The Most Unlikely Memorial Day Weekend Box-Office Smashes (PHOTOS)

A look back at unexpected hits on the weekend usually dominated by action blockbusters. By Kevin Fallon.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

The Most Unlikely Memorial Day Weekend Box Office Smashes

This Memorial Day weekend is forecasted to be the biggest ever at the box office, with two very different films dominating with huge grosses. The Hangover Part III is expected to gross upward of $80 million, which is pretty impressive considering that the raunchy comedy is facing off against $160 million worth of crashes and eye-popping explosions in Fast & Furious 6, which is expected to win the weekend. That makes sense—after all, it’s conventional wisdom that action-heavy blockbusters dominate holiday-weekend box offices. But the massive gross that pundits are predicting for The Hangover Part III puts the R-rated comedy—something that never used to be considered box-office candy—in good company. Just a few films have bucked that rule and opened Memorial Day weekend with huge numbers—without the bangs, booms, and bams. Here’s a look back at the comedies and family fare that defied the odds to become unlikely Memorial Day hits.

The Hangover Part II

Why are box-office gurus so bullish on the prospects of The Hangover Part III? Probably because of the gargantuan opening weekend of The Hangover Part II in the same frame two years ago. The second installment of the Wolf Pack’s quest to piece together a blacked-out night of debauchery grossed a massive $103 million over Memorial Day weekend 2011, trouncing action rivals like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Thor, and Fast Five. Turns out Capt. Jack Sparrow’s only formidable nemesis is a chain-smoking monkey.

Bruce Almighty

The list of top 10 Memorial Day weekend openings of all time is populated by a roster of expected contenders: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, The Day After Tomorrow. But nestled in at No. 7,  amid the list of franchise blockbusters and special-effects bonanzas, is a surprising entry: Bruce Almighty. The 2003 Jim Carrey comedy, in which his character obtains the powers of God, raked in a hefty $85 million in its opening weekend, suggesting that as much as audiences like to watch things get blown up over Memorial Day, they also like to laugh a little, too.

The Longest Yard

Since the late ’90s, Adam Sandler has been one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. It’s not surprising, then, that he would top a Memorial Day weekend list. But the hit film that ranks so highly is actually one of Sandler’s least-memorable comedies: The Longest Yard. The football-themed prison laugher tackled Episode III of Star Wars and the launch of the Madagascar franchise to take in a solid $58 million in its opening weekend, good enough to land in the top 15 of Memorial Day debuts.

The Flintstones

A legion of heroes have dominated Memorial Day weekends past: Indiana Jones, Cyclops, Ethan Hunt, Terminator ... and Fred Flintstone? The live adaptation of the Hanna-Barbera classic animated series—starring John Goodman as the “yabba-dabba do” man, Rick Moranis as Barney, Elizabeth Perkins as Wilma, and Rosie O’Donnell as Betty—won 1994’s big Memorial Day weekend, defeating the Mel Gibson–Jodie Foster drama Maverick and the third installment in the Beverly Hills Cop series. A gay old time, indeed.

Sex and the City 2

Rambo, Godzilla, X-Men ... heck, even The Hangover Part II. The movies that have traditionally done well over Memorial Day weekend are packed with testosterone. It’s not that only men go see them, it’s that men and women will see them together, whereas it’s always been harder to drag the guys out to the latest romantic comedy. That’s why it’s such a surprise that Sex and the City 2 did so well in its opening weekend in 2010, taking in $36 million, enough for a whole closet full of Manolo Blahniks.

Notting Hill

That’s not to say that no romantic comedy has ever succeeded. Nestled among the action flicks and family films in the top 40 Memorial Day weekend openings is Notting Hill, which premiered to $28 million in 1999. That means that, among her numerous box-office accomplishments, Julia Roberts is the only actress to lead a romantic comedy in that top list of Memorial Day weekend debuts.


Insomnia may be an otherwise forgettable thriller. With Robin Williams, Al Pacino, and Hilary Swank, it’s certainly not one of the zeitgeist-seizing smashes that director Christopher Nolan is known for. But its $26 million debut over Memorial Day weekend 2002 makes it notable for another reason: it’s the only crime thriller on a list of big-budget blockbusters and family-friendly animated films.

Crocodile Dundee II

Only four films from the ’80s pop up on the list of Top 40 Memorial Day weekend openings. Three of them are hardly a surprise: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Beverly Hills Cop II all hail from iconic franchises. But Crocodile Dundee II? Paul Hogan’s silly film series may be easy to laugh at now, but in the late ’80s, it was actually quite popular, as proven by the sequel’s $24 million Memorial Day weekend opening.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

When it comes to family-friendly films, the list of animated hits that have had boffo debuts over Memorial Day weekend includes some hardly surprising entries: Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda 2 ... and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron? The film about the adventures of a young stallion didn’t prove have the staying power of wisecracking zoo animals or a martial-arts-proficient bear. But the animated flick still took in an impressive $23 million in its 2002 opening.


The week that Casper, the film about the friendly ghost co-starring Cristina Ricci and Devon Sawa, opened, it was up against a little movie called Braveheart. And it also faced Die Hard: With a Vengeance, which was in its second week of release. Yet Casper beat out both juggernauts to win Memorial Day weekend 1995 with a $22 million gross.


Remember Enough? Neither do we. But the Jennifer Lopez drama about a woman who trains herself to fight back against the man who did her wrong scored a cool $17 million in its opening weekend in 2002.