30 Years of Memorial Day Blockbusters, Ranked

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So, how’s your Memorial Day? Did you go out to the moving pictures? Chances are pretty good that you did — Memorial Day is one of the biggest movie-going weekends of the year, the Monday holiday adding another opportunity to hit the multiplex. And though it’s no longer the official kickoff for the summer movie season (a decade or so of Marvel movies have moved that milestone to the first weekend of May), it’s still a date that is earmarked, sometimes years in advance, by studios with blockbuster dollars in their eyes. That’s not to say that they usually open good blockbusters then; in fact, when your film editor took a look at the biggest Memorial Day moneymakers since Return of the Jedi back in ’83, it’s quite the race to the bottom. Here’s our ranking of them, from worst to best.

31. The Hangover Part II (2011)

It’s not so much that it’s offensive, unfunny, overlong, and unaccountably nihilistic — though it’s all those things. It’s that director Todd Phillips and his otherwise-agreeable cast rushed out (less than two years after the surprise success of the original) such a crass, beat-by-beat Xerox of the original film; it’s less a sequel to The Hangover than a remake, and a poor one at that.

30. Pearl Harbor (2001)

Hey, remember when Michael Bay decided to be a Real Filmmaker? Good times.

29. Sex and the City 2 (2010)

At long last, the Sex and the City folks gave us a motion picture that played into all of the worst criticisms of the original television show. Even the fans hated this one!

28. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

When Bryan Singer got the chance to restart the Superman franchise, he turned the keys to his beloved X-Men over to… Brett Ratner, the unaccountably successful director of the Rush Hour movies. Who’da thunk he’d turn out an unwatchable train wreck that all but reverses the subtext of Singer’s originals?

27. Godzilla (1998)

In which Independence Day creators Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin somehow did the impossible: they made a giant, city-crushing monster utterly forgettable.

26. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Emmerich and Devlin strike again! It’s not quite as bad as Godzilla. That’s about the nicest thing that can be said about it.

25. Cobra (1986)

Sylvester Stallone attempted to create another five-letter franchise hero with this oh-so-‘80s tale of a super-cop tracking a killer. And he was wildly successful, as any fan of Cobra II, Cobra III, and Cobra — Ghost Protocol can tell you.

24. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

Anyone else totally forget that they made another one of these?

23. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

Anticipating your puzzled look and attempts to recall anything specific about the series: it was the third one. And its $963 million worldwide gross is actually pretty impressive, considering they could only do one or two showtimes a day, as this movie is something like nine fucking hours long.

22. The Flintstones (1994)

They ran teasers for this one a full year before its release, ahead of Jurassic Park (directed by Flintstones producer Steven Spielberg). It was all so exciting and promising, with John Goodman there in the costume, yabba-dabba-do-ing and all. In retrospect, they probably should’ve quit while they were ahead.

21. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

About the kindest thing I can say about the most recent installment of this inexplicably beloved meat-head fave is this: at least it beat the even-worse Hangover Part III.

20. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

“Sir, do we get to win this time?” asks John Rambo, heading back in to the jungles of Vietnam to rescue POWs. That’s about as insightful as the commentary gets in this full-on orgy of machine-gun fire and muscle oil.

19. Bruce Almighty (2003)

Jim Carrey, still clinging desperately to the idea that he’s funny. Jennifer Aniston, trying desperately to find a character. Morgan Freeman, picking up a nice paycheck. Ya gotta give it this: at least it’s not Evan Almighty.

18. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Spielberg gets in a couple of nice set pieces, but can’t recapture the Jurassic magic, and the tacked-on Godzilla-style epilogue is one of his clumsiest sequences to date.

17. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Your film editor doesn’t loathe the (hopefully) final installment of this Memorial Day mainstay with quite the venom of movie fans at large — it’s good to see the fedora-wearing archaeologist back, no matter what the circumstance — but there’s no denying it is, by leaps and bounds, the series’ weakest entry.

16. Far and Away (1992)

Ron Howard’s land-rush drama was a real event upon its release — it was one of the few movies in the modern era to use 70mm photography to capture its lush landscapes. But all the pretty pictures in the world can’t forgive Cruise’s “Irish accent.”

15. Casper (1995)

I dunno, kids liked it.

14. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)

2002 was a weird Memorial Day: no big sequels and no giant tentpoles, just the forgotten J. Lo Sleeping with the Enemy retread Enough, Christopher Nolan’s very good Insomnia remake, and this animated horsey movie. (Oddly, there were no sequels in ’03, ’04, or ‘05 either; there’s been a giant sequel every year since.)

13. Men in Black III (2012)

No one’s claiming it’s actually all that good, but this viewer remains a sucker for Josh Brolin’s flawless Tommy Lee Jones impression, and one good quality is about all it takes to rank high on this list.

12. “Crocodile” Dundee II (1988)

Who doesn’t love Paul Hogan? What’s that? No one loves him? Really? Huh.

11. Madagascar (2005)

I dunno, kids liked it.

10. Mission: Impossible II (2000)

With nearly a decade and a half’s distance, this is the M:I film that’s aged worst, with director John Woo’s low angles and wing-flapping doves swooping in from the land of self-parody. But it’s still a pretty entertaining sit.

9. Back to the Future Part III (1990)

You see, it’s funny, because he says his name is Clint Eastwood, and… Look, as Memorial Day sequels go, you could do a lot worse.

8. Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

It’s the very definition of flashy ‘80s trash, and maybe that’s why I can’t dismiss it. Tony Scott (at his slicked-up, blown-out, every-scene-is-lit-through-heavy-blinds high point) teams with Eddie Murphy (entering his Soulless Comic Product phase), and while it’s not much of a comedy, it delivers exactly what the title promises.

7. Notting Hill (1999)

“Just a girl standing in front of a boy” line notwithstanding, Richard Curtis’ Four Weddings follow-up delivers a sweet romance, some gentle and good-natured show-biz satire, and Hugh Grant at his Hugh Grant-iest.

6. Backdraft (1991)

I know there’s a whole other story happening around it, but frankly, whenever I think of this movie, I think of the Robert De Niro/Donald Sutherland Silence of the Lambs-Lite arsonist subplot, and wish that had just been the whole damn movie.

5. Cliffhanger (1993)

After a period of exile — thanks in no small part to numb-skulled vehicles like, oh, Cobra — Sylvester Stallone had the first of many comebacks with this taut and well-executed actioner, a kind of Die Hard on a Mountain helmed by, huh what a wild coincidence, Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin.

4. Mission: Impossible (1996)

The M:I films are an interesting case study in the modern action film and the auteur theory, as each installment forgoes a franchise identity in favor of the individual director’s style. This is a blessing for the initial outing, which is about as pure a representation of the Brian De Palma vision as we ever got in any of his for-hire, big-budget studio outings: Dutch angles out the wazoo, loop-the-loop camera movement, and terrific set pieces (most memorably, the silent heist at Langley).

3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Sure, the quest for the Holy Grail makes the third Indiana Jones picture feel like a bit of a Raiders retread (even by normal sequel standards), and its closing scenes play like something of a protracted curtain call. But there’s an abundance of great Indy action here, and the pairing with Sean Connery remains one of the most inspired of the series.

2. Return of the Jedi (1983)

The “original trilogy” comes to a strong conclusion — Jabba the Hut, zippy jungle chases, the reveal of Anakin Skywalker, Leia in the metal bikini — even if, as Kevin Smith’s Clerks memorably noted, it just ends with “a bunch of Muppets.”

1. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

The second Indiana Jones movie has its detractors, but this fan has always looked at like this: from the (appropriately chosen) “Anything Goes” open to the brain eating and the heart extraction to the wildly overdone closing chase, Temple of Doom plays like a dramatization of the entire summer movie ethos: Throwing everything at the screen, in giant portions, restraint and good taste be damned.