Does Counterprogramming Work? 11 David Vs. Goliath Box Office Stories

There are few things Hollywood movie studios do more than obsess over release dates. Amidst conflict and cooperation with other studios, they are put together years in advance like a giant jigsaw puzzle. In theory, you would think every single movie would scratch and claw to get the easiest competition possible, but sometimes, the best thing a flick can do is find the biggest, most splashy entry on the calendar and position itself as counter-programming.

This past weekend, the counterprogramming to Captain America 2 was the adorable-looking 39-minute IMAX documentary Island Of Lemurs: Madgascar. It made just under two hundred thousand dollars and was unable to crack the Top 10. For thirty-seven theaters, that was a halfway decent performance, but it certainly wasn’t enough to take any real money out of Disney’s wallet. The same cannot be said for every film counterprogrammed against superheroes, however. Some of them, surprisingly, against all odds, crushed at the box office. And some of them, of course, didn’t.

From romantic comedies to family entertainment, let’s take a look back at the films that have squared off against the biggest superhero movies over the past decade or so.

Man of Steel


This Is The End

When It Happened: June 14-June 16, 2013

The Backstory : The summer is always an extremely busy time for movies, and the middle of June is well within that window. Consequently, there are very few weekends where a moderately budgeted comedy can open without any other films competing for its adult male demographic. So, Seth Rogen and company decided the best call was simply to attack the biggest bully on the block and hope all the good buzz would be enough to get those who prefer their comedy raunchy to the theater.

What Happened:

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1.Man of Steel *$113,080,000Total: $125,080,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 4,207
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2.This is the End *$20,500,000Total: $32,800,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 3,055
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3.Now You See Me$10,320,000Total: $80,009,000LW: 3 WR: 3
THTRS: 3,082
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4.Fast & Furious 6$9,433,000Total: $219,574,000LW: 2 WR: 4
THTRS: 3,375
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5.The Purge$8,201,000Total: $51,845,000LW: 1 WR: 2
THTRS: 2,591
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6.The Internship$7,000,000Total: $30,951,000LW: 4 WR: 2
THTRS: 3,399
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7.Epic$6,000,000Total: $95,429,000LW: 5 WR: 4
THTRS: 3,151
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8.Star Trek Into Darkness$5,660,000Total: $210,491,000LW: 6 WR: 5
THTRS: 2,331
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9.After Earth$3,750,000Total: $54,200,000LW: 7 WR: 3
THTRS: 2,432
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10.Iron Man 3$2,908,000Total: $399,610,000LW: 9 WR: 7
THTRS: 1,649

Why It Happened : Man Of Steel roared into the number one slot with a gigantic take, but This Is The End actually held its own. More importantly, many of the people who went with Superman the first weekend returned to see Rogen and friends that following weekend when it made more than $13 million. Eventually, the flick was able to gross more than $100 million in North America to go along with a further $25 million plus overseas, which is pretty damn good for a movie that occasionally feels like a giant inside joke.

The Amazing Spider-Man




Katy Perry: Part Of Me

When It Happened: July 6-8, 2012

The Backstory: With Brave opening at the end of June and The Dark Knight Rises opening in mid-to-late July, Savages saw an opportunity to syphon a little money away from a new superhero franchise that wasn’t battle-tested. With a premise about marijuana and shared girlfriends, Oliver Stone and company probably thought they would have edginess going for them, and the producers of Katy Perry’s documentary probably thought they would have the teenage girl market cornered.

What Happened:

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1.The Amazing Spider-Man *$65,000,000Total: $140,000,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 4,318
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2.Ted$32,593,000Total: $120,240,000LW: 1 WR: 2
THTRS: 3,256
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3.Brave$20,162,000Total: $174,519,000LW: 3 WR: 3
THTRS: 3,891
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4.Savages (2012) *$16,162,000Total: $16,162,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 2,628
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5.Magic Mike$15,610,000Total: $72,797,000LW: 2 WR: 2
THTRS: 3,120
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6.Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection$10,200,000Total: $45,846,000LW: 4 WR: 2
THTRS: 2,161
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7.Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted$7,700,000Total: $196,020,000LW: 5 WR: 5
THTRS: 2,861
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8.Katy Perry: Part of Me *$7,150,000Total: $10,250,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 2,730
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9.Moonrise Kingdom$4,642,000Total: $26,893,000LW: 7 WR: 7
THTRS: 884
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10.To Rome with Love$3,502,000Total: $5,621,000LW: 17 WR: 3
THTRS: 806

Why It Happened: The Amazing Spider-Man won the weekend in terms of grosses, but the biggest story was actually how incredibly well Ted held up. After swearing its way to more than $50 million in its first weekend, the film held on for more than $30 million. That, coupled with an almost $20 million hold from Brave, forced all of the other flicks to fight over a pie that wasn’t nearly as juicy as expected. In the end, The Savages couldn’t even break $50 million domestically. Part Of Me made more than half of that, which given their casts, subject matters and budgets, means the former was a disappointment and the latter a raging success.

Green Lantern


Mr. Popper's Penguins

When It Happened: June 17-June 19, 2011

The Backstory : June, 2011 was a really weird month for movies. No one had any idea how JJ Abrams’ much advertised Super 8 would open on June 10, nor did they have any idea how its principle competition, the second week of X-Men: First Class would do. With Transformers 3, Deathly Hallows Part 2M and Cars 2 all coming up, however, Green Lantern and Mr. Popper’s Penguins both picked the 17th.

What Happened:

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1.Green Lantern *$52,685,000Total: $52,685,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 3,816
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2.Super 8$21,250,000Total: $72,781,000LW: 1 WR: 2
THTRS: 3,408
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3.Mr. Popper's Penguins *$18,200,000Total: $18,200,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 3,339
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4.X-Men: First Class$11,500,000Total: $119,925,000LW: 2 WR: 3
THTRS: 3,375
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5.The Hangover Part II$9,635,000Total: $232,674,000LW: 3 WR: 4
THTRS: 3,460
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6.Kung Fu Panda 2$8,700,000Total: $143,343,000LW: 4 WR: 4
THTRS: 3,469
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7.Bridesmaids$7,487,000Total: $136,840,000LW: 6 WR: 6
THTRS: 2,573
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8.Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides$6,236,000Total: $220,337,000LW: 5 WR: 5
THTRS: 2,742
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9.Midnight in Paris$5,237,000Total: $21,799,000LW: 8 WR: 5
THTRS: 1,038
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10.Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer$2,241,000Total: $11,167,000LW: 7 WR: 2
THTRS: 2,524

Why It Happened : Well, the fact that you haven’t seen a sequel to either of these movies should offer some kind of clue. Mr. Popper was eventually able to return a tidy profit on its initial investment, but Green Lantern barely made back its budget when you include foreign sales, as well. For a superhero movie to be considered a success, it can’t just win is weekend. It needs to absolutely dominate. It needs to suck as many dollars out of the marketplace as possible because it gets to keep a large percentage of those dollars, and a big splashy win can generate momentum and create more big splashy weekends to follow. That obviously didn’t happen here.



Jumping the Broom


Something Borrowed

When It Happened: May 6- May 8, 2011

The Backstory : OMG. Why would two movies want to open against Marvel? Well, at this point, Marvel wasn’t exactly the Marvel we know now. The first two Iron Man flicks had already crushed, but it still wasn’t clear whether Kevin Feige and company would be able to translate that success into a larger brand that would support big, splashy openings. Perhaps more importantly, it still wasn’t clear whether women would want to come out and support an adaptation of a comic book most of them had never read. So, two romantic comedies jumped into the fray, hoping they could grab a corner of the market and do some real business.

What Happened:

Box Office for the Weekend Of May 6 – 8, 2011

WR = Weeks In Release | LW = Position Last Week

1. Thor *

WEEKEND: $66,000,000 | TOTAL: $66,000,000 | WR: 1 | LW: N/A

2. Fast Five

WEEKEND: $32,519,000 | TOTAL: $139,853,000 | WR: 2 | LW: 1

3. Jumping the Broom *

WEEKEND: $13,700,000 | TOTAL: $13,700,000 | WR: 1 | LW: N/A

4. Something Borrowed *

WEEKEND: $13,155,000 | TOTAL: $13,155,000 | WR: 1 | LW: N/A

5. Rio

WEEKEND: $8,200,000 | TOTAL: $114,902,000 | WR: 4 | LW: 2

6. Water for Elephants

WEEKEND: $5,600,000 | TOTAL: $41,614,000 | WR: 3 | LW: 4

7. Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family

WEEKEND: $3,900,000 | TOTAL: $46,806,000 | WR: 3 | LW: 3

8. Prom

WEEKEND: $2,425,000 | TOTAL: $7,800,000 | WR: 2 | LW: 5

9. Soul Surfer

WEEKEND: $2,100,000 | TOTAL: $36,679,000 | WR: 5 | LW: 7

10. Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil

WEEKEND: $1,880,000 | TOTAL: $6,714,000 | WR: 2 | LW: 6

Why It Happened : Buoyed by really good reviews and a surprisingly good trailer, Thor opened really big. Jumping The Broom also over-performed, turning Paula Patton into a rising star and offering studios further evidence that people would show up to support minority-led flicks. Something Borrowed, however, was a bit more of a disappointment. It offered further evidence that John Krasinski might not be as big of a draw as Office fans hoped, and for Kate Hudson, well, it was just more bad news.

Green Hornet


The Dilemma

When It Happened: January 14-January 16, 2011

The Backstory : Wait, what the hell is the difference between Green Hornet and Green Lantern? How many times did we hear that in late 2010? A lot. Neither one of the two was exactly a huge property, but studios were hoping something could be made of each. Here, Green Lantern, errr no, Green Hornet, was turned over to Seth Rogen in hopes he could craft an interesting and original franchise that appealed to a younger base. The Dilemma, on the other hand, elected for more serious subject matter and banked on the combination of Vince Vaughn and director Howard appealing to older audiences.

What Happened:

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1.The Green Hornet *$34,000,000 -Total: $34,000,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 3,584
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2.The Dilemma *$17,419,000 -Total: $17,419,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 2,940
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3.True Grit$11,200,000 -Total: $126,412,000LW: 1 WR: 4
THTRS: 3,459
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4.The King's Speech$9,070,000 -Total: $44,595,000LW: 9 WR: 8
THTRS: 1,543
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5.Black Swan$8,125,000 -Total: $72,993,000LW: 5 WR: 7
THTRS: 2,328
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6.Little Fockers$7,138,000 -Total: $134,224,000LW: 2 WR: 4
THTRS: 3,394
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7.Tron Legacy$5,674,000 -Total: $156,913,000LW: 4 WR: 5
THTRS: 2,439
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8.Yogi Bear$5,345,000 -Total: $82,095,000LW: 8 WR: 5
THTRS: 2,702
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9.The Fighter$5,125,000 -Total: $65,770,000LW: 7 WR: 6
THTRS: 2,414
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10.Season of the Witch$4,500,000 -Total: $17,998,000LW: 3 WR: 2
THTRS: 2,827

Why It Happened : Neither one of these movies generated nearly as much buzz as hoped. The Green Lantern mildly amused fans and was able to go a little north of $200 million before it was done, but I’m not sure anyone in the entire world spent very much time advocating for a sequel. Years from now, it will be remembered as a curious experiment that didn’t totally work. For The Dilemma, the results were a little worse. The film never made back its initial budget, and for the first time, people started really questioning whether Vince Vaughn’s best days were behind him, a theory that has only added more and more evidence as the years have passed.

Iron Man 2



When It Happened: May 7-May 9, 2010

The Backstory : Everyone knew Iron Man 2 was going to blow a science-sized, badass hole into the world’s wallet when it opened. Love for the first film was almost universal, and we were all remembering why we fell in love with Robert Downey Jr before he went off the drug rails back in the day. As such, there weren't really a lot of demographics to go after from a counter-programming standpoint, except for the middle-aged women who like to say "awwww" grouping. Enter Babies, the most adorable movie ever released, this side of Island Of Lemurs.

What Happened:

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1.Iron Man 2 *$133,600,000 -Total: $133,600,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 4,380
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2.A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)$9,170,000 -Total: $48,530,000LW: 1 WR: 2
THTRS: 3,332
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3.How to Train Your Dragon$6,760,000 -Total: $201,093,000LW: 2 WR: 7
THTRS: 3,003
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4.Date Night$5,300,000 -Total: $80,854,000LW: 3 WR: 5
THTRS: 2,734
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5.The Back-Up Plan$4,345,000 -Total: $29,415,000LW: 4 WR: 3
THTRS: 3,003
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6.Furry Vengeance$4,000,000 -Total: $11,621,000LW: 5 WR: 2
THTRS: 3,002
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7.Clash of the Titans (2010)$2,305,000 -Total: $157,808,000LW: 7 WR: 6
THTRS: 2,157
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8.Death at a Funeral (2010)$2,100,000 -Total: $38,323,000LW: 9 WR: 4
THTRS: 1,706
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9.The Losers$1,800,000 -Total: $21,450,000LW: 6 WR: 3
THTRS: 2,450
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10.Babies *$1,575,000 -Total: $1,575,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 534

Why It Happened : Apart from Iron Man 2, not a single film was able to make more than $10 million at the box office. Tony Stark completely and utterly dominated all comers, including poor Babies that was almost completely swept away amidst the crazy superhero storm. That being said, the movie held pretty well through subsequent weeks and was able to generate almost $10 million, which was probably a healthy little profit considering how cheap it likely was to make.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine


Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

When It Happened: May 1-May 3, 2009

The Backstory : Holy Jesus! Remember when Matthew McConaughey used to make movies like Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past? This was less than five years ago. He seriously read this script and committed. Now, he wouldn’t take this movie for $25 million. I’m not sure if it’s more amazing how time flies or how many X-Men movies Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine has been in. Jesus. Despite some problems with piracy, Fox still felt great about Wolverine opening big here, but Warner Bros was confident they might be able to attract some who weren’t interested in the franchise.

What Happened:

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1.X-Men Origins: Wolverine *$87,000,000 - Total: $87,000,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 4,099
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2.Ghosts of Girlfriends Past *$15,325,000 - Total: $15,325,000LW: N WR: 1
THTRS: 3,175
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3.Obsessed$12,200,000 - Total: $47,002,000LW: 1 WR: 2
THTRS: 2,514
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4.17 Again$6,355,000 - Total: $48,497,000LW: 2 WR: 3
THTRS: 3,255
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5.Monsters Vs. Aliens$5,800,000 - Total: $182,405,000LW: 6 WR: 6
THTRS: 2,626
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6.The Soloist$5,600,000 - Total: $18,108,000LW: 4 WR: 2
THTRS: 2,033
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7.Earth (2009)$4,184,000 - Total: $21,848,000LW: 5 WR: 2
THTRS: 1,804
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8.Fighting$4,173,000 - Total: $17,507,000LW: 3 WR: 2
THTRS: 2,312
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9.Hannah Montana The Movie$4,075,000 - Total: $70,857,000LW: 8 WR: 4
THTRS: 2,819
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10.State of Play$3,655,000 - Total: $30,883,000LW: 7 WR: 3
THTRS: 2,445

Why It Happened : Jackman took those claws and absolutely laid into the box office en route to almost $400,000,000, but in a bizarre twist of fate, reviews were so mediocre and audience reaction was so blah, Fox decided to turn the franchise over to a completely different team to basically act like this film never happened. As for Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past, it actually did pretty well (+$100,000,000), but I’d like to think it’s aggressive mediocrity did something to open McConaughey’s eyes and decide to actually maximize all of his talent.

The Dark Knight


Mamma Mia!


Space Chimps

When It Happened: July 18-July 20, 2008

The Backstory : This is almost shocking in retrospect. Easily the most universally beloved superhero movie of the past few decades opened up against two films with real budgets. Mammia Mia is actually super enjoyable too. It’s crazy to think they didn’t find another weekend, but regardless, I guess the thought process here was women would willingly abandon Heath Ledger’s final movie and Batman rolled into one splashy ball in favor of a musical.

What Happened:

1) The Dark Knight ($158,411,483)

2) Mamma Mia ($27,751,240)

7) Space Chimps ($7,181,374)

Why It Happened : You could search long and hard and I’m not sure how many weekends you could find with 2 debuting films that both made more than $600,000,000 at the world box office. That almost seems like a Jeopardy trivia question to me, but I suppose it proves one universal truth about the box office, one that may be hammered home on May 6, 2016. If two movies are good enough, the average person will go out of their way to see both. They might not double feature it on Friday, but they’ll go the next night or the next weekend.

Spider-Man 3


Lucky You

When It Happened: May 4-May 6, 2007

The Backstory : Spider-Man was an extremely well-established franchise at this point, and no one really wanted to go near it. Warner Bros, however, had almost no confidence in Lucky You; so, the powers that be decided to quietly dump it here without a ton of advertising support and absent any momentum at all. I guess they thought making it disappear would be better than actually trying and failing.

What Happened:

1) Spider-Man 3 ($151,116,516)

6) Lucky You ($2,710,445)

Why It Happened : Following the release of grittier and dark superhero stories, many opinions on Spider-Man 3 would be revised a little bit, but at the time, many were ready to declare the film the best the genre had ever offered. It took in more than $800,000,000 at the global box office and was a raging success on pretty much every front. Lucky You was a spectacular failure and couldn’t even make back 1/5th of its budget. In fact, I bet a pretty high percentage of people have completely forgotten the film even exists.

Superman Returns


The Devil Wears Prada

When It Happened: June 30-July 2, 2006

The Backstory : Thanks to the good will built up by The Usual Suspects and his work on the X-Men franchise, most people thought Bryan Singer was the man to introduce Superman to an entirely new generation. In theory, he offered a perfect balance of craftsmanship and mass appeal, but Fox obviously wasn’t so sure. Studio executives didn’t think Singer would be able to corner the female demographic; so, they slotted Devil Wears Prada against it and the second weekend for Adam Sandler’s Click.

What Happened:

1) Superman Returns ($52,535,096)

2) The Devil Wears Prada ($27,537,244)

Why It Happened : Superman Returns got really good reviews, but it just never got up and flew as expected. The numbers weren’t embarrassing or anything, but they weren’t enough to let Singer continue with the franchise. The Devil Wears Prada, on the other hand, over-performed and wound up taking home almost as much money as the superhero offering in global gross. As always, never, ever underestimate Meryl Streep. She’s never been afraid of any role. Why would she be afraid of Superman?

Blade 2


E.T. 20th Anniversary


Sorority Boys

When It Happened: March 22-March 24, 2002

The Backstory: The first Blade did extremely well at the box office, but with an R-Rating and extremely violent sensibilities, its sequel wasn’t expected to be a big draw with families. So, producers decided to put E.T. back into theaters, hoping to attract all of the families who had already taken their kids to see Ice Age, released one week prior. God only knows who thought teenage boys would rather go see Sorority Boys than Blade 2, but with a pretty small budget, Buena Vista had plenty of margin for error.

What Happened:

1) Blade II ($32,528,016)

3) E.T. ($14,223,110)

8) Sorority Boys ($4,127,903)

Why It Happened: The Blade franchise is awesome. I really hope Marvel is able to get complete control back from New Line because a re-imagined look at that world could be incredible. Regardless, the Wesley Snipes-led movies always performed at the box office, and round 2 was no exception. It was able to win the weekend here, despite an impressive second week performance from Ice Age. For being a re-release, E.T. also did extremely well, further lining everyone involved’s pockets.

Mack Rawden
Editor In Chief

Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, a great wrestling promo and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.