This series highlights the best opening weekends since 1980, with 10 movies you won’t want to slip/through the cracks.
This Weekend in History features Tom Cruise going for the Oscar (twice), one of the best time travel movies, a complex character piece, a recent Dystopian cautionary tale, plus 5 Cult Classics.
January is typically the dumping ground for a lot of Hollywood movies that didn’t seem up to par for the previous year. Some cult classics still sneak through, but the December flurry of Oscar nominees has ended. That said, there were some prime cuts available. If you’re interested in even more picks make sure to check out the 2D Companion Piece.
- note: box office figures are domestic and are not adjusted for inflation
MAGNOLIA – 2000
OPENING WEEKEND: $6 million // BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $22 million
Paul Thomas Anderson has written & directed some spectacular films, like BOOGIE NIGHTS and THERE WILL BE BLOOD; however, MAGNOLIA is in the upper echelon of filmmaking. PTA emulates the style of Scorsese and Altman to great success. This complex narrative of interconnected characters weaves through one another beautifully. Strong themes resonate in an extremely well-staged story filmed with style and populated with incredible performances (from the likes of Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robbards, Julianne Moore, John C Reilly, Melora Waters, and William H Macy). The soundtrack by Aimee Mann fuels each scene, especially one member sequence featuring the song “Wise Up.”
This fantastic feature will please the cinephile in you.
BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY – 1990
OPENING: $11 million // TOTAL: $70 million
Tom Cruise broke away from the romantic lead and action star roles by proving he could act with an emotionally riveting performance of a paraplegic man destroyed by war. Oliver Stone directs, ensuring no punch is pulled. Each strike lands with impact. Rarely do we see how soldiers return home, let alone men who are completely changed.
Gut-wrenching and extremely captivating, this feature is for fans of the Golden Globes and serious drama.
12 MONKEYS – 1996
OPENING: $14 million // TOTAL: $57 million
Tangled timelines criss-cross in this sci-fi done right. Eccentric visionary, Terry Gilliam (BRAZIL, FEAR & LOATHING LAS VEGAS), creates twisted visuals complimenting the madness of an apocalyptic future. Bruce Willis stars as our hero who travels back in time to stop a plague from getting unleashed. Brad Pitt earned a Golden Globe for his role as a nutty anarchist. The beautifully confusing ending will get you talking.
This adventure is a perfect match of cinema and adventure – or artsy popcorn.
TRAFFIC – 2001
OPENING: $16 million // TOTAL: $124 million
Before CRASH won the Oscar, this multi-layered character story intersected crime, family, and drugs with an exciting thriller full of impressive performances (like Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, and Benicio Del Toro). Steven Soderbergh filmed each storyline with a different palette, influencing several movies of the decade; however, none did it better.
CHILDREN OF MEN – 2007
OPENING: $10 million // TOTAL: $36 million
Ahead of its time, Alfonso Cuaron directed this cautionary tale about a near future where woman can no longer get pregnant. Clive Owen plays our hero who discovers a secret that gives hope for the future. Although this movie gets slapped with the sci-fi label, this one isn’t full of gadgets or spaceships. This is the most down to Earth, therefore creepiest version of the future, we’ve seen in a long time.
Cinephile’s will love Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography (including one stand-out extended take sequence), and your average film-goer will love the action and dystopian elements.
HOSTEL – 2006
OPENING: $20 million // TOTAL: $47 million
What starts off funny, quickly turns to horror. College kids travel to Amsterdam for the elicit joys of the Red Light District. They soon learn of an even more debauchorous city in Central Europe – where business men pay big dollars to torture and kill Americans. While there is some social commentary, the main focus is on the thrills and scares. Of course, since this is an Eli Roth gore flick (CABIN FEVER, GREEN INFERNO) when things turn nasty, it really is hard to stomach.
This is a great flick to watch with a group of friends and yell at the screen. Be warned, this is for fanboys only.
DAYBREAKERS – 2010
OPENING: $15 million // TOTAL: $30 million
This surprise vampire flick takes its subject seriously. Stylishly filmed and well-acted for the genre, this indie gem is worth tracking down. While filmed on a lower budget, it feels like a big Hollywood movie. Ethan Hawke leads the way, which helps make the character’s cause more sympathetic. The kinetic action scenes are filled with energy, making this a fun b-movie ride.
Genre fanboys will be in delight with this cult classic.
FREEDOM WRITERS – 2007
OPENING: $9 million // TOTAL: $37 million
Hilary Swank stars in this inspirational drama about a teacher in an inner-city school. The familiar story works well, like it did for STAND & DELIVER and DANGEROUS MINDS. Swank believes in her students, even when they don’t believe in themselves, leading to several emotional scenes. Get your Kleenex ready.
THE AIR UP THERE – 1994
OPENING: $5 million // TOTAL: $21 million
During the era of COOL RUNNINGS and MIGHTY DUCKS, a family basketball flick was inevitable. Kevin Bacon leads the way, coaching a young tall tribal African to play the game. While not an Oscar contender, this underdog story works well, tugging on the right heart strings and making us laugh along the way.
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY – 2012
OPENING: $5 million // TOTAL: $24 million
This complicated spy thriller focuses on betrayal. There is a mole amongst a group of Cold War spies. Gary Oldman leads an impressive ensemble, including Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth. This guessing game stays one step ahead, making the audience suspect everyone.
Based on legendary author John Le Carre’s fiction, TINKER TAILOR is a captivating and compelling adult thriller with strong storytelling, a dense mystery, and brilliant characters.
The Number 1 movie This Weekend in History is TAKEN 3, opening with $39 million (good enough for 7th overall in January since 1980). Liam Neeson and his “very particular set of skills” raked in $89 million overall in 2015. While not as good as the original, this character was interesting enough that Neeson essentially plays him in every action movie he appears in.
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Hungry for more? The Two Dans Companion Piece has a completely different menu.
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