This series highlights some of the best opening weekends since 1980… with 10 movies that shouldn’t slip/through the cracks.
This Weekend in History features one of best martial arts movies ever, Denzel vs The Apocalypse, 3 great war films (including a picture from one of my favourite directors), and 5 Cult Classics.
January is notorious for a lot of duds at the box office – a lot of fizzle, rarely any sizzle. I’ve combed through the Top 200 openings and selected the best films, ranging from serious contenders, to fun movies that might be perfect for the right movie fan.
I’m experimenting with format here. To make a swift breezy read to scroll through. Let me know if you like this new bullet-point stream-lined style.
note: box office figures are domestic and are not adjusted for inflation
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON – 2001
OPENING WEEKEND: $9 MILLION // BOX OFFICE TOTAL: $128 MILLION
- Ang Lee directs. Beautiful cinematography. A focus on character. Emotions land with impact.
- Yuen Wo-Ping choreographs the fights. The action is mind-blowing. Balletic martial arts are filmed wide frame, instead of rapid MTV editing and cheating close-ups.
- Part quest. Part love story.
- Legendary Chinese actors Michelle Yeoh & Chow Yun Fat deliver impressive performances with subtle but provocative chemistry.
- HIGHLIGHT: The whimsical fantasy approach to the bamboo fight.
BOOK OF ELI – 2010
OPENING: $33 MILLION // TOTAL: $95 MILLION
- Denzel Washington kicks ass in the apocalypse, using a Liam Neeson like “particular set of skills” on his journey to deliver a sacred object.
- Grimy and brutal future, filmed with style by Hughes Brothers (MENACE II SOCIETY).
- Mila Kunis co-stars as a gun-wielding sidekick.
- Gary Oldman chews up the scenery.
- Nice twist.
- B-Movie done right.
- HIGHLIGHT: Denzel knows kung-fu.
ZERO DARK THIRTY – 2013
OPENING: $24 MILLION // TOTAL: $96 MILLION
- Jessica Chastain bursts onto the scene with a magnetic performance as the woman who tracked down Osama Bin Laden.
- Katherine Bigelow (POINT BREAK) earned an Oscar for directing here.
- The pacing is tight, the structure is compelling, and the finale is breath-taking.
- A war film that doesn’t focus on war, but rather the behind-the-scenes intelligence.
- HIGHLIGHT: Watching Bin Laden’s compound get stormed.
LONE SURVIVOR – 2014
OPENING: $38 MILLION // TOTAL: $95 MILLION
- Impressive ensemble cast includes Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster as Navy SEALs on a mission in Afghanistan.
- Focus on brutal reality of combat.
- The no quit nature of a soldier, and their brotherhood.
- Relentless action.
- HIGHLIGHT: The skirmish between a few SEALs and dozens of enemy soldiers.
THE THIN RED LINE – 1999
OPENING: $10 MILLION // TOTAL: $36 MILLION
- Iconic director Terrence Mallick returns to the screen after years of absence, to make this WWII war film set in the Pacific.
- Interpretive cinema at its best. Rich themes.
- Jaw dropping cinematography.
- Atmospheric score by Hans Zimmer.
- Incredible cast: George Clooney, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, John Travolta, Nick Nolte, and Jim Caviezel.
- Better than Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (which is 5/5), released the same year.
- HIGHLIGHT: The beauty of indigenous people and an AWOL soldier in harmony.
The Number 1 opening This Weekend in History also sits atop the charts for the month. AMERICAN SNIPER debuted with a stellar $89 million in 2015. This was highly impressive for the winter months, especially in the dumping grounds of January. The Clint Eastwood directed drama focused on the PTSD of a returning soldier (Bradley Cooper in a commanding performance).
GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM – 1988
OPENING: $12 MILLION // TOTAL: $124 MILLION
- Robin Williams does drama for the first time, and blows everyone away, as a radio DJ broadcasting to American troops from within Vietnam.
- Some comedy keeps this from being as depressing as most war films.
- Early role for Forest Whitaker.
- Good storytelling. Solid directing.
- HIGHLIGHT: Williams’ radio intro.
GIRL, INTERRUPTED – 2000
OPENING: $8 MILLION // TOTAL: $29 MILLION
- Winona Ryder delivers a thoughtful performance as a woman who enters a mental institution, and finds unique friends in the process.
- Not as cheesy or melodramatic as it sounds.
- Angelina Jolie delivers an amazing performance as a rebellious patient. Award nominated.
- HIGHLIGHT: When the gang skips out for ice cream.
THE HURRICANE – 2000
OPENING: $9 MILLION // TOTAL: $51 MILLION
- Denzel is back on the list, in this true story about a boxer who also fought social injustice from behind bars.
- Emotional performance. Award nominated.
- Great cinematography.
- Simple storytelling. Focused on character.
- HIGHLIGHT: Denzel speechifying in prison.
VARSITY BLUES – 1997
OPENING: $15 MILLION // TOTAL: $53 MILLION
- Cheesy 90s football movie made for the teen demographic.
- Rockin’ soundtrack, including “Hero” by the Foo Fighters.
- Totally 90s casting with DAWSON’S CREEK himself, James Van Der Beek, and pre-FAST&FURIOUS Paul Walker.
- Cliched by lots of fun, due to energy and stylish direction.
- HIGHLIGHT: Ali Larter in a whip-cream bikini… Oh yeah, and the football game too.
DON’T BE A MENACE TO SOUTH CENTRAL WHILE DRINKING YOUR JUICE IN THE HOOD – 1996
OPENING: $8 MILLION // TOTAL: $20 MILLION
- Spoofs the 90s hood movies like MENACE II SOCIETY and BOYZ N THE HOOD.
- The Wayans brothers at their best – especially, Marlon.
- This is so funny, these guys got to make SCARY MOVIE spoofing SCREAM next.
- Rewatchable and quotable.
- Hilarious for fans of the genre. There are so many jokes per minute.
- HIGHLIGHT: When the narration says most black men don’t live to see their 20th birthday. Then someone sings Happy Birthday, with a cake, the candles say 21… and as the guy goes to blow out the candle, he gets shot.
What do you think?
Which of the featured movies is your favourite?
Do you like the Cult Classic inclusions?
Leave a comment below.
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