ZAMM.COM: Memorial Movies

By Martin Grove,

Memorial movies: The love affair between Hollywood and Memorial Day dates back to 1982 when Rocky III starring Sylvester Stallone delivered a $16 million knockout punch for the four-day holiday weekend.

That was a very impressive weekend gross at the time for a film playing at 939 theatres, a very wide release for its day through MGM/UA. Today, it's not even a big number for an event film's first Friday night. Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' 3D sci-fi action adventure Godzilla, for instance, did about $38.5 million last Friday of its weekend total of $93.2 million at 3,952 theatres.

Nonetheless, a $16 million holiday weekend back in '82 was a real Hollywood eye-opener. Studios began to realize it made sense to open films with high playability to take advantage of Memorial Day, which was then the traditional kick off to the summer movie season.

So for Memorial Day '83 Fox released George Lucas's Return of the Jedi to $41.1 million for six days. Memorial Day '84 saw Paramount launch Lucas and Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to $42.3 million for six days.

By then, the pattern was clearly set although not every year boasted as strong product as '83 and '84 did. For Memorial Day '85 TriStar Pictures opened Rambo: First Blood Part II starring Stallone to $32.2 million. And in '86 the holiday weekend saw the Cannon Group and Warner Bros. launch Cobra, also starring Stallone, to a less exciting $15.7 million for four days. The box office action got red hot again in '87 with Paramount's $40.6 million opening for six days of Beverly Hills Cop starring Eddie Murphy.

Nearly 30 years later, the concept's still going strong even if Memorial Day has been eclipsed in recent years by the first weekend in May as the launch date for the first big guns of summer. We saw that earlier this month Columbia and Marvel's May 2 opening of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to $91.6 million at 4,324 theatres. Its domestic cume through last weekend was $172.2 million.

The spotlight this Memorial Day weekend, which begins May 23, will be on 20th Century Fox and Marvel Entertainment's PG-13 rated 3D fantasy action adventure X-Men: Days of Future Past at about 3,900 theatres. Directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, X-Men 2), it stars Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman.

The franchise's last episode, the PG-13-rated X-Men: First Class, opened June 3, 2011 to $55.1 million and got to $146.4 million domestically. Class was up against some tough competition from sequels--the second weekend of the R-rated comedy The Hangover Part II with $31.4 million as well as the second weekend of the PG-rated animated family appeal adventure Kung Fu Panda 2 with $23.9 million.

Days will face counter-programming competition from one new wide release, Warner Bros. and Happy Madison Productions' PG-13-rated comedy Blended. Directed by The Wedding Singer director Frank Coraci, it stars Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore and will open at about 3,500 theatres.

Days will also have to contend with the second weekend of Godzilla. But since moviegoing typically expands significantly for holiday weekends like Memorial Day, the likelihood is that Days will generate first class grosses while Blended attracts families with younger kids and Godzilla plays to the action crowd that didn't already see it opening weekend.

In Blended, single parents Lauren (Barrymore) and Jim (Sandler) meet on a horrible blind date and never want to see each other again. Of course, that's exactly what happens when they sign up separately for a great family vacation with their kids and then all have to share a suite for a week at a luxurious African safari resort.

Days revolves around an X-Men ensemble fighting for survival of the species across two time periods. The characters from the original X-Men trilogy team up with their younger selves from X-Men: First Class in an epic battle to change the past to be able to save the future.

Memorial Day weekend may lead into the summer, but the weather across the U.S. is often cool and rainy. If that's the case this time around, ticket sales will benefit. Families have enough trouble keeping their kids busy over long weekends when outdoor activities are possible, but when rain interferes, heading to the multiplexes becomes even more attractive.

Bottom line: Memorial Day is just the tip of the summer iceberg. A post-Memorial Day deluge of event films starts May 30 with Walt Disney Pictures and Roth Films' PG-rated 3D action adventure Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie.

Maleficent's tracking in strong double digits with women under and over 25, the moms-with-kids audience it needs to attract. It's the feature directing debut of Robert Stromberg, whose extensive visual effects credits include The Hunger Games and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, and who was the production designer on Avatar and Alice in Wonderland.

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