Unless you were the big kid on the playground growing up, you learned pretty quickly to pick your battles. Same thing goes for tackling that 1 pound burger challenge at your local bar and grill/food trough restaurant. Sometimes, our eyes are bigger than our stomach. Other times, our brains are smaller than our pride and adrenaline. In both instances, you can end up with a sore gut.
The same wisdom applies with studios releasing their movies in opposition of juggernaut franchises and highly anticipated movies. Typically, studios are smart enough to vacate a big movie’s opening weekend. Other times, smaller, independent movies can find an audience and put a significant dent in the box office. Case in point, this year’s indie horror darling, It Follows, scored a successful, albeit smaller, box office against Furious Seven.
However, it is quite another thing, and incredibly ill-advised, to go up against the immovable object that is a Star Wars movie. Strangely enough, almost every time a Star Wars movie came out, a major studio has decided to trot out a movie to oppose it at the box office. As if failing to listen during Axiom 101 class, two movies; Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and Sisters, are tugging on Superman’s cape and are doomed to repeat other movies’ failures by opening in direct opposition to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In honor of their studios’ suicide mission to spit into the wind, let’s look back at the other movies that have opened against the previous Star Wars movies. Counted down in order of most successful to saddest and most ill-fated.
5) Smokey and the Bandit
You have to give a bit of a break to this Burt Reynolds and Sally Field Action/Comedy from 1977. No one could have known the juggernaut waiting to reveal itself when the original Star Wars came out in 1977. 20th Century Fox was putting all its eggs in the cinematic basket when it released Lucas’ pet project in May of that year. If it failed, the company was already going under and was sure to go with a whimper if Lucas failed. However, the movie was a smashing hit and 20th Century Fox was rescued from the jaws of bankruptcy.
Truthfully, Smokey and the Bandit did not do that bad, finishing as the second highest grossing movie in 1977, behind Star Wars. In fact, with a budget of only $5.3 million, it’s $126 million domestic gross was a huge win for an action comedy and for Universal, who produced and distributed the movie. Don’t expect these same results from Sisters, a comedy starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Burt Reynolds and his fabulous mustache were going up against a newly hatched Star Wars. In 2015, any movie opposing Lucas’ creation deals with decades of feverish nerddom and fan hysteria.
4) The Shining
All work and no play make Josh miss The Force Awakens.
Thankfully, I will not be missing The Force Awakens, and I certainly wouldn’t have something like The Shining to be upset about missing out on it’s opening weekend. However, when the follow-up to Lucas’ surprising space adventure, The Empire Strikes Back, hit theaters, studios still had no idea how powerful the draw of Star Wars is or how significant a cultural moment this release would be.
They might not have cared, either. Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson, and Stephen King make a powerful dark side force themselves, and that collective power still managed a very good $40 million haul on opening weekend. Granted, it was propped up by Episode V coming out on Wednesday, but the quality of the movie and the pedigree of the people involved was enough to have it surpass its budget. It was and is a significant movie and it is rare when two iconic films open on the same weekend like Empire and The Shining did. If I could go back in time, this would be one place to stop to take in these two movies on the same weekend.
3) About A Boy
The only well-received and positively reviewed movie to go 12 rounds with the prequel trilogy, About A Boy opened in a fairly wide release in opposition to Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. Starring Hugh Grant and a young, twelve-year-old, pre-Beast Nicholas Hoult, the movie is honest, charming, and fun movie about Grant’s Will Freeman growing and learning maturity from Hoult’s 12-year-old Marcus. It is a really great movie and well worth your time, and you probably haven’t seen it because of how little it made.
This might be the biggest travesty on this list. It is one thing to put out a terrible movie and defiantly marching it out there to die like a dog. It is another to trot out a high-quality movie to meet a franchise buzzsaw, much less the extra-sharp, extra-big buzzsaw of Star Wars. A good romantic comedy can be hard to come by, especially when Lucas makes unintentionally hilarious romances between a queen and a Jedi.
2) The Love Letter
There are few times when fan hysteria can reach levels like they did when George Lucas’ space opera returned to theaters in 1999 with The Phantom Menace. Apparently, DreamWorks failed to get the memo–or I guess in 1999, the fax–that a new Star Wars movie was coming out. They released The Love Letter starring Ellen DeGeneres, before her days as a talk show host, and Tom Selleck, with a creepy, mustache-less face. It was widely panned for having dull dialogue as well as a sitcom-like delivery that leaves an incredibly unmemorable taste in your mouth. Of course, Star Wars fans were kind saying the same thing about The Phantom Menace after that box office weekend, as well.
PS The movie made no money
1) Chained Heat
The absolute worst of the bunch, both cinematically and by box office, Chained Heat is a movie you do not want to look up or ever see. Essentially, before there were pay-per-view cable channels like Cinemax and HBO, there were the somewhat wide released soft-core porn movies. This movie, starring the later of The Exorcist fame Linda Blair, is one of those movies. Billed as a “Chicks in chains” movie, it is absolutely terrible.
This is about the closest you get to everyone vacating for a Star Wars movie. Released in 1983 the same weekend as Return of the Jedi, it did terribly and made a quick exit after being destroyed by Lucas’ final chapter of the original trilogy. If Star Wars is a death star, Chained Heat isn’t Alderaan, but that poor Mon Calamari cruiser from Return of the Jedi that got blasted first by the Death Star II. It didn’t stand a chance.