” […] And, at least over the last 15 years, few mega openers, or even movies that opened above $30 million, have been as leggy as Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace.
[…] To wit, Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace earned $28 million in its debut Wednesday, which led to a $64.82m Fri-Sun and $105m Wed-Sun gross (in just 2,970 theaters). While the five-day debut was a record, its Fri-Sun gross was actually below the $74m Fri-Sun opening (of a $92m Fri-Mon Memorial Day bow) for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. And yeah, there was hand-wringing about whether merely scoring the second-biggest opening weekend of all time constituted a disappointment, but much of that talk went the way of the dodo after the film earned another $66m over its second Fri-Mon Memorial Day weekend. It crossed $200m in just 13 days, a record at the time.
Whether general audiences didn’t (comparatively speaking) want to deal with opening weekend crowds, or whether hyperventilating reports of sold-out theaters made everything think they couldn’t a ticket, the film had a remarkable hold in its second weekend, dropping just 20% in its second Fri-Sun weekend. It fell 36% in its third weekend and then didn’t have another drop above 35% until its 17th weekend of release. In its first 23 weekends, it had exactly two frames where it dropped more than 35%. Yes, there were other big hits that summer (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Tarzan, The Sixth Sense, etc.), but The Phantom Menace stood high above its relative competition.
And while we nerds may have been dissatisfied with the juvenile tone, the emphasis on plotting over character and a lack of action, general audiences were happy to take their friends and family to another Star Wars movie. And they did so, all summer long. The Phantom Menace earned just 15% of its initial domestic total (not counting the 2012 3D reissue) via its $64m Fri-Sun frame, giving it a 6.73x multiplier. That’s leggier than The Hangover, Shrek, Twister, Batman, and (among holiday openers) Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Independence Day, Armageddon, The Matrix, every Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and Frozen.
Among all movies that opened with at least $30 million in their Fri-Sun frames, it sits behind only (unless I missed one) Avatar ($77m/$760m), Jurassic Park ($50m/$357m), The Lion King ($41m/$312), Sing ($35m/$270m), The Blind Side ($33m/$256m), Saving Private Ryan ($30m/$216m) and Night at the Museum ($30m/$251m). As you can see, it’s the second-leggiest $60m+ opener behind only the second-biggest grossing movie of all time and the third-leggiest $50m+ opener behind the second-biggest movie of all time and a film that was once the global box office champion and was still in theaters over a year after its initial release.
It’s important to note that a blockbuster on the scale of The Phantom Menace was still a somewhat rare thing in the summer of 1999, as this was just before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Spider-Man normalized the big-scale fantasy adventure. Even by 2002, a movie like Attack of the Clones was less of a unique snowflake. And to the extent that DVDs and piracy cut into theatrical moviegoing, both things were a much larger force by the time the second Star Wars prequel was released.
Nonetheless, the numbers speak for themselves. Lots and lots of folks saw The Phantom Menace in the summer of 1999. And, more importantly, despite its reputation as a franchise-killer, it was relatively well-liked by the general audiences (kids and otherwise) who just wanted a fun Star Wars movie. You can get a $105 million five-day debut from hype and anticipation. But you don’t get $431m total from a $64m Fri-Sun opening weekend without folks being at least somewhat satisfied, going back multiple times and/or recommending it to their friends.”