• Box Office

World Box Office, July 4, 2020: Looking Back

The 4th of July has always brought big-time fun for Americans and big money for Hollywood. This year the USA, more so than the rest of the world, finds itself mired in an uncertain battle with the deadly Coronavirus. The old American tradition of spending a few hours beating the summer heat in an air-conditioned theater with family and friends on either side and a cold 48 oz. soft drink in hand took a hiatus this year. ComScore, the film industry’s leading sales tracking service, hasn’t even bothered publishing box office results since mid-April given that the median weekly attendance at theaters around the world was and still is zero. Or very close to it.

Looking back through the years at happier summers, the 4th of July weekend has played host to some major gate receipts led by films that won’t soon be forgotten by the millions of people that went out to see them.

The highest ever gross over the holiday period was set by Despicable Me 2 back in 2013. Universal’s second entry in the now ten-year running series scored a then series high of $85 million in the US in its July holiday opening frame. So far Me 2 is the only one of the four films in the franchise to open in this period, but if things get back to normal next year then we’ll see if Minions 2: The Rise of Gru can top that take when it opens July 2, 2021.

Next on the list is an unforgettable film that has had a great influence on modern cinema. Michael Bay’s monumentally budgeted and infinitely explosive CGI extravaganza Transformers first hit theaters way back in July 2007 and went on to finish the weekend with $70.5 million on its way to a $709 million worldwide gross (and that’s before most papers were bothering to track sales in China!) That summer’s undisputed box office champion still sets the tone for mega-hits to this day. It set the bar in a pyrotechnical arms race that has left studios jostling to cram more stars, more explosions, bigger bad guys, and even more exotic locations into their summer superhits ever since. 13 years later, audiences are still feeling the Michael Bay effect and showing up for their semi-annual Transformers fix.

4th of July was a special time for popular cinema also in the mid-’90s. Starting in 1995, the holiday period played host to openings of three films in a row that in some ways defined the era. Frist in 1995 Universal released Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, a movie that pushed the boundaries for cinema set in outer space in a way that hadn’t been done since 2001: A Space Odyssey dazzled audiences in 1968. Tom Hanks starred along with Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton as the crew of NASA’s near-tragic aborted lunar landing mission. It earned $25.3 million that weekend on the way to a $355.2 million lifetime gross.

Next, in 1996, Independence Day touched down on its namesake holiday earning $50.2 million that weekend ($104.3 million throughout the week) on its way to a massive $817 million global tally. That’s $1.3 billion in 2020 currency, and in an era where foreign sales were far less numerous, and the Chinese film market hardly existed. Will Smith hasn’t left America’s theaters and living rooms since.

1997’s 4th of July weekend played host to another Will Smith alien-busting spectacle: Men in Black. That film opened with $51 million on its way to a $589 million worldwide gross. It spawned a decades-long fandom that has gobbled up three sequels, video games, comic books, an animated series, themed McDonald’s happy meals, and more.

Next year, let’s hope to be eulogizing Minions 2’s or some other film’s 2020 record-breaking sales instead of counting COVID cases.