The Memorial Day holiday weekend was once the traditional kickoff to summer movie season. But with action movies and special-effects spectacles competing to be the year’s first must-see blockbuster—turning April into a pre-emptive launching pad—Memorial Day may have lost some of its exclusive status as a destination release date. The audience seemed to respond accordingly, with a four-day weekend where people expressed a preference to spend their holiday enjoying the warm weather instead of sitting in a dark movie theater.
Early estimates are putting the four-day box-office total around $190 million, the lowest turnout since 2001. Disney’s PG-rated action-adventure Tomorrowland won the weekend, but it underperformed with an estimated $41.7 million. Poltergeist, debuted to $26.5 million—a solid result for the horror remake, but hardly enough to drive audiences to the theater en masse.
So why was this such a lackluster Memorial Day at the box office? Sequels and franchises. The seven biggest Memorial Day openings of all time are sequels, from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to various X-Men movies. In 2013, openings from Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III brought in a whopping $314.2 million over four days, making it the biggest Memorial Day weekend of all time. This time last year, X-Men: Days of Future Past debuted to $110.6 million, bumping the weekend’s four-day total up to $232 million.
And of course, the biggest Memorial Day weekend opening of all time was another Disney movie based on a theme park attraction, when Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End brought in $139.8 million in 2007. But that was the third film in an established global franchise with a built-in fan base — something Tomorrowland didn’t have.
It’s possible that when final figures are announced, this weekend’s tally could inch above the 2010 total of $192.7 million. That holiday weekend was marred by underwhelming debuts from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Sex and the City 2. But most analyst predict that the final numbers will fall to the lowest level since 2001, the year of Pearl Harbor. But even that holiday weekend, which totaled $181.7 million, tops this year’s when accounting for inflation.
So does Tomorrowland have a future? Disney kept the film’s plot under wraps up until the day of release, and they’re hoping to build momentum now that it’s out, even though the reviews haven’t been great. (It has a 49 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.) But it’s still one of the only family-friendly options in theaters right now, and it won’t have any PG-rated competition until Pixar’s Inside Out comes out June 19.