With this week’s box-office battle between blockbusters-to-be “Interstellar” and “Big Hero 6” looming, it’s fun to look back on some of Hollywood’s recent high-stakes multiplex smackdowns.
If there is a lesson to be learned, it’s this: don’t get discouraged if you wind up No. 2.
“Frozen,” for example, didn’t open on top of the box office. It debuted in second last November with $67.3 million, behind the $73.1 million that “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” brought in. But it went on to become the highest-grossing animated film ever with $1.27 billion globally, while “Catching Fire” finished with $864 million.
Animated movies are often in the mix because rival studios don’t mind pitting an adult-skewing thriller or drama against a family film, since both can in theory succeed by hitting their target demos. But the kid stuff has often stolen the show, so “Big Hero 6” could well knock off the Christopher Nolan‘s space epic.
Brad Pitt‘s “World War Z” pulled off a stunning $66 million opening for Paramount last June for example, but still finished $14 million behind Disney and Pixar’s “Monsters University.”
Here are a few of Hollywood highest-profile box office one-on-one battles:
The Day After Tomorrow vs. Shrek 2
Roland Emmerich‘s climate disaster epic featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Ian Holm and Emmy Rossum rolled up $68.7 million on Memorial Day weekend in 2004, and that still stands as the highest total ever for a movie that wound up its first weekend in second place. It was outstripped by DreamWorks’ “Shrek 2,” which debuted with $72.1 million. The big green guy not only won the opening weekend sprint, it won the global box office marathon with $920 million to the Fox blockbuster’s $544 million.
With Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law starring and Guy Ritchie directing, “Sherlock Holmes” rolled out with an explosive $62 million on Christmas weekend in 2009 for Warners Bros. But that wasn’t close to the $75.6 million that James Cameron’s “Avatar” took in on its way to becoming the highest-grossing movie ever at the worldwide box office with $2.78 billion for Fox. It remained in the top spot at the domestic box office for seven straight weeks — the most consecutive No. 1 weekends since Cameron’s “Titanic” spent 15 weekends on top in 1997-98.
Sony’s R-rated comedy sequel starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill over-performed and DreamWorks Animation’s followup to its beloved kids film came in a little under expectations last June. That enabled undercover cops Schmidt and Jenko to blowout what was supposed to be a cliff-hanger with a whopping $57 million in their first three days, outpacing Hiccup and Toothless, who finished with $49 million.
This was an unusual matchup because both movies made young males their primary demographic target. With a huge boost from Hispanic moviegoers, who made up 32 percent of its audience, the cops-and-criminals saga staring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez and the late Paul Walker blew the doors off The Wolfpack on Memorial Day weekend in 2013. “F&F 6” sped to a massive $97.3 million for Universal while Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper staggered to $41.6 million for Warner Bros.
This Christmas Day 2012 matchup featured Quentin Tarantino’s raw slavery saga, which very much targeted males, against Universal’s big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic, which skewed almost totally female. “Les Miz” won the battle of the sexes at the multiplexes, taking in $18 million in its first day, edging out The Weinstein Company’s “Django” by $3 million. Both went on to become hits, with “Django” topping out at $425 million worldwide and “Les Miz” at $442 million.
The 21st James Bond movie — and the first to star Daniel Craig — opened to $40.8 million in November of 2006 for Sony. That was about $700,000 less than Warner Bros.’ animated kids musical took in over its first three days. That same scenario — with “Happy Feet” edging “Casino Royale” — repeated itself for the next two weekends as well. The Bond film had the last laugh in terms of worldwide grosses with nearly $600 million, well ahead of the $384 million taken in by “Happy Feet.”
The action film starring Angelina Jolie opened to $51 million in June of 2008, making it her biggest debut ever (this was pre-“Maleficent”) and at the time, the fourth-best opening ever for an R-rated movie. But it was no match for Pixar’s animated tale of robots finding love on an intergalactic escape from a trashed Earth. “WALL-E” brought in $521 million on its way to winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.