What Were The First Movies To Open To Over $100 Million Domestically?

"Spider-Man" Premiere
"Spider-Man" Premiere / Steve Granitz/GettyImages

In 2019, five movies alone opened to $100+ million. The year before, six motion pictures exceeded $100+ million on their domestic opening weekends. Even in 2023, five different films each cracked that $100+ million domestic opening weekend mark. As of this writing, 76 movies have grossed $100+ million on their respective domestic opening weekends. Considering all these titles were released from May 2002 onward, that's a lot of moneymakers in just 22 years time. Today, it's still notable when a movie cracks $100 million on opening weekend. However, it's far from unprecedented and each year is expected to deliver multiple $100+ million domestic openers. What was once a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence is now a box office landscape norm.

But what about those fateful days when $100+ million domestic openers were “a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence”? Throughout the 2000s, it was still rare for a motion picture to hit nine-digit grosses in its first three days of release. That wasn’t that long ago yet it feels like a whole other lifetime compared to modern box office norms. Long before the days of a movie opening to $350+ million in its opening weekend, what were the first movies to open to $100+ million domestically? Better yet, what kind of box office landscape did those historical films debut in?

Let's go back to the early 2000s, a bleak era for mainstream pop culture as Lifehouse and Uncle Kracker dominated the radio airwaves. TV viewers couldn't get enough of The King of Queens. As for theatrical moviegoing, it was on the cusp of a revolution. Everyone was on pins and needles waiting to see when a movie would hit $100+ million on opening weekend domestically. Many recent blockbusters had come close, but they'd just missed the mark thanks to opening before Friday. The Phantom Menace, for instance, opened on a Wednesday in May 1999. That diluted the amount of folks who'd show up over its subsequent 3-day opening weekend. Its $64.8 million three-day bow was massive by May 1999 standards...but it wasn't $100+ million.

In November 2001, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone opened to $90.2 million. This massive sum didn’t just dethrone The Lost World: Jurassic Park as the new biggest domestic opening weekend in history at that point. It was also the first time ever a movie made $80+ million (let alone $90+ million) over its domestic bow. If reaching $90+ million was possible…$100+ million had to be in sight. Before the summer of 2002 began, nobody thought that a new Sam Raimi movie named Spider-Man would be the one to break that record. A few weeks before Spidey swung into theaters, Entertainment Weekly published a piece breaking down how Spider-Man and Attack of the Clones were going head-to-head in May 2002. Writer Brian Hiatt reported in the piece that "box-office analysis firm ReelSource predicts that Spider-Man will gross between $225 and $250 million, while Attack of the Clones will gross at least $350 million."

Even with hits like X-Men and Blade in the preceding years, Marvel Comics movie adaptations were still considered persona non grata by many circa. 2002. However, that perception would instantly shatter when Spider-Man hit theaters. Entertainment Weekly would put it best just two weeks later when Spider-Man grossed $114 million on its opening weekend: "These are numbers that nobody saw coming." The promise of finally seeing Spider-Man, the most popular Marvel character for decades, in a massive well-received blockbuster had come to pass. People were lining up in droves to see this feature. History had been made and the nine-digit mark was crushed in just three days. Movie theater owners rejoiced across the nation. No other movie came close to the $100 million mark in 2002 (Attack of the Clones opened to $80 million), but the excitement was still brewing for the future in Tinseltown. If one movie had cracked $100 million, more would do the same.

2003 came and went, with the movie coming closest to a $100+ million opening weekend being The Matrix Reloaded. That title opened on a Thursday, where it made $37.5 million in one day. If Warner Bros. had opted for a Friday launch of that feature, it almost certainly would have cracked $100+ million. It would take until the following May for another movie to finally join Spider-Man in the $100+ million domestic openers club.  Before its opening, Shrek 2 was projected to have a domestic total just south of $300 million. That haul wouldn’t necessarily have required a $100+ million domestic launch. Immediately, though, Shrek 2 launched to a much bigger number than anyone imagined. With $108 million in its first three-day bow, Shrek 2 was a monster hit.

Shrek 2 was yet another early 2000s blockbuster that opened on a Wednesday, which added $21 million to its domestic run. For a moment, it looked like Spider-Man’s wielding of that opening weekend box office record was as much about opening on Friday (thus consolidating all cash into the three-day opening weekend) as anything else. However, Shrek 2’s gargantuan opening was still staggering. By the end of 2004, no other title that year cracked $100+ million on opening weekend. Spider-Man 2 and the third Harry Potter movie each opened in the $88-93 million range, but that wasn't enough to crack nine digits on opening weekend. In 2005, two more movies entered the $100+ million club: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (which had a $108.4 million opening narrowly exceeding Shrek 2's debut) and the $102.6 million premiere of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

When Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest broke Spider-Man’s opening weekend record with a $136 million bow in July 2006, it was still only the fifth movie in history to crack $100+ million domestically on opening weekend. Four years after Spider-Man, the $100+ million domain was still a rarified club. The nine-digit opener realm became a little bit less exclusive in May 2007, when a trio of titles (Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) all opened to $100+ million over four weekends. 2005 and 2006 were previously the only years in history to house multiple $100+ million openers. May 2007 would be the first time multiple $100+ million debuts occurred in just one month.

A single month could now hold a trio of $100+ million domestic openings. A new box office era had well and truly dawned. Meanwhile, the $151 million debut of Spider-Man 3 offered a new pinnacle for North American box office debuts. It wasn’t just $100+ million studios were after, it was $150+ million debuts. What most impacted the perception of $100+ million openers, though, was that movies could now open in this realm and still be deemed “disappointments.” By the end of May 2007, Reuters published a piece talking about how the trio of May 2007 movies had scored massive openings. However, this outlet somberly observed that they were also incredibly frontloaded productions indicating "that big-budget sequels may be losing their allure” to audiences.

In hindsight, this piece is a bit of amusingly fear-mongering clickbait (the negative audience word-of-mouth informed us why these titles fell off sharply after the opening weekend). However, the piece was right that the frontloaded nature of these three titles did suggest a new status quo for $100+ million openers. Before 2007, only six movies had debuted to nine-digit figure hauls. Four of those movies had cracked $380+ million domestically, and three of them had gone on to $400+ million hauls. Such grosses made titles like Shrek 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest among the biggest movies in history up to that point. Opening to $100+ million seemed to automatically pave the road for a new summer blockbuster to reach the box office heights of E.T. and Star Wars. X-Men: The Last Stand and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire were the only pre-2007 exceptions to that rule.

May 2007 didn’t necessarily “burst the bubble” since all three of the blockbusters that month each exceeded $300 million domestically.  However, it did puncture a perception that a $100+ million debut would instantly make every feature something for the all-time record books. Heck, Spider-Man 3 opened to $151 million, the first debut weekend in history to exceed $150 million. It still couldn’t crack $350 million in its domestic run. An opening weekend thought of as impossible as late as six years earlier no longer ensured a long life in theaters. Needless to say, May 2007 was the turning point for the $100+ million opener.

The remainder of the 2000s would bring four more $100+ million openers. November 2009's The Twilight Saga: New Moon secured the third-biggest opening weekend in history up to that point. However, it joined The Last Stand and Goblet of Fire as only the third $100+ million domestic opener to make less than $300 million domestically. The 2010s brought four $100+ million openers, a record for a single year. That year's ubiquity of $100+ million debuts, not to mention Alice in Wonderland establishing a precedent for March titles to secure nine-digit bows, further diluted the $100+ million opener’s specialness. These openings could happen anytime, anywhere. Iron Man 2 could debut at $128 million and the pop culture zeitgeist barely registered it.

Further diluting the specialness of such bows was that the overall domestic opening weekend record didn’t last long anymore. The Lost World: Jurassic Park held the domestic opening weekend record for nearly five years before Sorcerer's Stone appeared. Spider-Man held onto that crown for four years. Dead Man's Chest, meanwhile, couldn't even seize that record for an entire 12 months. Ditto Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. A new high for North American openings was being reached on a near-annual basis. The days of Spider-Man’s 2002 opening weekend leaving everyone agog were firmly a thing of the past. What was once unprecedented was now another Thursday in Hollywood.

However, the long-term impact of these opening weekends being possible was profoundly felt in Hollywood shifting its release date priorities. Before the mid-2000s, many Hollywood blockbusters opened on a Thursday or Wednesday, especially if they opened in the summer. However, all the positive buzz drummed up by $100+ million openers inspired studios to abandon this approach. A nine-digit opening could prove elusive if a title burned off demand before Friday, as the first two Star Wars prequels and The Matrix Reloaded proved. Thus, movies began focusing on just the weekend. Unless a new feature was opening over Thanksgiving, 4th of July, or Christmas weekend, it was firmly opening on a Friday. Shrek the Third didn't debut on Wednesday like its predecessor. The final two Harry Potter installments dropped on Fridays. Only one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe features (Spider-Man: Far From Home) didn't open on a Friday. The possibility of securing a $100+ million domestic bow was so great that it upended how Hollywood released its biggest movies.

In an amusing bit of historical symmetry, almost exactly ten years after Spider-Man became the first $100+ million domestic opener, The Avengers scored the first $200+ million opening weekend. It was a staggering achievement that once again solidified how much the box office landscape had changed in just a short period of time. As late as 2001, box office pundits waited with bated breath on whether or not any movie could make $100+ million. Now $350+ million domestic opening weekends are possible. What was once impossible is now common. Such is the chaotic unpredictability of the domestic box office landscape. Even so, there's still something fascinating about looking back at the 2000s various opening weekend accomplishments. This was a moment where it felt like history was being made every day. A $100+ million opener like Shrek 2 or Spider-Man still felt like something special that didn't happen every day. The possibilities for how many people could show up to the movies seemed endless. These box office trailblazers broke the mold in a fashion that's still reverberating into the modern world...and not just because we're still making new Shrek and Spider-Man movies!

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