Traditionally, the Fourth of July holiday is a big one for the movie industry. Over long weekends, theaters are flocked with film fans craving outlandish action, sweeping romance, sidesplitting comedy or maybe something sweet and safe the whole family can enjoy. Whatever movie comes out on top of a crowded field of contenders are championed in headlines as an instant hit. But what about those movies that just missed the podium? They didn’t get the gold or the silver or the bronze: They took fourth on the Fourth.
With this year getting a massive shake-up at the movies, we decided to take a look back at the films that fell short on Independence Day weekends. Some started strong, but lost momentum as the summer dragged on. Flashier fare trounced others, while some didn’t need a top spot to make their mark on movie history. Here are the great, the bad and the WTF of the fourths of July 4th.
Blade Runner (1982)
Bested By: 1. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial; 2. Firefox; 3. Rocky III
Opened: June 25, 1982
Ridley Scott’s seminal neo-noir thrust theatergoers into a wild future of flying cars, bio-engineered baddies and hardened bounty hunters called blade runners. In this iconic adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Harrison Ford throws his rugged gravitas into the role of a world-weary detective on the trail of a dangerous android. Meanwhile, Sean Young co-stars as a sci-fi spin on the classic femme fatale.
Though remembered today as one of Scott’s best films, Blade Runner disappointed upon its initial release, pulling in $3 million less than its budget. Part of its trouble was E.T.: Steven Spielberg’s family-friendly alien adventure debuted just one week ahead of Blade Runner, and kept the R-rated thriller out of the top spot on its opening weekend. During the long holiday weekend that followed, Rocky III and Firefox, a lesser-known Clint Eastwood vehicle, knocked it down to fourth, and it just kept dropping. Nonetheless, its reputation grew over the years. Countless directors have cited Scott’s Blade Runner as an inspiration, including Denis Villeneuve, who’d helm its 2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049.
Pet Sematary (1989)
Bested By: 1. Batman; 2. Ghostbusters II; 3. K-9
Opened: April 21, 1989
Mary Lambert directed this chilling Stephen King adaptation, which begins with a charming family moving into a new home situated snugly between a roaring highway and a local burial ground for dearly departed pets. The Creed clan’s lives are full of joy until an untimely death spurs a desperate decision. A creepy cat and a killer kid terrorized audiences, teaching the haunting lesson, “Sometimes dead is better.”
Don’t cry over Pet Sematary’s Independence Day position, though: It was number one for its first three weeks and would keep kicking in theaters for 36 weeks total. Over the holiday, it actually had a resurgence, leaping from #14 to #4. Yet, it couldn’t best Tim Burton’s blockbuster, Batman; the much-anticipated comedy sequel Ghostbusters II; or, uh, K-9. This wide release starred Jim Belushi as a San Diego detective who teams with a police dog to fight crime. While not as well remembered as any of its box office rivals, K-9 outgrossed Pet Sematary by $20 million. Plus, it spawned two direct-to-video sequels: K-911 and K-9: P.I. As for the horror hit, Lambert returned to helm Pet Sematary Two. The freaky franchise got a reboot 27 years later, too, with a new spin on King’s tale with 2019’s Pet Sematary.
French Kiss (1995)
Bested By: 1. Apollo 13; 2. Batman Forever; 3. Casper
Opened: May 5, 1995
In the 1990s, Meg Ryan was a well-established queen of romance, headlining hits like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle and City of Angels. French Kiss was among the quirkier offerings from this era. In it, the beloved blonde plays a neurotic American who chases her runaway fiancé (Timothy Hutton) to France, where she hopes to reclaim his heart. However, a fateful meeting with a swaggering Frenchman (Kevin Kline) sparks a scenic adventure rich in wine, romance and laughs.
This sweet and salty offering had a good run in theaters, lasting 34 weeks and taking in $101 million worldwide. It hit #1 on its opening weekend, besting two other charming romances, While You Were Sleeping and Circle of Friends. As the summer heated up, audiences craved splashier spectacle: Kids flocked to see the exciting blend of animation and live-action offered in the family-friendly ghost tale Casper. Teens flooded theaters to see Joel Schumacher’s daring and wild superhero romp, Batman Forever. Then, new-to-theaters Apollo 13 promised audiences a PG-rated heart-racing history lesson about brave explorations in outer space. Simply put: There was no way for French Kiss to compete once the big boys of summer arrived.
Summer of Sam (1999)
Bested By: 1. Wild Wild West; 2. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut; 3. Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace
Opened: July 2, 1999
The streets of New York City sizzle in the summer, and few filmmakers have tapped into the excitement and threat of these hazy days like Spike Lee. With 1989’s Do The Right Thing, Lee ushered audiences through a summer of sex, racial tension and violence. Ten years later, he offered a sister film with Summer of Sam, a crime drama that slides audiences back to the dog days of 1977. It was a time when disco was king and the Son of Sam stalked the night. Lee explored how this serial killer impacted the lives of an Italian-American neighborhood, with suspicion, fear, lust and loyalty all coming into play.
This was a flop for Lee. Summer of Sam disappointed at the box office, pulling in less that its $22 million budget. Opening against a Will Smith movie may have doomed it out of the gate: In 1996 and 1997, Smith topped the box office on this holiday weekend, first with Independence Day, then Men in Black. By 1999, he was considered the king of July 4th weekends, and Wild Wild West proved his hat trick (even if audiences and critics alike were more than a little disappointed by what they actually saw that weekend). Not even Tom Cruise could take Smith’s crown: The A-lister’s sci-fi thriller Minority Report came in fourth in 2002, with Men In Black II up top.
Finding Nemo (2003)
Bested By: 1. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines; 2. Legally Blonde 2; 3. Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle
Opened: May 30, 2003
Following Pixar hits like Toy Story and Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo dove into theaters with a spirited animated adventure studded with star power. Comedians Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres lent their voices to an odd couple of fish in search of one’s missing son, Nemo. To find him, they’d need to dive deep into parts unknown, facing off against surfer turtles, stinging jellyfish, ornery crabs and some sharp sharks.
By this point, Pixar was synonymous with high-quality family entertainment, so Finding Nemo was a force to be reckoned with, taking to the podium for its first five weeks. It’d go on to make over $871 million worldwide. However, the holiday weekend belonged to sequels. Fresher to theaters, Charlie’s Angels (2): Full Throttle drew the PG-13 crowd with action and the antics of a trifecta of hot female leads (Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz). Legally Blonde 2 offered a pretty-in-pink rom-com with Reese Witherspoon reprising her most popular character. Then there was Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Ultimately, this sci-fi sequel would only take in half of Finding Nemo’s gross overall, but that weekend, with 12 years since Terminator 2: Judgment Day, fans of that franchise were lining up to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in action.
Larry Crowne (2011)
Bested By: 1. Transformers: Dark of the Moon; 2. Cars 2; 3. Bad Teacher
Opened: July 1, 2011
Remember that time Tom Hanks teamed up with Julia Roberts for a rom-com? Hanks starred as a bland middle-aged store clerk who goes back to college and swiftly falls in love with his jaded professor, who happens to look like a movie star. On paper, it sounded solid: America’s Sweetheart from Pretty Woman, Notting Hill and America’s Sweethearts teams with the leading man of Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. For the script, Hanks collaborated with My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s writer/star Nia Vardalos. Then he took to the helm for the first time since his adored comedy That Thing You Do! On top of all that, this pic boasted appearances by rising talents Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Rami Malek and Grace Gummer, as well as big names like Bryan Cranston, Taraji P. Henson and Cedric the Entertainer. Yet Larry Crowne didn’t take the crown at the box office.
Opening weekend is usually the best shot a movie has at hitting number one. But Larry Crowne came in fourth on this, its debut holiday weekend, and it never rose higher. Limping through 26 weeks in theaters, the movie was trampled by much-anticipated sequels like Cars 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as well as crude comedies like Bad Teacher, Horrible Bosses, Friends With Benefits and The Change-Up. Hanks’ brand of PG-13 comedy couldn’t compete. Still, the film proved a modest box office success, pulling in $75 million with a $30 million budget.
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
Bested By: 1. Inside Out; 2. Jurassic World; 3. Terminator Genisys
Opened: July 1, 2015
In 2012, Steven Soderbergh teamed with It Guy, Channing Tatum, for a drama loosely based on the actor’s early days as a male stripper. Magic Mike cost just $7 million to make, but went on to score $167 million at the box office, and sparked the “McConaissance” of Matthew McConaughey. To say its sequel was hotly anticipated is a naked understatement. With double the budget of the first film, Soderbergh and Tatum re-teamed for an encore that had audiences going wild, thanks to performances by the hip swiveling “Pony” dancer, as well as Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash and Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie.
With an unrelenting sex appeal and a cheeky sense of humor, Magic Mike XXL slayed at the box office, taking in over $117 million worldwide. But on the holiday, it was thrashed by much more XXL franchises. Terminator Genisys had Schwarzenegger reprising his most iconic role (again), while Jurassic World boasted an island full of massive dinosaurs and roaming raptors. Yet the top spot went to the movie with the least testosterone of the bunch! Pixar’s Inside Out centered on the female friendship that blossoms between two emotions, Joy and Sadness, as they try to save the emotional well-being of a young girl named Riley. Only in its second of a 29-week run, this charming adventure was fun for the whole family, and that means a lot more tickets sold.
Bonus Pick: Honeysuckle Rose (1980)
Bested by: 1. Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back; 2. Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie; 3. Caddyshack
Opened: July 18, 1980
Note the date and you’ll see this one’s not a fourth of July 4th. However, it was a fourth in July overall, falling just short of the top three in the month’s highest grossing films of 1980. Besides, this one is too special to ignore. In Honeysuckle Rose, country singer Willie Nelson tried his hand at leading man, fronting this romantic drama about Buck Bonham, a country star who struggles with temptations. At home, Buck has a son and a passionate wife (Dyan Cannon). However, on the road, long nights are sweeter thanks to a bottle of booze and the flirtations of a young guitar player (Amy Irving), who also happens to be the daughter of Buck’s longtime friend (Slim Pickens).
Honeysuckle Rose couldn’t compete with bombastic comedies like Caddyshack and Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie, much less the absolute force of the first Star Wars sequel. Still, despite its modest box office ($17 million), it made its mark, for better or for worse, earning Oscar and Razzies attention. As to the latter, Irving won the dubious honor of Worst Supporting Actress from the snarky award body. Nelson, however, scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Song with “On The Road Again.” He faced off against Dolly Parton’s soon-to-be classic “Nine to Five,” but both lost to the theme song from the musical “Fame.” Nonetheless, Wilson’s anthem about the joys of touring went on to become one of the most popular songs in his long career.