Article Thumbnail

The ‘Guy Movies’ That Ruled Super Bowl Sunday

Long considered a weekend reserved for films geared toward female viewers, the sorta-holiday has recently featured action movies and war dramas that were sizable hits

The Super Bowl is this Sunday, which means many Americans’ attention will be turned to football, not necessarily new movies. As a result, Hollywood behaves a little differently during what Forbes box-office specialist Scott Mendelson calls this “not-quite-holiday weekend.” It’s not like Labor Day, when the studios dump their rejects, but only certain kinds of films come out the same weekend as the Big Game. And those, traditionally, have been romantic comedies and horror movies, two genres that cater to a female audience. The thinking has always been, essentially, dudes love sports and ladies don’t, so give the females movies they can see while their big, strong men are busy watching football. 

Obviously, that logic is simplistic, patronizing and weird. (Lots of men don’t like football, lots of women don’t like romantic comedies, and even if every straight woman in America wanted to see a date-night movie rather than the Super Bowl, wouldn’t they have to drag along some men to these rom-coms?) Still, it does explain the arrival of Marry Me, Jennifer Lopez’s new romantic comedy with Owen Wilson, which will be competing with Death on the Nile and whatever that sad-looking Liam Neeson movie is. 

If you look back at the history of Super Bowl weekend releases, you do see plenty of female-skewing pictures ruling the box office, but occasionally something that might qualify as a “guy movie” has been No. 1 on Super Bowl Sunday. In fact, it’s happened a lot lately, perhaps in large part because the traditional studios are getting out of the rom-com business, letting streamers like Netflix pick up the slack. So, in honor of Super Bowl LVI, here’s a quick rundown of the action films, sci-fi spectacles and military dramas that, for a few hours, somehow distracted men from their love of their gridiron. (Oh, you say women may like those movies, too? Good gracious, now I’ve heard everything…) 

Black Hawk Down (2002)

Which Super Bowl Was It? Super Bowl XXXVI, with the New England Patriots beating the St. Louis Rams 20–17.

Was This the Movie’s Opening Weekend? No

Okay, so I’m starting this list by cheating. Technically, Snow Dogs, the family comedy starring Cuba Gooding Jr., won the box office on Super Bowl Sunday. But Ridley Scott’s relentless war film about the disastrous invasion of Somalia took the weekend by only about a million dollars. It was actually the third week in a row that the movie landed in the top spot, beating out weak competition such as the poorly-reviewed love story A Walk to Remember.

Remarkably, this was only a few months after the 9/11 attacks, a time when studios were delaying the release of certain films that might seem inappropriate or triggering. And yet, this violent drama chronicling a military operation with fatal consequences proved to be a sizable hit, featuring a who’s who of young and up-and-coming stars like Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Hardy and Orlando Bloom. Ironically, a film about a failed American invasion proved to be a dark bit of foreshadowing for the Iraq War that was soon to come. 

Taken (2009)

Which Super Bowl Was It? Super Bowl XLIII, with the Pittsburgh Steelers beating the Arizona Cardinals 27–23.  

Was This the Movie’s Opening Weekend? Yes

When Variety wrote its box-office story for the weekend of January 30, 2009, reporter Pamela McClintock opened by noting that Taken had “scored a touchdown at the domestic box office, proving that male-driven pics can open successfully on Super Bowl weekend,” adding that “studios have long steered clear of debuting testosterone-heavy titles in this slot because of the steep drop in theater traffic on Sunday.” 

Indeed, this Liam Neeson action-thriller transformed the industry’s thinking that it was dumb to put out such movies on Super Bowl weekend, which may be why you see films that cater to male viewers more often during that release spot. Taken also changed how the world saw the Oscar-nominated Neeson, who went on to a successful second career as a grumbling, ass-kicking machine in movies like The Grey, Non-Stop and The Commuter, which all opened in January or February, traditionally considered a slow time at the box office. 

For a while, Neeson dominated the winter months, and no doubt part of the reasoning behind putting out his new Blacklight this weekend is because this is sorta “his” season on the release calendar. But, well, that period reached its zenith long ago.

Avatar (2010)

Which Super Bowl Was It? Super Bowl XLIV, with the New Orleans Saints beating the Indianapolis Colts 31–17.

Was This the Movie’s Opening Weekend? No

James Cameron had won Super Bowl Sunday once before: Titanic was at the top spot at the box office in 1998, more than a month after it premiered. Avatar had been out even longer when it took the crown in 2010, which is even more impressive considering that the 3D extravaganza didn’t win Super Bowl weekend. No, Channing Tatum’s sappy romantic drama Dear John (which debuted that weekend) edged out Avatar over the three-day period, but more folks on the day of the Big Game wanted to go to Pandora than Nicholas Sparks Country. 

Avatar was a sensation, of course, inspiring Hollywood to add 3D to every action movie for years to come. (God, those glasses were terrible.) It’s currently the highest-grossing movie worldwide, bringing in nearly $2.5 billion and dislodging the old champ, Avengers: Endgame, thanks to a re-release last year. In theory, Cameron is finally unveiling Avatar 2 in late 2022. It wouldn’t be crazy to assume it could be at the top of the box office when Super Bowl LVII rolls around.

Chronicle (2012)

Which Super Bowl Was It? Super Bowl XLVI, with the New York Giants beating the New England Patriots 21–17.

Was This the Movie’s Opening Weekend? Yes

There was no guarantee Chronicle would triumph in its opening weekend. Facing off with The Woman in Black, a Gothic horror movie starring Daniel Radcliffe right after the final Harry Potter installment, a sci-fi found-footage film with no big names was hardly a safe bet. (Back then, nobody knew who Michael B. Jordan was outside of Friday Night Lights fans.) 

Nonetheless, Chronicle proved to be a commercial and critical hit, telling the story of some teenagers who get superpowers and have to deal with the consequences. It proved that found-footage movies, which had grown stale thanks to a dozen Blair Witch ripoffs, could still be clever, and it suggested that first-time feature filmmaker Josh Trank had a bright future. 

Jordan went on to be a big star, but Chronicle failed to similarly catapult Trank, whose career imploded after the disastrous Fantastic Four remake (also with Jordan) and a series of meltdowns that found him being asked to step away from a Star Wars movie he was going to direct. Trank tried for a comeback with his 2020 psychological drama/biopic Capone, which was dreadful. As a result, even though Chronicle came out 10 years ago, it now feels much, much longer ago than that.

American Sniper (2015)

Which Super Bowl Was It? Super Bowl XLIX, with the New England Patriots beating the Seattle Seahawks 28–24.

Was This the Movie’s Opening Weekend? No

When observers complain that Hollywood just pumps out sequels and reboots, constantly returning to the same intellectual property, I always love mentioning that 2014’s highest-grossing movie wasn’t a superhero film or a Hunger Games installment. It was American Sniper, based on the true story of Iraq War veteran Chris Kyle. Starring Bradley Cooper, this Clint Eastwood-directed drama was a massive hit, clearly resonating with veterans and “Support the Troops” contingents. 

The film was only in limited release when it opened at the end of December of 2014. But after going wide in early January, it took off. In fact, that Super Bowl weekend was the third weekend in a row that American Sniper was No. 1 at the box office, propelling the film to six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor. 

Funny enough, the biggest debut at the box office that weekend was a film called Project Almanac, which was a found-footage sci-fi film about a bunch of teenagers making an incredible discovery. Clearly, someone was hoping to duplicate the Super Bowl success of Chronicle

Glass (2019)

Which Super Bowl Was It? Super Bowl LIII, with the New England Patriots beating the Los Angeles Rams 13–3.

Was This the Movie’s Opening Weekend? No

The Super Bowl was the third and final weekend that M. Night Shyamalan’s Avengers-like mashup of his different popular characters topped the box office. The seeds for Glass were sown three years earlier when his nervy, low-budget horror-thriller Split introduced us to Kevin (James McAvoy), a man with multiple personalities terrorizing Philadelphia. After years of commercial flops and critical derision, Shyamalan rebounded with Split, which concluded with a reveal of Bruce WillisUnbreakable antihero — meaning, they were part of the same universe. Glass brought them together with Unbreakable’s Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), setting the stage for an epic battle royale. At least that was the idea. 

January is usually a pretty dreary month in terms of new movies — everyone’s catching up with the Oscar hopefuls and ignoring everything else — and Glass was about the only high-profile film in multiplexes. No matter that the film was terrible — people kept going to see it, cementing Shyamalan’s comeback. Since then, he’s given us the equally dreary Old. Talk about a disappointing twist in his late career revival. 

Bad Boys for Life (2020)

Which Super Bowl Was It? Super Bowl LIV, with the Kansas City Chiefs beating the San Francisco 49ers 31–20. 

Was This the Movie’s Opening Weekend? No

We had no way of knowing what was coming. Sure, there was news about a virus elsewhere in the world, but it hadn’t really gotten to America yet. And so we blithely went to see the first Bad Boys movie in 17 years, a long-delayed sequel that probably few really wanted. And on Super Bowl Sunday of 2020, Bad Boys for Life was celebrating three straight weeks at No. 1. 

Soon after, the pandemic took hold. Theaters shut down. Life ground to a halt. And as a result, Bad Boys for Life ended up the highest-grossing movie of 2020 by default, marking the first time Smith was the year-end box-office champ since 1996’s Independence Day. Nobody remembers Bad Boys for Life. Don’t feel bad: Everything right before COVID is a little blurry. Just know that the movie wasn’t very good. I hope it wasn’t the last one you’ve seen in a theater.