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The Biggest Month in Domestic Box Office History

The Biggest Month in Domestic Box Office History

A lot can change in one month, especially in the world of the domestic box office. A robust month of movie attendance can turn a lackluster year into a prosperous one almost overnight. An otherwise dreary box office year can become a success story thanks to a lucrative April or May. June 2024 serves as a prime example of this phenomenon. At the beginning of the month, 2024 was trailing 2023’s box office revenue by 26%. However, two weeks later, the unexpected success of Inside Out 2 trimmed that deficit to 21%. Though a significant gap remains, this 5% reduction showcases how a single month can bring about substantial change before it even concludes.

The importance of a single month for the box office cannot be overstated. But which month outshines the rest? July 2011 holds the record with an astonishing $1,394,775,988 in earnings.

July 2011 was an explosive month, propelled by the final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which boasted what was then the largest domestic opening weekend ever. Raking in $169 million over its debut weekend, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 became the first film to cross $160 million in its opening three days. By July’s end, it had accumulated $318 million domestically, becoming, at the time, the highest-grossing Harry Potter movie in the U.S.

During the 2010s, film studios strategically gave potential record-breakers ample breathing room. For instance, Captain America: Civil War faced off against the relatively minor Money Monster in its second weekend. Avengers: Endgame competed with Long Shot, and Top Gun: Maverick had no major studio contenders during its second weekend. This approach illustrates how studios began producing fewer movies annually than they did in 2011, allowing certain franchises to dominate the box office unchallenged.

Conversely, July 2011 was extraordinary because no one cleared the path for the final Harry Potter film. Its second weekend saw the release of Captain America: The First Avenger, contributing over $117 million to the month’s total. The same weekend also welcomed Friends With Benefits. By the third weekend, Cowboys & Aliens and The Smurfs each debuted with over $35 million. This is unlike March 2022, when The Batman had no major new releases to contend with for two subsequent weeks. A multifilm strategy is crucial for a record-breaking month at the box office, not just one magical hit.

July 2011 kicked off with the summer’s second-biggest movie, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Officially debuting in the final days of June, this Michael Bay venture amassed $273.2 million in July alone. Despite its predecessor, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, being critically panned, audiences still flocked to see the new installment. Additionally, early July releases like Zookeeper and Horrible Bosses significantly boosted earnings, with the latter grossing $96.2 million. That July, whether you wanted to see robots wreck Chicago or a comical gorilla voiced by Nick Nolte, there was something for everyone.

Even the month’s flops outperformed many of today’s failed films. Larry Crowne garnered $35.1 million, a sum many modern adult-oriented movies would envy. The ill-fated release of Winnie the Pooh against the final Harry Potter film still managed a $22 million haul. Holdovers from earlier summer months maintained their momentum, with Cars 2 adding another $91.1 million and Super 8 reeling in $24.4 million.

July 2011’s record-breaking numbers weren’t solely due to clever scheduling. July has consistently proven to be a lucrative month for the domestic box office. In fact, it’s the only month ever to surpass a $1.35 billion haul. July 2016, 2013, and even 2023 (thanks to the Barbenheimer phenomenon) also crossed this threshold. Not even December, a traditionally strong month for moviegoing, has matched this achievement.

Several factors contribute to July’s unique profitability. Studios often use this month as a launchpad for significant franchises. Warner Bros. has frequently released Harry Potter and Christopher Nolan films in mid-July. Marvel Studios and Illumination have also utilized early July for blockbuster debuts. Additionally, with nearly all young people off school and the 4th of July holiday, July becomes an ideal month for new releases. This confluence of factors makes July a prime time for box office success.

Interestingly, July 2011’s distinction comes despite the financial struggles of that year. The first four months of 2011 were bleak due to a lackluster selection of films. In February 2011, writer Mark Harris penned a GQ article, “The Day The Movies Died,” lamenting the American film industry’s lack of innovation and originality. Although 2011 ended with a $10.1 billion haul, making it the third-largest yearly total at the time, it was still a 4% drop from 2010 and the lowest annual gross of the 2010s.

The fact that a challenging year like 2011 produced the biggest month in box office history is a testament to the unpredictable nature of the film industry. Even amidst financial struggles, July 2011 set a new benchmark for monthly earnings. As we observe 2024’s box office being salvaged by hits like Inside Out 2 and Bad Boys: Ride or Die, it remains to be seen if July 2024 can approach the monumental success of July 2011.

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