Memorial Day weekend is upon us. There was a time that this weekend, corresponding with the unofficial start of summer and schools around the country being out, was a huge movie weekend. It has traditionally been a weekend of big budget sequels, action movies, comedies, and family favorites. (There hasn’t, however, been a movie that finished Top 7 in gross earnings since 2000). On the other hand, it hasn’t been a weekend for critics’ favorites, with few exceptions. Of the 58 movies that finished in the Top 30 in gross sales, the average Rotten Tomato score was 57%.
Here are the top Memorial Day Weekend Blockbusters (to qualify, a movie had to be in either its first or second weekend of release on Memorial Day of that year).
#1 STAR WARS (1977), #2 EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980), AND #3 RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
The original Star Wars was released before Memorial Day weekend 1977 in only 43 locations nationwide, and can be thought of us as spawning the Summer blockbuster. By the time Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were also released entering Memorial Day weekend, of course, it was an international phenomenon and the anticipation for each movie was immense.
There have been only five movies that have finished at #1 in gross receipts for a given year that were released near Memorial Day: four of them are Star Wars movies (The Phantom Menace also opened in May of 1999 and was much anticipated).
#4 TOP GUN (1986)
The only other Memorial Day weekend release to be the top-grossing film for that year, Top Gun was another lasting phenomenon. It was Tom Cruise at the emergence of his run as one of the top movie stars in Hollywood.
#5 ALIEN (1979)
One of the best sci-fi horror films of all-time was released heading into Memorial Day 1979. It has spawned numerous commercially successful (if not as critically acclaimed) follow-ups, including yet another Alien prequel this year in Alien Covenant.
#6 INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989) AND #7 INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)
The original Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in early June, but the two follow-ups were both big box office hits as Memorial Day fare. In a close call, I’ll put Sean Connery slightly ahead of Short Round. Time will tell if I have chosen poorly.
#8 X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
This installment of the X-Men series, as well as Apocalypse, was released right before Memorial Day. This version definitely holds up better and finished Top 10 in gross sales.
#9 MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
This movie set in the bizarre Mad Max post-apocalyptic world was a non-stop thrill ride.
#10 BRAVEHEART (1995)
Mel Gibson is in the Memorial Day movie pantheon on sheer volume (along with Cruise, Harrison Ford, and Sylvester Stallone), and Braveheart was the most memorable. (You also have Bird on a Wire, Lethal Weapon 3, and Maverick among box office hits that opened this weekend).
#11 FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013)
#12 RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1985)
#13 ROCKY III (1982)
#14 CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)
#15 THELMA & LOUISE (1991)
#16 MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (1996)
#17 THE SHINING (1980)
#18 STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)
#19 BACKDRAFT (1991)
#20 WHAT ABOUT BOB? (1991)