What Was The Biggest Month In History at the Domestic Box Office?

Zookeeper Los Angeles Premiere - Red Carpet
Zookeeper Los Angeles Premiere - Red Carpet / Lester Cohen/GettyImages

A lot can change in one month. For the domestic box office, that’s especially true. One strong month of moviegoing can turn everything around. A dismal year at the domestic box office that previously inspired people to announce movie theaters were dead can suddenly become prosperous simply due to an April or May bringing in the big bucks. June 2024 has been a great example of that phenomenon. At the start of the month, 2024 was running 26% behind the domestic box office haul of 2023 at the same point. Two weeks later, Inside Out 2’s massive overperformance has cut that figure down to 21%. A great gap still exists between 2024 and 2023. However, the gulf between the two years decreased by 5% before an exceedingly lucrative month of moviegoing was even finished.

Yes, one month can be very important for the box office. But what monthly box office gross put all others to shame? What is the highest-grossing single month at the domestic box office? That honor belongs to July 2011 with a staggering $1,394,775,988 haul.

The month of July 2011 was an absolutely hopping month led by the final Harry Potter installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. That title secured what was, at the time, the biggest domestic opening weekend in history. Cracking $169 million over the weekend, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was the first movie in history exceed $160 million in its first three days of release. By July 31st, it secured $318 million domestically, a massive haul narrowly making it (at the time) the biggest Harry Potter movie domestically.

For the rest of the 2010s, any potential big record-breaking movie would be given lots and lots of breathing room. Captain America: Civil War’s second weekend competition, for example was merely Money Monster. Avengers: Endgame squared off against Long Shot in its second frame. Top Gun: Maverick, meanwhile, had no major studio newcomers to contend with in its second weekend. This release strategy reflects how major studios are making fewer movies annually than they did in 2011. It’s also a manuever that lets franchises weild a worrisome level of omnipresence in the theatrical space.

By contrast, July 2011 was so massive as a month because nobody really got out of the way of this last Harry Potter movie. In its second weekend, Captain America: The First Avenger (which contributed just over $117 million to the month) premiered in theaters as did Friends With Benefits. By its third weekend, Cowboys & Aliens and The Smurfs were each opening to over $35 million a-piece. Compare that to March 2022, when The Batman opened to huge numbers but then no new major studio releases dropped in the following two weeks. You need a lot of different movies to make a lucrative month at the domestic box office, not just one boy wizard.

Kicking off July 2011 was the second-biggest movie of the summer, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Technically debuting in the final two days of June 2011, this Michael Bay directorial effort conjured up a massive $273.2 million for the domestic box office in July 2011. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was a dismal movie, but it clearly didn't ward away people from giving the saga another chance. Also providing hefty grosses for the month were fellow early July 2011 releases Zookeeper and Horrible Bosses, the latter of which grossed $96.2 million in the month. In this month, you could either see giant robots decimate Chicago or a gorilla voiced by Nick Nolte wax poetic on his desire to go to T.G.I. Friday’s. There was truly something for everyone at your local multiplex.

Even the “flops” of the month put many modern flops to shame. Larry Crowne's $35.1 million haul would be the envy of many failed adult programmers today, for instance. Winnie the Pooh flopped thanks to a staggeringly miscalculated decision to open it against the last Harry Potter movie. However, its domestic run still added $22 million to July 2011. Holdovers from the first two months of summer 2011, meanwhile, drummed up some solid business. Cars 2, for instance, revved up another $91.1 million while Super 8 kept the cameras rolling to score another $24.4 million.

The staggering box office numbers of July 2011 weren’t just because of exceptional scheduling. It was inevitable that July would be the biggest month in history at the domestic box office given how consistently lucrative this portion of the summer is. July is the only month in history to ever score a monthly haul above $1.35 billion. July 2016, 2013, and 2023 (the latter occurring thanks to that Barbenheimer phenomenon) all crossed that threshold. Not even December, one of the biggest moviegoing months of the year, has ever delivered a single monthly gross exceeding $1.35 billion!

July’s uniquely profitable status is thanks to a combination of factors. For one, certain studios have consistently turned to July as a launchpad for long-term franchises. Warner Bros., for instance, constantly used mid-July for a decade as a launchpad for various Harry Potter and Christopher Nolan movies. Marvel Studios has also often utilized the first and second weekend of July to debut big new blockbusters. The 4th of July weekend often belongs to a fresh Illumination blockbuster. Then there’s the fact that July is the one month of the summer when nearly all young people are off from school, not to mention that the month kicks off with the 4th of July weekend. All these factors make July an exceedingly profitable place to debut new movies. No wonder the biggest month ever at the domestic box office is a July!

Historically, July 2011 having that honor is especially fascinating because 2011 was a bit of a difficult year for the box office. The first four months of the year were especially dire thanks to a poor slate of new movies and a lack of variety in the films offered. Writer Mark Harris even penned a GQ piece in February 2011 entitled “The Day The Movies Died” declaring that the American film industry was struggling from a lack of innovation and originality. 2011 would eventually rebound a bit to $10.1 billion. At the time, that was the third-biggest yearly domestic haul in history. However, it was a 4% decline from 2010's box office haul and the lowest yearly gross of the 2010s.

Considering 2011’s financial woes that led to especially dreary months at the box office like October and January 2011, it’s astonishing to realize the year also produced the biggest month ever at the domestic box office. A year that was often a drought for movie theater owners also delivered a July that hit a new monthly peak for domestic box office numbers (albeit not in attendance). It’s a factoid reflecting just how complicated and unpredictable the domestic box office landscape can be. Goodness knows we’re all remembering that now as Inside Out 2 and Bad Boys: Ride or Die salvage the 2024 yearly box office. Only time will tell if July 2024 comes anywhere close to the massive numbers put up by that historically significant month of July 2011.