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The Highest-Grossing Memorial Day Movies Of All Time Might Surprise You

Intended to honor military veterans, Memorial Day weekend is largely known for being the perfect time to barbecue, wave American flags, and eat way too much food. But it's also become a go-to for launching major blockbusters. After all, the weekend includes a rare three consecutive days when many Americans are off from work. Lots of people choose to spend some of that extra free time at the movie theater enjoying a major new blockbuster. The occasion has become a reliable launchpad for some of the biggest summer movies of all time, including a number of entries in the "Star Wars" saga.

The majority of the most successful flicks to ever open over this holiday weekend are big-budget action blockbusters aimed at exciting viewers of all ages. However, that's not the only type of cinema that's been either released or proved lucrative here; a handful of comedies have secured some of the biggest box-office hauls ever. 

Looking over the highest-grossing movies of all time to open over Memorial Day weekend at the domestic box office, it becomes apparent that this holiday is a far cry from the dump months of January-February and August-September. Get a head start on the festivities with this list. 

Mission: Impossible II

Tom Cruise is back. That's all the "Mission: Impossible II" marketing had to say to lure viewers into theaters. It had a highly popular movie star and an immediately recognizable brand name at its disposal; it didn't need a fancy campaign to succeed at the domestic box office.

Jam-packed with car chases, plane crashes, cliff dives, and other thrills, the John Woo joint launched its box office run in this territory over Memorial Day weekend in 2000 and eventually grossed $215.4 million domestically. That stood as the highest-grossing entry in this franchise for nearly a decade. Additionally, "Mission: Impossible II" is still the third-highest-grossing movie Cruise has ever starred in.  

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

After "Jurassic Park," the public clamored for a sequel. Everyone wanted more dinosaurs, and 1997's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" came around to satisfy that demand. Upon opening over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, "The Lost World" took in a $72.3 million three-day opening, the biggest domestic opening weekend in history up to that point. Over the four-day holiday weekend, the title managed a massive $92.7 million haul, more than enough to put it on the road to profitability on a $73 million budget.

If there was a drawback here, it was that "The Lost World" proved how Memorial Day titles can be extremely frontloaded with movies. Making extra moolah over a holiday weekend is great, but it does mean many moviegoers will have seen it by the end of the opening weekend. Thus, "The Lost World" ended up with a domestic gross of $229 million — a respectable return, but far from the $357 million domestic haul of the original "Jurassic Park."

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Eight years after "X-Men: The Last Stand," the X-Men returned to Memorial Day weekend with "X-Men: Days of Future Past." This film was intended as a follow-up to multiple movies in the X-Men saga, including "X-Men: First Class," and brought back the gaggle of mutants, including Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, from the original X-Men trilogy. This turned out to be a recipe for box office glory, as "Days of Future Past" managed to snag a sizable domestic box office haul.

Opening to $90 million over its three-day weekend, "Days of Future Past" actually came in slightly behind the three-day performance of fellow May 2014 superhero title "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." However, "Days of Future Past" would manage to soar past the domestic haul of that web-crawler adventure thanks to a big boost from the Memorial Day holiday. Eventually, "Days of Future Past" secured a $233.9 million domestic total — at the time, the second-biggest domestic gross ever for an "X-Men" movie and a staggering 60% increase over the domestic run of "First Class."

X-Men: The Last Stand

Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe came around, the original X-Men movies were some of the biggest superhero movies on the planet. This status was cemented with "X-Men: The Last Stand," which managed to pull off the neat hat trick of surpassing the domestic gross of its predecessor. Its $102.1 million three-day opening gross was also only a stone's throw from the $114 million debut of the original "Spider-Man," then the biggest domestic opening weekend in history.

After its mammoth opening, mixed word-of-mouth brought "The Last Stand" down to Earth, but it still managed to crack $234.2 million domestically, above both of its predecessors. The first two "X-Men" movies generated such positive buzz that a follow-up would always have garnered interest. But by emphasizing this as a conclusion of sorts for the series and by promising to show the Dark Phoenix comic book storyline on the big screen for the first time, "The Last Stand" had no problem amassing a significant amount of moviegoers in its theatrical run. 

Fast & Furious 6

May 2013 was jumping with big-budget blockbusters, from the new "Iron Man" and "Star Trek" movies to a Will Smith vehicle co-starring his son. One of the biggest titles in a crowded month was the requisite action blockbuster for Memorial Day weekend: "Fast & Furious 6." This installment in the long-running franchise brought the series back to the summertime releases of the first three entries. 

Shifting from April to summer proved to be no problem for "Fast & Furious 6." Once it was unleashed over Memorial Day weekend, this blockbuster put the pedal to the metal and scored a massive $97 million three-day opening weekend. By the end of its domestic run, "Fast & Furious 6" had grossed $238.6 million domestically, a new high for the entire series. It also managed to beat out the domestic grosses of all but one of May 2013's new releases, with only "Iron Man 3" soaring higher. Opening in a crowded month can be daunting for any new release, but when you're a part of a beloved franchise like "Fast & Furious 6," you can easily outpace the competition.

Bruce Almighty

Seeing "Bruce Almighty" so high up on this list may inspire some readers to utter a hearty "Alrighty then!" However, it's less surprising than it seems. "Bruce Almighty" was the culmination of nearly a decade of Jim Carrey's constant presence in the comedy scene, starring in many beloved hits. Plus, "Bruce Almighty" came along with the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy: What if a normal dude had the powers of God? Throw in "Friends" star Jennifer Aniston as the female lead and a Memorial Day opening, and "Bruce Almighty" was teed up for success.

And boy was it ever successful, with the film performing more like a mega-budgeted superhero movie than a high-concept comedy. Grossing $242.7 million, "Bruce Almighty" had no problem surpassing the domestic haul of your average Carrey vehicle and becoming one of the biggest comedies in the history of the domestic box office. Its success may be puzzling for moviegoers who only know Carrey as Sonic the Hedgehog's greatest nemesis. In 2003, though, it was obvious why "Bruce Almighty" became a box office phenomenon so powerful you expected it to shout "Somebody stop me!"

The Hangover: Part II

While the original "Hangover" broke out as a sleeper hit in the first weekend of June, it established enough pop culture cache in the next two years to warrant the inevitable sequel getting a Memorial Day launchpad. Once meant to be the counter-programming to bigger blockbusters, "Hangover" movies were now blockbusters in their own right. This was cemented by the absolutely massive performance of "The Hangover: Part II," which scored the biggest three-day opening weekend in history for a comedy.

Its box office performance got even more impressive on its fourth day of release, which coincided with Memorial Day. Here, the film earned an additional $18 million for a four-day haul of $103 million. The only downside came in the film's word-of-mouth. While the original "Hangover" stuck around for weeks on end, "The Hangover: Part II" generated significantly worse reviews and ended its domestic run with $254.4 million, having made more than half of its lifetime domestic gross in its first five days of release. Still, there was no denying it: The Wolfpack was a box office force to be reckoned with.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Until "Solo: A Star Wars Story" came around, "The Empire Strikes Back" was the only "Star Wars" movie to gross under $300 million domestically. This wasn't because "Empire" was a colossal dud; it's just that other "Star Wars" debuts were exceptional. The original "Star Wars" was a once-in-a-lifetime pop culture phenomenon; there was no way any movie could hope to top that. 

On its own merits, "The Empire Strikes Back" still amassed a domestic sum that grew to a staggering $291.7 million thanks to a series of subsequent theatrical re-releases. It also stood tall against the majority of other Memorial Day performers. Until "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" came around in 2007, "Empire Strikes Back" was the highest-grossing movie ever released over Memorial Day weekend, save for its predecessor. It's true that "Empire" is one of the lower-grossing movie in the Star Wars canon, but it still has its own box office achievements to crow about.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

With "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," the Pirates franchise was going into uncharted territory: May. The first two entries in this franchise were dropped in early July, whereas "At World's End" debuted over Memorial Day weekend. It was a bold move that suggested that Disney felt the franchise was strong enough now to thrive at any time of the year. That confidence was earned, it turned out, as "At World's End" scored the biggest Memorial Day opening weekend ever in its mammoth opening weekend.

While "At World's End" ended up making less than its predecessor due to an increased level of competition in the summer of 2007, the film was still plenty successful in its own right, with a massive $309.1 million domestic gross. Even more impressively, its opening weekend sum has yet to be surpassed. As of this writing, "At World's End" still maintains the record for the biggest Memorial Day opening weekend in history. Sailing into the waters of May turned out to be an ingenious move for the "Pirates" movies.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

"Return of the Jedi" opened domestically on the Wednesday before Memorial Day. By the end of that inaugural day, it was apparent that the film was headed towards a mammoth domestic gross. The New York Times ran a piece declaring that the film had managed to score the largest single-day gross in history, a particularly monumental achievement given that Jedi had scored the victory in the middle of the workweek rather than a Friday or Saturday. Sometimes, it takes weeks to tell if a movie is a hit or a dud. For "Jedi," it took just 24 hours.

After that staggering opening, "Return of the Jedi" continued its strong box office run over the Memorial Day weekend. Box office results were so impressive over this holiday frame that it set a new domestic box office record for how much money a movie made in its first seven days of release. Once the dust had settled and "Return of the Jedi's" domestic box office run was but a memory, the film had grossed $309.2 million, an improvement over the domestic run of "Empire Strikes Back" from three years prior. Six years after the original "Star Wars," "Return of the Jedi" proved that the Jedi could still attract moviegoers.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

In 2008, for the first time in nearly 20 years, a new "Indiana Jones" movie graced movie theater screens. This was "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," the long-awaited return of Harrison Ford to one of his most iconic roles. In the years after its release, a toxic reputation would begin to surround "Crystal Skull," with many fans dubbing it a major disappointment. Still, this "Indiana Jones" installment was anything but a disappointment at the domestic box office.

Over the four-day Memorial Day weekend box office, "Crystal Skull" snatched $126 million with the kind of ease that Indiana Jones uses to snag rare artifacts. That remains the second-biggest Memorial Day weekend gross ever, behind only "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." "Crystal Skull" didn't have phenomenal word-of-mouth, but its reception among summer 2008 moviegoers wasn't as bad as the eventual reputation of the feature, and it managed to score a strong $317.1 million domestically.


Before "Aladdin" unleashed "a whole new world" in live action, there was trepidation over how well this movie would do. Disney had a bad streak of Memorial Day weekend flops, like "Tomorrowland" and "Alice Through the Looking Glass," in the years directly preceding "Aladdin." Plus, just before "Aladdin," "Dumbo" came out and was a dud, proving that not all live-action remakes of Disney cartoons were bulletproof at the box office.

It turned out, though, that "Aladdin" had nothing to worry about. Its $90 million three-day run surpassed all expectations, and its box office glory didn't end there. Thanks to a lack of PG-rated live-action features in June and early July 2019, "Aladdin" 'had a wide-open summertime landscape to make even more money in. The film had no trouble sticking around on screens for weeks on end. Its leggy domestic box office run led to its grossing $355.5 million domestically, the biggest haul ever for a non-"Star Wars" movie opening over Memorial Day weekend. Basically, the domestic box office run for "Aladdin" was so magical that you'd imagine it was conjured up by a genie's wish.

Star Wars: A New Hope

By now, the story of how nobody seemed to think much of "Star Wars: A New Hope" before its debut has become a legend unto itself. Harrison Ford's famous complaints to George Lucas about the quality of the script ("George! You can type this [dialogue], but you sure can't say it!") and studio executives not understanding the film are just a few examples of how "A New Hope" seemed doomed before release. Then, opening day arrived and droves of moviegoers showed up. All the doubt evaporated. Suddenly, "Star Wars: A New Hope" was the movie to beat.

Launching this initial title over the Memorial Day weekend helped give an extra event status to the project, while holiday gatherings offered a chance for word-of-mouth to spread extra fast. Over the course of several theatrical re-releases, this movie, which cemented Memorial Day as a window of time for launching hit blockbusters, has grossed $460.9 million domestically. People may have doubted it initially, but history has shown that "A New Hope" had the goods to become a game-changing box office hit.