When 42 surpassed expectations and won the most recent weekend box office, virtually every day-after industry analysis included some mention that the Jackie Robinson movie recorded the biggest and best opening weekend of any baseball movie ever. But before we give 42 a high-five as it rounds third and heads off to the box-office Hall of Fame, it’s always nice to be reminded that “biggest and best” is a skewed metric when it comes to the modern box office. Was 42‘s $27.5 million opening-weekend take a larger numerical figure than that of Bull Durham, The Natural, or Field of Dreams? Yes, it was. By a lot, actually. But then the price of a movie ticket is much higher today than it was then, isn’t it? You don’t need to look any further than the baseball movie that previously held the opening-weekend record to realize how limited such bromides really are. Remember The Benchwarmers? That 2006 movie with Rob Schneider and Jon Heder was the previous box-office MVP, with a $19.7 million opening weekend. Not exactly Pride of the Yankees.
Don’t get me wrong, 42 still had a great debut. But I wonder how it really stacks up against the biggest and best baseball movies in recent memory, taking inflation and theater count into consideration. (A “wide release” in 1984 reached only a fraction of the number of theaters one does in 2013.) The number-crunchers at BoxOfficeMojo are amazing, but their online archives only go back to 1980. So we’ll have to just assume that Pride of the Yankees and original The Bad News Bears would rank at or near the top of the list, which ranks the Top 10 baseball movies by adjusted per-screen average.
1. Field of Dreams* (1989) $11.0 million adjusted, $17,379 adjusted per-screen average
2. A League of Their Own (1992) $26.7 million, $15,000
3. The Natural (1984) $12.2 million, $12,300
4. Rookie of the Year (1993) $17.7 million, $12,100
5. Major League (1989) $17.9 million, $11,600
6. 42 (2013) $27.5 million, $9,153
7. Angels in the Outfield (1994) $17.2 million, $9,100
8. The Rookie (2002) $22.2 million, $8,800
9. Bull Durham (1988) $9.8 million, $7,900
10. The Benchwarmers (2006) $24.1 million, $7,400
* Note: Field of Dreams‘ box-office calculations derived from its first weekend in wide-release.
To me, this adjusted Top 10 better reflects the success of all the major baseball films from the last 30 or so years. It proves that 42 was a legitimate hit — but maybe it was more of a stand-up double rather than a grand slam.