Disney may have reinvented Labor Day, but is anyone willing to take on the post-Thanksgiving weekend?
By now, we all know that SHANG-CHI broke the record for the largest Labor Day opening ever. The sheer magnitude of its success can not be overstated. Before this year, no Labor Day film had ever grossed, in total, over $60M. SHANG-CHI reached that mark in just over 48 hours of release.
Labor Day, long a dead zone, was brilliantly reinvented by Disney. But there’s one weekend that is so historically unfavorable, so stacked against success, that even a Marvel movie would have a hard time turning it around. The weekend I’m referring to is the frame immediately following the long 5-day Thanksgiving holiday. Some years it falls at the end of November. Some years, it’s the first weekend of December. Either way, it’s a wasteland.
No film on this weekend has ever opened above $20M, and only three have debuted to more than $15M. It’s easy to see why. This weekend exists as a pause between the Thanksgiving holiday and the Christmas season.
You see, the studios put some of their biggest films in late November to capitalize on the long Thanksgiving weekend. As we move towards the middle of December, the studios schedule another round of tentpoles for the period leading up to the new year.
As a result, the late November/early December window is a valley between tentpoles. But there’s another reason this is a bad weekend. While there are three or four big films that open around Thanksgiving, there can be upwards of a dozen new films that arrive during the last two weeks of the year.
The competition is simply too stiff. Even if a film debuted at #1 in early December, it could find itself outside the top 10 in less than two weeks as the onslaught of new films arrives.
Having said all that, there was one big film that opened well on this dreaded weekend. Back in 1991, STAR TREK XI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY debuted to $18.2M. Back then, that was good enough to be the 6th largest opening of the year. There was one thing working in the film’s favor that year. Thanksgiving fell very late in 1991, on November 28th, meaning there was one fewer weekend between Turkey Day and Christmas. As a result, the natural valley between holidays was much less impactful.
In 2024, Thanksgiving will once again fall on November 28th, meaning if ever there was an opportunity to make this weekend shine, it would be in three years. And, frankly, that’s the bottom line. There is no reason to think that Labor Day won’t continue to succeed in years to come, but when it comes to the post-Thanksgiving slot, the chance for success is highly dependent on when the holiday falls.
Here are a few other weekends that were re-invented by a single film.
BEGINNING OF MAY: Back on May 8, 1998, Dreamworks and Paramount released DEEP IMPACT. The film debuted to $41M, which may seem quaint by today’s standards, but it was the 2nd largest opening of 1998. While it didn’t technically open on the first weekend of the month, it did usher in May as the start of the summer box office season.
Before DEEP IMPACT, you would get the occasional hit in early May, but since then, the first week in May has been reserved for high-profile tentpoles. Over the past two decades, this weekend has been home to eight modern MCU films, three SPIDER-MAN movies, and two X-MEN films.
FIRST WEEKEND IN NOVEMBER: Animated films have a long history of succeeding during the family-friendly Thanksgiving holiday. Pixar knew that better than anyone. Their first three films — TOY STORY, A BUG’S LIFE, and TOY STORY 2 – all opened on Thanksgiving.
In 2001, however, Pixar was in a bind. Warner Bros. planted a flag on Thanksgiving to launch HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, the very first film in the hugely successful series. To give themselves some breathing room for what was sure to be a blockbuster, Pixar scheduled its fourth film, MONSTER’S INC. on November 2nd.
MONSTERS broke the record for the largest opening for a November animated film, and it started a tradition of animated films opening on the first week of November. Though there is no animated film scheduled for this weekend this year, it was a tradition that continued through 2018. Other films that have held down this spot include THE INCREDIBLES, WRECK-IT-RALPH, and DR. SEUSS’ THE GRINCH.