsing
Released: May 7
Final U.S. Box Office: $120M
Notes: Starring Wolverine star Hugh Jackman, this one busted with critics and viewers. Followed one week later by Troy, and two weeks later by mega-monster hit Shrek 2. It’s worth noting that a load of films grossed well in the first four months of 2004, including 50 First Dates, The Passion of the Christ (masterful marketing, a strong film, a major blockbuster), Starsky & Hutch, Scooby-Doo 2 and Man on Fire. That’s one diverse list…

2003: X-2: X-Men United
Released: May 2
Final U.S. Box Office: $214M
Notes: Hey, sounds familiar! This sequel hung around as one of the Top 60 weekly grossing films for over four months. Followed two weeks later by The Matrix: Reloaded.

2002: Spider-Man
Released: May 3
Final U.S. Box Office: $403M
Notes: All the fanboy tears over the choices of Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi soon evaporated after the film’s release. I remember hearing that the success of Spider-Man was such a surprise to Sony that they celebrated by closing the business one July day as a gift to employees. Followed two weeks later by Star Wars: Episode II.

2001: The Mummy Returns
Released: May 4
Final U.S. Box Office: $202M
Notes: Um, that’s the second film on this list directed by Stephen Sommers — the other is Van Helsing. Not sure what that means, other than knowing the guy definitely stays within his genre. Followed two weeks later by Shrek, three weeks later by Pearl Harbor.

2000: Gladiator
Released: May 5
Final U.S. Box Office: $187M
Notes:… and here’s the second film on the list from Ridley Scott. Except this one won the Best Picture Oscar. Which I’m fairly positive it didn’t deserve, especially when a friend on the inside explained how the promotion machine simply decided Gladiator was “worthy” of an Oscar — and then just convinced others. My first-ever press screening, by the way. Followed two weeks later by Disney’s Dinosaur, then three weeks later by John Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2.

1999: The Mummy
Released: May 7
Final U.S. Box Office: $155M
Notes: Okay Stephen Sommers, you win, with three movies out of ten on this list. Universal put the The Mummy on more screens than you could find The Phantom Menace… which would premiere two weeks later and gross over $430 million.

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