Before I start this list, I just want to make something clear. In my opinion, box office numbers from the 20th century are just more impressive to me than they are today. I remember when the phrase “biggest opening weekend ever” mattered to me. I remember when an “opening weekend” meant Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.
Let’s not also forget how budgets have ballooned as well. If you read my previous list, you discovered that “Jaws” made $260 million. Well, did you know the production went over budget and still only cost about 12 million to make? Adjusted for inflation, that’s still only about a 50 million dollar budget. That is more impressive to me than Indiana Jones making $151 million in a five-day holiday weekend when the budget was $185 million to begin with.
That being said, the list of movies that have made over $300 million dollars domestically is the least surprising, the least climatic, and in my opinion, the least entertaining of my series.
To make up for this lackluster list, I am making you a promise. I will have a new list for you very soon. I will not make you wait several days. These lists are designed to give you a topic of conversation you can introduce with friends or co-workers. They are intended to provoke you to think more about them and to make you want more. I don’t know if this list does that. Boy, aren’t you excited to read it now?!?!
5. The Passion of the Christ ($370.8 million) – I don’t like talking about this movie. I don’t like this movie. I wish it had never been made. Mostly because it is one of those exceptions that prove the rule when it comes to discussing box office numbers. It’s on the list because it is a foreign film. It opened during a traditionally slow box office period (February 25). Third, it did not have any established box office draws. Yes, it belongs on this list. But one might ask why it’s not higher on the list. Well, it is not uncommon for the topic of religion to be big at the box office. Adjusted for inflation, “The Ten Commandments” and “The Exorcist” are both in the all-time top ten at the box office.
I live in the “Bible Belt” of the country (Alabama). I am surrounded by seemingly endless amounts of faithful Baptists and Methodists. I do not mean that in a bad way either. I love my fellow Christians. However, I think many of them flooded the box office repeatedly to see this film, thinking that perhaps they were growing in the faith by lining up at the box office. Plus, even though February is a slow box office time, it was perfect to make a major splash right around the Easter holiday. So, yes I believe it belongs on the list, but you probably won’t convince me it belongs any higher than number 5.
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl ($305.4 million) – It’s so hard to imagine some of these movies as surprises because of all their success and because the sequels are so fresh in our minds, but my argument for this film is two-fold. First, it’s biggest star, Johnny Depp. I know he’s one of Hollywood’s best actors, and for all his fame, I still think he’s probably underrated. But you have to go back before “Pirates” to see what Depp had accomplished that would make his success as Jack Sparrow a surprise. So, B.P. (before “Pirates”), there was “Chocolate,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Edward Scissorhands,” and his first movie role in “Nightmare on Elmstreet.” Certainly not a bad resume, but Depp was certainly not one you would think to drive a monster family film intended to bring in big box office dollars. Also, none of those movies attract young ones. So Depp was a huge surprise to be so popular with the kiddies.
The Second part of my argument is the genre itself. If you were to add the box office total for every pirate movie ever made before this one, you would barely reach the take of “Pirates.” And if it were not for “Hook,” which made $119 million in 1991, then you wouldn’t get anywhere near it. Think about that. Every pirate movie EVER! And that’s if I give you Goonies as a freakin’ pirate movie, which I shouldn’t.
Yes, I know it was Disney. Yes, I know it was based on a beloved theme park ride. But come on. Look how well Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” did at the box office.
3. Forrest Gump ($329.7 million) – This one may draw some flack. How can I put a Tom Hanks film on a list that recognizes surprising success? Look, it’s not about surprising success. At the time of this list’s publication, there are 26 movies that have made $300 million or more domestically. These movies feature powerful rings, jedi knights, child wizards, super heros, or they are dominantly family-friendly movies. As a matter of fact, of the 26 movies that have broken $300 million, only 3 of them fail to fit the preceding characteristics. “Forrest Gump” is one of them. “The Passion of the Christ” is another. And the third one is featured later in this list. I know it had groundbreaking special effects. I know it had the best and most popular actor in the business as a headliner. I know director Robert Zemeckis had been established for years. I know it had all the ingredients for a “dramedy” to succeed. But at it’s essence, think of this…It made $329 million dollars!!! It’s a movie about a mentally challenged man’s life. Also surprising is that the movie didn’t come out around Christmas, which would have been an ideal release time, right before the Academy Award nominations. No, this movie took on the summer, a difficult season for a movie with so much drama. It’s also another reason its massive box office take is surprising.
2. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial ($359.2 million) – On June 11, 1982, when E.T. was released, the biggest box office hit of all time was “Jaws,” a movie that grossed $260 million dollars. When “E.T.” had finished its first theatrical run, it had grossed an unheard of $359.2 million dollars. To save yourself the math, that was a hundred million dollars more than the biggest hit ever in a time when making just one hundred million dollars was very, very rare (remember, “Jaws” was the first movie to reach one hundred million). Furthermore, we see once again that the lesser-known the cast, the more surprising the box office success. “E.T.” was a wonderful bedtime story that turned into the biggest movie of all time. It took a “Star Wars” re-release in 1997 to overtake “E.T.” as the box office champ. However, neither one of them would be enough to withstand the biggest surprise on this list…
1. Titanic ($600.8 million) – What makes it so surprising? Well, it was the first movie with a budget that rose (no pun intended) to $200 million dollars. It starred the critically popular, but by no means a big box office draw Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet. Even its rating is impressive. Of the five biggest moneymakers of all time, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are all PG. Titanic earned a PG-13, and even had a scene with nudity!!! Finally, it came out at the end of a year that had already seen more money spent at the box office than any other year in history. As for the movie itself, it focused more on a love story than the tragic event it documented. And do not forget, less than $100 million dollars separates the number 2 biggest moneymaker (Star Wars: Episode IV – $461 million) and the number 10 biggest moneymaker (Spider-man 2 – $373.6 million), while Titanic made a full $139 million more than Star Wars: Episode IV. The biggest movie evers not a Speilberg action flick. It’s not a Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, or Harrision Ford film driven by a huge mega-star. It doesn’t even have an all-star cast. It’s certainly not a feel-good family movie fueled by the Disney/Pixar machine. It’s a love story set against one of the great tragedies of modern history.
Whew! I knew that list would be tough. You know, I think it turned out better than I thought it would. I am not including honorable mentions this time. If I were they would be Nemo, Simba, and Jack Sparrow: Part 2. But all three for the same reason…they just made so much money. It blows my mind to think about it.
Well, I have had some surprising success of my own with the popularity of these lists. Now it’s time for me to find a new topic. I am taking any and all suggestions. Please respond to the list, or you can e-mail your ideas to me directly at email@example.com. I am open to your thoughts. I have a couple of ideas floating, but I won’t forget my promise. You will have my next list within two days.
Until next time, so long.