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2001 20th Anniversary: A Summer Like No Other

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Time to feel old. Hard to believe that we are upon the 20th anniversary of the summer of 2001, the time where it seemed the opening weekend record was being challenged every other week and the record books were completely rewritten. What an incredible spring & summer that year was. The summer box office explosion sparked my personal interest in the film business and it remains strong to this day. 

For context, the opening weekend record at the time was $72 million. held by THE LOST WORLD from 1997. Yes, EPISODE 1 - which opened on a Wednesday to $105m 5 day gross - would have beaten it had it the standard 3 day opening. INDEPENDENCE DAY's $96 million Wed-Sunday gross in 1996 also could have topped $72m had it opened on a Friday.

Coming into 2001, the top 10 opening weekends looked like this:
1. Lost World: Jurassic Park - $72 million
2. Star Wars - Episode 1: $64 million 
3. Mission Impossible 2: $57.8m
4. Toy Story 2: $57.3 million
5. The Grinch: $55.2 million
6. The Spy Who Shagged Me: $54.9 million 
7. X-Men: $54.5 million
8. Batman Forever: $52.8 million
9. Men In Black: $51.1 million
10. Independence Day: $50.2 million

Enter 2001:

2/9: Hannibal - $58 million
The long-awaited sequel to the instant classic Silence of the Lambs. The return of Hannibal Lecter + the promise of a larger scale picture causes this movie to utterly blow up. Word of mouth wasn't great (it wouldn't be alone here) and film promptly tanked in the following weeks, and also sabotaged much of the hype that had previously surrounded 2002's RED DRAGON but with the 3rd largest opening in history - with an R rating no less - nobody could complain.  

5/4: The Mummy Returns - $68 million
The highly-anticipated sequel to 1999's breakout smash hit THE MUMMY over-performed big time, opening to the tune of the 2nd largest opening weekend ever. Featuring THE ROCK in his first screen role, hype for this was massive. Given the massive response, it's puzzling The Mummy 3 was not green lit that weekend and instead wouldn't be released for another 7 years when Pirates had clearly stolen the Mummy's adventure thunder. 

5/18: Shrek - $43 million
The combination of "still new" CG animation plus the team-up of megastars Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz - alongside unexpected stellar reviews - caused this film to explode upon opening. Unlike seemingly every other film that summer, its reception was excellent and legs were incredible. In a summer full of expensive sequels, adaptions and remakes this dark horse family friendly film beat them all and spawned an immensely successful film series.

5/25: Pearl Harbor - $59.1/$75.5 million holiday 4 day 
The most media-hyped film of summer 2001 was mega-budgeted Pearl Harbor from blockbuster kings Bruckheimer and Bay. So anticipated was this movie that even though it was 3+ hour long, horribly-reviewed movie about WW2, it was the 4th highest opener ever and still is, to this day, the last "original" film to open in the top 5 of all time. This movie marked the start of Ben Affleck overload (rehab stint 1 followed this movies release) while scene-stealing Josh Hartnett became an overnight superstar (pretty sure Bay had a crush on him during filming) who would promptly abandon Hollywood. The movie was a bit more popular with audiences than critics but fell quickly in proceeding weeks though it did leave a sizable pop culture foot print.

6/15: Lara Croft - $47 million
Angelina Jolie's truly star making role. Once again, word of mouth stunk and the film tanked in following weeks, but this opening opened eyes (in more ways than one) and caused Jolie to instantly becoming Hollywood's number 1 blockbuster actress.

6/22: The Fast & The Furious - $40 million
What is there to say other than back in 2001, WHO THE FUCK WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THIS SERIES WOULD STILL BE GOING (in outer space no less) 20 YEARS LATER? Vin Diesel was the films breakout star and would promptly be elevated to superstar status, single-handily turning 2002's XXX into a blockbuster film and opting out the films sequel, 2003's 2 Fast 2 Furious. 

6/29: AI - $29 million
It took 6 months for the year to have a true disappointment at the box office. The Speilberg / Haley Joel Osment (fresh of SIXTH SENSE) / Jude Law (back when he was hot shit) team up film didn't come close to financial expectation and suffered a swift decline in the following weeks. 

7/13: Legally Blonde - $20m
Though not a blockbuster by any stretch, this was a dramatic over performance and launched Reese Witherspoon into the 200s superstar she became. 

7/20: Jurassic Park 3 - $50.1 million
Suffering from so-so word of mouth of 1997's LOST WORLD and a stale premise, the film opening sharply lower than its predecessor but still resulted in crammed cinemas on opening weekend. The 14th largest opener at the time is nothing to sneeze at, though it's less-than-enthusiastic response would cause the series to go dormant for 14 years until 2015's JURASSIC WORLD would capitalize on early 1990's nostalgia and explode upon arrival. 

7/27: Planet of the apes - $68.5 million
The ultra-hyped remake from the director of Batman and Sleepy Hollow starring Marky Mark - fresh of PERFORM STORM success the previous summer - exploded upon release. Defying the movie optimistic of expectations, the movie launched with the 2nd highest opening day ever which caused brief rumors that it would top LOST WORLD and claim the weekend record. Poor word of mouth caused sharper than expected declines during Saturday and Sunday and final result came in at $68.5. Fox announced sequels that were never to be due to the films so-so reception.

8/3: Rush Hour 2 - $67.5 million
It must have been nice to be a theater owner at this point. Fresh off the incredible reception of 1998s Rush Hour, this movie exploded upon a release - a comedy as the highest openings ever. So popular was the film that is managed to convince Chris Tucker that he should only work for $20 million a film! As with seemingly every other film from this summer aside from Shrek, word of mouth was less than great and despite the films financial success, no sequel was rushed and it would be 6 more years until Tucker and Chan would appear on screen together again.

8/10: American Pie 2 - $45.5 million
The sequel to 1999s teen comedy classic blew up on opening weekend, becoming a true must-see film for the 16-24 demographic. Once again, word of mouth wasn't great and the film quickly dropped. It did receive a quick sequel in 2003, but the hype wasn't even close to this one and series would go mostly straight to video from this point. 

As summer ended, the record books looked completely different. The era of frontloading and franchising was officially underway. Big winners of the summer were The Rock, Josh Hartnett, Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon and Vin Diesel. In the long run, the staying power belongs almost solely to The Rock and the Fast and Furious franchises. Josh Hartnett was just a kid at the time and fled the spotlight not long after, Jolie and Witherspoon would have some successes but ultimately be a bit more famous then their box office performance would cause one to believe, and Vin Diesel thought he was too good for F&F and XXX series and his career died for a while as a result. Meanwhile, series like The Mummy, Jurassic Park, Apes and Rush Hour went into periods of stagnation despite their financial success. 


2001 was a year full of very interesting actors and eagerly awaited projects that, in most cases, resulted in unfulfilled potential.

1. Lost World: Jurassic Park - $72 million
2. Planet of the Apes - $68.5 million
3. The Mummy Returns - $68 million
4. Rush Hour 2 - $67.5 million

5. Star Wars - Episode 1: $64 million 
6. Pearl Harbor - $59.1 million
7. Hannibal - $58 million 

8. Mission Impossible 2: $57.8m
9. Toy Story 2: $57.3 million
10. The Grinch: $55.2 million

Edited by excel1
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