Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Ten Most Impressive Box Office Runs of 2000s (Runner-ups)

When I began compiling the list of potential candidates, I decided to first write down the films that immediately came to mind without peeking at the data and then went through each year's chart in more details to catch those worthy contenders I had overlooked. Somewhat to my surprise, I narrowed the field down to 12 films rather quickly. Ranking the remaining 12, however, turned out to be a far tougher task. The film I ranked 12th could easily be in the top 5 from someone else's perspective, with reasons that are just as valid or compelling. In the end, I put a little more weight on how a film outperformed the expectation, how much it stands when comparing to other similar films, how well we could explain its run afterward, and how difficult it is (or has been) to duplicate such a run. So here we go.

12. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

  - Remains the biggest documentary film of all time with a $119.2m total (450% over the then record holder Bowling for Columbine and still 54% over the current runner-up March of the Penguins)
  - The only documentary to reach No. 1 or gross over $20m on a weekend
  - Had the highest per-theater-average for a wide release playing in fewer than 3,000 locations ($27,558 PTA in 868 theaters)

Predictions Comparison (opening):
  - BOG: $15m; BOM Derby average: $10.7m; myself: $15m

The stats are astounding for a documentary, and the degree it shattered the previous record is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ever for any genre. However, there were signs of a possible breakout performance, especially after it won Cannes. The topic was timely, and the generated controversy was being covered by all sorts of magazines. Some articles were quick to compare it with The Passion of the Christ, even though the comparison was more made regarding to the controversy instead of box office. Brandon Gray from Box Office Mojo in fact predicted $20.8m for its opening. Nonetheless, it remains true that few others predicted a $20m+ start, and the film's total has not come close to be challenged by another documentary since. March of the Penguins, with its family-oriented nature and good release strategy, finished a distant 42m behind.

11. Shrek 2 (2004)

  - Had the biggest opening ever for an animated film (58% over what Finding Nemo opened to) and 2nd biggest opening overall at the time behind only Spider-Man
- Had the best 2nd weekend ever
- Had the largest gross ever for Memorial Day weekend even though the holiday fell on its 2nd weekend
- Finished as the third biggest film all-time, surpassing E.T. and The Phantom Menace

Predictions Comparison (5-day):
 - BOG: $100m; BOM Derby average: $99.0m; myself: $102m

If we go by the sheer size of the numbers, Shrek 2 would have deserved a top 5 placement. The first couple of weekends were simply massive, allowing it to surge past $250m in mere 13 days, the fastest ever at the time. It also withstood direct competition from Harry Potter 3 and Spider-Man 2 well, dropping 47.4% (a post-holiday frame) and 42.9% on their respective opening weekends. It spent 54 straight days (56 days in total) earning over $1m. Its 64.8% increase over the original was the highest ever for sequels of $100m+ grossers, and its overall multiplier of 3.89 remains the best among the $90m+ openers.

What ultimately made me leave it just off the top 10 is that the performance, as impressive as it is, was not necessarily all surprising even at the time. Given how amazing the original's word-of-mouth was, the anticipation was already high going into its release. The general consensus for the opening was right around $100m for the 5 days, and $300m felt a given as long as the quality isn't awful, especially with no direct competition until Harry Potter 3. The only twist was when it opened to "only" $12.8m on Wednesday, causing some panicking as people were expecting more frontloadedness. The long Memorial Day weekend was one weekend where it truly outperformed the expectation (the derby average was $74.7m vs. $95.6m actual) and set up the path toward the $400m+ total. I debated long and hard, and in the end, I felt the other 10 films are slightly more worthy, but I certainly wouldn't fault anyone for including it, even in the top 5. That's how close to each other the top 12 are to me.


  1. This "best of the decade" idea is a great one, I'm really looking forward to the whole series! It's great for someone like me who has only started looking at box office for the past year. It's pretty amazing to see the trends over the years (your prev post on this subject) - looks like 2009 was a very exciting one to be following.


  2. Great writeup overall so far and like your details justifications for your reasons, looking forward to your top 10!

    However, big, big disagreement with you on #11

    1) Most tickets sold of any movie of the decade if account for lower children/matinee prices compared to The Dark Knight and Avatar

    2) Gigantic increase over Finding Nemo total whose gross was considered super spectacular the year before with then highest ever gross; most people thought Nemo's gross was going to be Shrek 2's ceiling, some even lower given the downward grossing trend for most family-targeted sequels. Later that year, The Incredible's lower gross than Nemo, as while as the lower gross of all future animated films including Shrek 3 cemented just how unreachable Shrek 2's gross was for an animated film.

    3) What should've been huge competition from HP3 killing its legs, instead resulting in the opposite, totally killing HP3's total; Shrek 2's effect on HP's box office is especially evident when looking at how consistent the rest of HP series's gross, esp. the summer ones; makes me wonder if HP3 didn't exist how much more Shrek 2 could have grossed.

    4) Most films just have a few box office factors that define its overall box office run, Shrek 2 had all of them: several records broken, the surprise element, incredible opening, incredible second weekend, incredible daily numbers, incredible legs (for a summer sequel), and incredible total gross.

  3. As somebody who's been tracking box-office for a full ten years, I am so interested in reading the rest of this list. I already very much agree with your no. 12 & 11. The summer of 2004 was a lot of fun!