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Highest-Grossing Labor Day Weekend Movie Releases Of All Time

Certain holidays have become the go-to destinations for Hollywood to launch its biggest movies. Thanksgiving, for example, has morphed into the de facto domicile for animated Disney projects, while Christmas is a guaranteed hotspot for both award season fare and big-budget "Star Wars" projects. The fact that people are off for these big holidays, not to mention that these events usually involve large groups of people gathering and in need of something to do, is a critical reason these holidays have become such perfect spots to drop high-profile titles. But that doesn't mean every single festive occasion is seen by Hollywood as a means of printing money. Case in point, Labor Day weekend.

Coming at the tail end of the summer and, more importantly, not seen by the general public as an opportunity for lavish parties or massive family gatherings, Labor Day has often been a quiet time of the year, with Hollywood post-2012 frequently failing to offer anything new of note over the weekend. But that doesn't mean the holiday has been entirely devoid of hits. Several lucrative films across a variety of genres have found success here, proving that Labor Day weekend, while not the next Thanksgiving, is just as capable as any other spot on the calendar to launch a hit.

Balls of Fury

There are a lot of elements about "Balls of Fury" that seem like arcane relics from another era. For one thing, the film was distributed by Rogue Pictures, a now-defunct production company. For another, the film's use of the trappings of Eastern culture, while only featuring one Asian performer (Maggie Q) in its main cast, registered as ill-advised even back in 2007. Most of all, the concept of "Balls of Fury" leading man Dan Fogler headlining comedies now sounds peculiar given that he's transitioned to being a supporting performer in modern pop culture properties like the "Fantastic Beasts" movies.

Back in 2007, though, all these ingredients were around and pushed "Balls of Fury" to a $32.8 million domestic box office total. Though enough to put it ahead of most other Labor Day new releases, this gross isn't extraordinary for a comedy released in 2007, a year where even a forgotten title like "License to Wed" hit $43.7 million in North America. But the distinctiveness of a movie centered on ping pong, as well as late summer being usually a favorable time to release comedies, kept "Balls of Fury" from crashing and burning financially, even if it seems impossible to imagine it existing as a theatrical feature today.

The Constant Gardener

It isn't just horror titles that are staples of Labor Day weekend. Also regularly appearing are adult dramas that open the Wednesday before the weekend to build up word-of-mouth for the holiday frame. Modern examples of this trend include "Operation Finale," "The Debt," and "Closed Circuit," but an early and successful instance of this release strategy was "The Constant Gardener." Launching in North America on Wednesday, August 30, 2005, "The Constant Gardener" would go on to open to $8.5 million from just 1,346 locations over its first three-day weekend.

"The Constant Gardener" was buoyed by a critical element for any 21st-century adult drama: strong reviews. Buzzy word-of-mouth is extraordinarily helpful but it also doesn't hurt that "Gardener" stood out as a welcome alternative in the marketplace when it opened. Looking at the top 10 biggest movies over its opening weekend, it's apparent that the heady storyline in "The Constant Gardener" serve as a fine contrast to the likes of "The Brothers Grimm" or "Underclassmen." For those looking for cinema that was more contemplative, "The Constant Gardener" was the only game in town and it rode that lack of competition to a $33.5 million domestic total. In the process, "The Constant Gardener" established a release mode that adult dramas are still adhering to today.

All About Steve

In 2009, Sandra Bullock starred in two of her most lucrative star vehicles of all time. In June 2009, she headlined "The Proposal" with Ryan Reynolds and it proceeded to amass over $163 million domestically. Five months later, "The Blind Side" hit theaters and managed to be an even bigger smash with a $255.9 million domestic haul. In between those two films, though, a long-shelved Bullock vehicle entitled "All About Steve" debuted over Labor Day weekend of 2009.

Bullock wasn't the only 2009 box office powerhouse to star in "Steve." Bradley Cooper and Ken Jeong, fresh off their appearances in "The Hangover," also had prominent roles in the project, which was originally shot in 2007. Despite all that relevant star power, "All About Steve" only grossed $33.8 million domestically, the third-worst North American gross ever for a Sandra Bullock vehicle that played in over 2,000 locations. The strangest part about the film's performance is that it did technically double its $15 million budget through its domestic run alone, which didn't make it a total flame-out financially. But it's clear 20th Century Fox never had much confidence in this dismally reviewed comedy. After all, if they did, they would have released it somewhere beyond Labor Day weekend.

The American

Audiences were not pleased with "The American." This movie's marketing promised an action-packed shoot-em-up for grown-ups with George Clooney in the lead role. What audiences got was something much slower and methodical, not a film laden with explosions. As a result, "The American" scored an atrocious D- CinemaScore from opening night crowds. This kind of word-of-mouth explains why "The American" dropped more than 52% from weekend to weekend for the first six weeks of its North American run.

Despite proving to be toxically disliked among the general public, "The American" fared fine financially, grossing $35.6 million in North America. This run kicked off with a Labor Day debut that topped all other titles in the marketplace and led the entire domestic box office to better than usual business for early September. While its lifetime gross was not a record-shattering sum, "The American" did come in ahead of the domestic totals for other Clooney vehicles such as "Intolerable Cruelty" or "Leatherheads," both of which paired up this movie star with other big-name performers. Sold on just Clooney's name and the promise of action while being released over the last weekend of summer 2010, "The American" did well enough to suggest how alluring Clooney could be even when a movie was sold just on his face — before that word-of-mouth kicked in.

Jeeper Creepers 2

What happens when a horror movie becomes a box office hit? Well, much like rain being wet or grass being green, a sequel is bound to emerge. So it was with "Jeepers Creepers," which was quickly followed up by a successor entitled "Jeepers Creepers 2." Not only did this one bring back that man-eating humanoid bat from its predecessor, but "Jeepers Creepers 2" also set a record for a Labor Day opening weekend just like the first movie. However, long-term legs weren't quite as good as the other "Jeepers Creepers," leading this sequel to a $35.66 million domestic haul, or about $2 million shy of the initial feature.

While the first "Jeepers Creepers" had been a sleeper hit nobody saw coming, the sequel, like so many other horror follow-ups, was preaching to the choir. Audiences knew what to expect and showed up in droves from the get-go, ensuring it would always have a more frontloaded box office lifespan. But "Jeepers Creepers 2" still proved plenty profitable and once again reaffirmed the viability of Labor Day weekend for scary films — even if horror sequels being profitable isn't quite as assured.


As the first box office figures trickled in for "Lawless," which launched on the Wednesday before Labor Day 2012, The Hollywood Reporter noted that The Weinstein Company was debuting "Lawless" over this specific holiday weekend to allow for good word-of-mouth to spread around. A holiday weekend launch may have helped circulate word-of-mouth but what really should have aided "Lawless" was star power. The movie was headlined by Tom Hardy, who portrayed Bane in the $1+ billion grossing worldwide smash "The Dark Knight Rises" just a month before "Lawless" dropped in theaters. With Hardy's value as an actor suddenly and dramatically increased, "Lawless" should have been able to catch people's eyes much easier. The presence of "Transformers" leading man Shia LaBeouf and then-recent Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain further ensured that "Lawless" had plenty of notable names to attract people. Plus crime stories have always had an allure for moviegoers, especially when they debut in a relatively competition-free timeframe like Labor Day weekend.

This strategy seems to have worked to some degree, as "Lawless" managed to crack $37.3 million domestically. At the time of its release, that was enough to put "Lawless" ahead of all but seven other movies released by The Weinstein Company in its seven years of existence. Still, even though it was made on a $26 million budget, "Lawless" wasn't profitable.

Jeepers Creepers

Horror movies have been a reliable source of box office success when it comes to the Labor Day weekend. Case in point: the original "Jeepers Creepers" movie. A scary story about two siblings attacked by a hungry bat-like creature may have gotten lost in the shuffle of a busier box office weekend. But over the significantly more subdued Labor Day frame, "Jeepers Creepers" was a big fish in a small box office pond.

This film's domestic run got off to a killer start with an opening weekend that, at the time, was the highest ever for a movie to debut over Labor Day weekend. Eventually, "Jeepers Creepers" and its killer humanoid bat would scoop up $37.9 million domestically. Considering the film only cost $10 million to put together and had no big-name stars to plaster over its advertising, this was a major achievement for the project. The success of "Jeepers Creepers" was all the more important given that its distributor, MGM, was plagued with financial issues at the turn of the century. An eye-catching marketing campaign, complete with a memorable poster that teased a monstrous foe while the tagline hinted at traces of dark comedy, was key to making "Jeepers Creepers" stand out in the final weekend of summer 2001.

Dead Again

Kenneth Branagh's 1992 thriller "Dead Again" expanded into wide release over Labor Day weekend 1991. The resulting box office for the film made it his highest-grossing feature domestically until "Thor" arrived on the scene in May 2011. Even better, the success of "Dead Again" wasn't just limited to one holiday weekend. After grossing $6.3 million in its initial three-day debut, it went on to amass $38.1 million domestically, making this a profitable venture on just a $15 million budget. An early major lead film role for Branagh's then-wife Emma Thompson, "Dead Again" would remain one of her highest-grossing films in North America well into the 21st century.

"Dead Again" was an early sign of the kind of movies that usually find the most success on this holiday weekend; adult-skewing features with either thriller or horror elements. Those sorts of films stand out after a summer movie season packed with kid-friendly options and explosion-packed blockbusters. Positive reviews and a star-studded cast packed with prestigious names also helped to ensure that "Dead Again" rose above being just another schlocky thriller dropped over Labor Day weekend like modern-day titles such as "Shark Night 3D." Though it may have had the word dead in its title, "Dead Again" had a lively box office run that proved how viable opening over the Labor Day frame can be.

The Illusionist

In yet another instance of a year delivering two oddly similar major movies (for example, 1998 was home to both "Antz" and "A Bug's Life"), 2006 saw dueling magician movies in the form of "The Prestige" and "The Illusionist." The latter opened in wide release over Labor Day weekend and was distributed by scrappy indie label Yari Film Group, whereas "The Prestige" got a big launch courtesy of Disney's Touchstone Pictures. Despite those challenges, "The Illusionist" actually fared rather decently at the domestic box office.

Grossing $38.9 million in North America, "The Illusionist" improved on the domestic grosses of several prior Norton vehicles, including the $37 million haul of his cult classic "Fight Club" from 1999. "The Illusionist" especially stands out as successful when compared to other titles released by the short-lived Yari Film Group. By far the distributor's highest-grossing film, "The Illusionist" was the only Yari feature to exceed $10 million domestically, let alone $35 million. On top of those achievements, "The Illusionist" also managed to do nearly 2.5 times its $16.5 million budget. Though it had to share the spotlight with "The Prestige" in 2006, "The Illusionist" has stood up over time as one of the more impressive box office performers to debut over Labor Day weekend.

Transporter 2

While the original "Transporter" was given an October 2002 release date, its sequel, "The Transporter 2," shifted things to the Labor Day frame in 2005. Release dates weren't the only thing getting tweaked in between these two action movies. Jason Statham's cache as an actor had also increased thanks to his supporting presence in the hit 2003 movie "The Italian Job." Statham had expanded his fan base and that meant "The Transporter 2" was also capable of appealing to an even greater array of moviegoers. Thus, it was unsurprising that "The Transporter 2" managed to improve notably on the $25.2 million domestic haul of the first "Transporter" movie by grossing $43 million. At the time, this made "The Transporter 2" the highest-grossing Statham star vehicle. Though the actor would go on to improve his box office appeal even more in the years to come, the Labor Day hit "The Transporter 2" moved him further down that lucrative road.

The Possession

The Labor Day weekend has grown abandoned in recent years. Between September 2015 and September 2020, no title managed to open with more than $6.2 million over this weekend. Since 2012, no new release has managed to bow to over $11 million. With Hollywood largely eschewing releasing titles of note over this holiday frame, it's naturally become a throwaway weekend on the calendar. That's a shame since it can be home to sleeper hit titles. Case in point: the 2012 horror movie "The Possession," one of only three movies in history to open to over $20 million over Labor Day weekend.

That impressive feat could be attributed not just to how often horror excels over Labor Day weekend but also to "The Possession" belonging to the regularly lucrative horror subgenre of exorcism. This kind of horror tale was in the middle of a box office renaissance at this point thanks to "The Last Exorcism" and "The Devil Inside," and "The Possession" satisfied the cravings of moviegoers for more devil-influenced frights. A PG-13 rating also expanded this movie's audience and allowed teenagers to go check out "The Possession." With these assets at its back, "The Possession" eventually scared up $49.1 million domestically, enough to provide a strong argument for Labor Day weekend being just as valuable as any other frame for launching sleeper hits.

Halloween (2007)

Michael Myers was back. That was the crux of the marketing campaign for the 2007 remake of "Halloween," which emerged during a Golden Age for horror remakes. Released between similar updates for "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Friday the 13," "Halloween" saw director Rob Zombie lend a grimy and raw vision to this masked serial killer. The film didn't offer much new to people who had seen prior "Halloween" installments, but it was playing with some of the most well-known horror movie iconography ever. That alone teed it up for success.

Opening over Labor Day weekend, "Halloween" scored the highest-grossing debut ever for a movie opening over that frame, an achievement it's held for over a decade. Though mixed word-of-mouth ensured it didn't stick around long, it still grossed $58.2 million in North America alone, enough to make nearly four times its $15 million budget. That also made it the highest-grossing "Halloween" movie up to that point in this territory, eclipsing the $55 million sum of 1998 installment "Halloween: H2O." Of course, there were some advantages this new "Halloween" had, like a substantial marketing campaign and the lack of major horror movies in the marketplace at the time of its premiere. Above all else, though, the record-shattering business of Rob Zombie's "Halloween" remake was largely thanks to Michael Myers' return being enough to get people to go to the multiplexes over Labor Day weekend.


"Tenet" was not always supposed to be a Labor Day release. Once upon a time, it was intended to drop in mid-July, like several other Christopher Nolan blockbusters such as "Dunkirk" and the "Dark Knight" movies. But the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic ensured that the film would never make that date. Distributor Warner Bros. proceeded to give "Tenet" a series of tiny postponements before settling on a Labor Day 2020 debut for "Tenet's" North American release, though Canadian theaters got the title a week earlier.

Given that this was a $200 million action movie from Christopher Nolan, it's no surprise that "Tenet" leaped above all other Labor Day releases. However, the $58.4 million domestic total for "Tenet" was more on par with the opening weekends of "Dunkirk" or "Inception" than their entire box office hauls. This is entirely due to the pandemic, which ensured that "Tenet" only played in 2,800 domestic theaters at its peak, and none in California or New York, the two most lucrative markets on the continent. The bold release plan for "Tenet" ended up coming up short of expectations, but at least the film scored the largest box office gross ever for a Labor Day release.