10 Highest-Grossing Memorial Day Weekend Movies

With X-Men: Apocalypse opening this weekend, we look back at the Memorial Day success stories.

Historically, any time that people have long weekends off from work, they fill some of that free time at the cinema. Also, everybody already knows that the summer is the time of the year when studios try to bank on a hit. Memorial Day Weekend has always been a popular time for studios to trot out their best prospects, and being the highest grossing film of the weekend is a coveted accomplishment. 

X-Men: Apocalypse is this year’s Memorial Day blockbuster and expectation are high after the previous installment, 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past,raked in enough Memorial Day coin to knock Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible out of the top ten. So we now have an updated list of the 10 highest-grossing Memorial Day Weekend flicks. Using our records source, Box Office Mojo, we’re looking at the difference between what audiences want to see on the first weekend of summer and what critics actually think…

10. Pearl Harbor (2001)

Opening Gross: $75,177,654 

If you’re wondering how a historical romantic drama snuck onto this list you’re not alone. We’ve got a few theories on why Pearl Harbor became a monster hit. According to Hollywood.com, 2001 was the slowest year for theaters on Memorial Day Weekends during the early 2000s. The previous week, Shrek opened to the tune of more than $42 million, which is modest, considering the sequel pulled in more than $100 million in 2004. People clearly wanted an action film on Memorial Day and without much competition, Pearl Harbor was there to rake in the dollars.

Ad – content continues below

The film sported an impressive ensemble, with Ben Affleck in the first prime of his career (he’s now in his own McConaissance), Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Jon Voight. It was also Michael Bay’s first directing gig after his sci-fi epic, Armageddon, which set its own box office records in 1998. With a loaded cast and a prime spot on one of the best movie weekends of the year, Pearl Harbor has been able to hang around this list for more than a decade – an impressive feat considering its competition year in and year out.

Metacritic Score: 44/100 

Hottest Critical Take: “Pearl Harbor, for all its agonizing true-life trappings, has the staying power of a grand-scale video game. Manhattan’s sushi bars are in no danger of going dark.” – Peter Rainer, New York Magazine 

Money Talks: Pearl Harbor played in fewer US theaters than any other movie on this list and still took in $198,542,554 domestically.

9. Bruce Almighty (2003)

Opening Gross: $85,734,045

Jim Carrey used to have huge sway over American audiences, and they flocked in droves to check out this comedy, which saw sad-sack news reporter Carrey switch places with God and gain all of his powers. Carrey is a master of slapstick and goofy faces, but the serious bits lean a little on the sappy side and the film never explores its concepts in a meaningful or challenging way.

Ad – content continues below

Metacritic Score: 46/100

Hottest Critical Take: “It’s all rote, sleep-inducing formula, but it might have still worked if the movie weren’t so timid and unimaginative.” – Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald 

Money Talks: $242,829,261 represents the second highest domestic total gross for a Jim Carrey film. The first? How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  

8. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Opening Gross: $85,807341 

It was only a matter of time before global warming got us. Playing off the fear of the earth’s sudden and rapid global cooling (I guess that was a thing), The Day After Tomorrow rode an intriguing trailer, the steadfast determination of Dennis Quaid and disaster porn shots of New York City to a colossal opening weekend.

Metacritic Score: 47/100

Hottest Critical Take: “It’s the Weather Channel on steroids.” – Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post

Ad – content continues below

Money Talks: Sorry, Dennis Quaid, but The Day After Tomorrow took in fewer US dollars than any other film on this list, earning $186,740,799 before exiting theaters. 

7. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Opening Gross: $90,161,880

The original Jurassic Park was an instant classic and a surefire box-office smash hit, so a sequel was inevitable. When the film arrived in theaters in 1997, fans lined up with eager anticipation, but what they found was a film that shared the same breathtaking creatures as the original, but little of the same in the way of storytelling. The film is a combination of interesting set pieces and high-octane action, but there’s little else to write home about. It is the prototypical sequel, a fun return to a familiar world, but with nothing new to discover.

Metacritic Score: 59/100

Hottest Critical Take: “Steven Spielberg, a gifted filmmaker, should have reimagined the material, should have seen it through the eyes of someone looking at dinosaurs, rather than through the eyes of someone looking at a box-office sequel.” – Roger Ebert

Money Talks: The film roared to $229,086,679 at the US box office and more than $600,000,000 worldwide. That’s almost enough to build a real life Jurassic Park. 

Ad – content continues below

6. The Hangover Part II (2011)

Opening Gross: $103,426,875

The premise of The Hangover was simple: some of the best nights are the ones you can’t remember. The execution from director Todd Phillips was flawless. The buzz generated from the 2009 film couldn’t be matched. The careers of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis took off. Though most would say The Hangover Part II was a creative failure, you can’t argue with its financial success. A $100 million opening weekend is an incredible feat for any comedy. Maybe Part II didn’t live up to your expectations on the first viewing, but it’s still a highly entertaining film.

Metacritic Score: 44/100

Hottest Critical Take: “If The Hangover was a boorish blackout fantasy for our binge-drinking age, The Hangover Part II is something like the contents of a fraternity house’s toilet the morning after an insane kegger-namely, regurgitated elements of a more entertaining prior adventure.” – Nick Schager, Slant

Money Talks: Fun Fact: the film’s $254,464,305 gross domestic total earning is double Chow’s net worth. 

5. X-Men: Days of Future Past

Opening Gross: $110,576,604

Ad – content continues below

In marrying the Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman’s X-Men with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s new kids on the block, Days of Future Past bridges the gap between the original franchise and the prequels in superb fashion. With breakout performances by McAvoy, Fassbender, and at the time the rising Jennifer Lawrence, the film captivates in moments of intense special-effects laden action and emotionally reconnects fans with the younger versions of characters they’ve grown to love on screen and in the comics.

Metacritic Score: 75/100

Hottest Critical Take: “The most striking thing about X-Men: Days of Future Past is its generosity. Huge franchise installments are rarely as enjoyable as this one. They aren’t as inventive, richly detailed, surprisingly varied, elegantly crafted or improbably stirring.” – Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal

Money Talks: This opening take single-handedly ensured we’ll get X-Men films every three years from now to eternity. The haul? $233,921,534. 

4. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Opening Gross: $117,036,995 

As of this entry, the Fast & Furious series has as many films in the canon as Star Wars (well, for now). There seems to be a theme on this list; high-octane sequels light on plot and heavy on the action. Some of the sequences are downright ridiculous and bend the rules of physics, but director Justin Lin doesn’t care about science, he cares about fast cars, buddy comedy, and big booms, and sometimes there’s merit in that way of thinking. Looking at this film’s gross only solidifies that idea.

Ad – content continues below

Metacritic Score: 61/100

Hottest Critical Take: “Against all odds, the billion-dollar “Fast & Furious” franchise is actually picking up momentum, with FF6 clocking in as the fastest, funniest and most outlandish chapter yet.” – Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times 

Money Talks: How many cars can you buy with $788,679,850? For that matter, how many American cars will $238,679,850 get you?

3. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Opening Gross: $122,861,157 

If X-Men (2000) kick started Marvel’s big screen resurgence, then X-Men: The Last Stand was the exclamation point. With its main players returning and under the guidance of a new director, Brett Ratner, the third installment of X-Men currently the holds the honor of having the ninth-highest grossing opening weekend of any superhero film. It looks like it’s going to have company on this list with X-Men: Days of Future Past, though.

Metacritic Score: 58/100

Ad – content continues below

Hottest Critical Take: “Last stand? My ass. Billed as the climax of a trilogy, the third and weakest chapter in the X-Men series is a blatant attempt to prove there is still life in the franchise.” – Richard Travers, Rolling Stone 

Money Talks: Are mutants any good at math?$234,362,462 is a fortune. 

2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Opening Gross: $126,917,373 

This widely panned sequel benefitted from being the first Indiana Jones adventure in 19 years. Certain action sequences soar, and you can’t help feeling a tad nostalgic seeing Harrison Ford in that iconic hat, but the inclusion of Shia LaBeouf (and the hints that he could potentially take over the series) left audiences cold and the high concept sci-fi element feels out of place. There’s also a refrigerator scene and a sequence involving vine swinging that we’d rather not talk about. This film sure made a lot of cash, but how many of those people would have liked their money back?

Metacritic Score: 65/100

Hottest Critical Take: Crystal Skull isn’t bad–there are a few dazzling sequences, and a couple of good performances–but the unprecedented blend of comedy and action that made the movies so much more fun than any other adventure series is mostly gone.” – David Denby, The New Yorker

Ad – content continues below

Money Talks: You want fortune and glory? Indy 4 went on to have the all-time highest total domestic gross for a movie that opened on Memorial Day at $317,101,119. 

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

Opening Gross: $139,802,190 

When you spend $300 million to make a movie, a soft opening weekend is enough to make folks walk the plank. The execs at Disney didn’t have to take out their swords (okay, sorry…we’re done, now), as Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, took home the largest Memorial Day opening weekend gross in history on its way to more than $900 million worldwide gross. Currently, At World’s End is the 22nd highest grossing film of all-time. Overall, the Pirates series prints money for Disney, and there’s a fifth installment coming. Johnny Depp’s third entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean series didn’t fare as well critically as the previous installment, but if we’ve learned anything from this list it’s that on Memorial Day, sequels sell.

Metacritic Score: 50/100

Hottest Critical Take: “Ultimately the voyage is so choppy and long (2 hours, 48 minutes) that into the third hour I found myself yawning, ‘Yo-ho-hum and a very sore bum.'” – Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer

Money Talks: $309,420,425 domestically means the film just cleared its reported $300 million budget. But when you look at its worldwide total, At World’s End very nearly joined that exclusive billion dollar club. “Yo-ho-ho,” indeed.

Ad – content continues below

A version of this article originally ran in 2014. It’s been updated to reflect new information.