Universal’s much-bigger-than-expected “Despicable Me 2” led the field, outgrossing Disney’s disappointing “The Lone Ranger” by two thirds. (It has amassed a remarkable $142 million in five days, while “The Lone Ranger” scored $48 million total.) Despite “The Lone Ranger,” which marks the third big-budget studio disappointment of the summer, the three-day post-Independence Day holiday weekend far outscored last year’s box office top ten by 12 %.
These strong three post-holiday grosses followed a robust Wednesday to Thursday. These numbers will help summer 2012 catch up with last year, but many would-be tentpoles are saddled with higher-than-ever production costs. The year so far is still down around 4%.
The rest of the top 10 showed a diversity of offerings, with several movies not targeted to male action fans holding their own, led by Fox’ female-driven holdover “The Heat” and comedian Kevin Hart’s concert film opener “Let Me Explain.”
1. Despicable Me 2 (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic score: 62
$82,518,000 in 3,997 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $20,645; Cumulative: $142,076,000
Though the first “Despicable” entry opened at $56 million and the sequel was expected to score, the $142 million five-day take came about $40 million above expectations. Put in context, the “Despicable Me 2” total is $14 million more than Warner Bros.’ ballyhooed “Man of Steel” grossed in its first five days, despite the latter having far more adult-ticket price attendees (though “Steel” opened on Thursday, not Wednesday).
Worldwide, this was the #1 film in 42 of 46 territories open so far, with a foreign take (including earlier openings) a bit ahead of the domestic showing. This is double the gross for the first film in similar situations, which ended up with almost $300 million international. If the performance overall continues, this could wind up second in year-end total gross only to “Iron Man 3.”
Credit is due to Universal’s animation partner Illumination Entertainment, led by Chris Meledandri, who had supervised Twentieth Century Fox’s Blue Sky films, for giving the audience what it wanted: more minions. Illumination can be considered in a league with Pixar and Dreamworks Animation: all can be relied on to deliver consistent commercial quality feature animation. The two directors of both “Despicable” films are French animators Chris Renaud (“The Lorax”) and Pierre Coffin, who came from French television.
What comes next: A sequel featuring the film’s Minion characters has already been announced.
2. The Lone Ranger (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: C; Metacritic score: 37
$29,432,000 in 3,904 theaters; PSA: $7,539; Cumulative: $48,396,000
What were they thinking? With the only breakout Westerns in recent years — “True Grit” and director Gore Verbinski’s animated “Rango” — totalling about $250 million each worldwide, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney gambled on spending that much–plus $150 million in worldwide marketing– on the runaway production “The Lone Ranger.”
Even with a normal Friday opening (the two-day holiday take added $19 million to the total), the movie would have still totaled about $40 million, which is far below what any of the Bruckheimer/Verbinski/Depp “Pirates of the Caribbean” films amassed. Indeed, that would have below the norm for most of Bruckheimer’s other hits (mainly with Disney for the last two decades, including “National Treasure,” “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor”) without adjusting for higher ticket prices. And all this for one of the producer’s (and Disney’s) most expensive films ever.
The gross shows the problems with these high-cost films. Betting on Johnny Depp to provide the core appeal, they managed to draw perhaps six million paying customers (normally a decent showing) for a genre of uncertain domestic and even less assured foreign appeal, all in a film about a character best known to Medicare recipients with a mixed action/comedy tone that when it works (a la “Pirates”) can become a windfall, but is still very tricky to pull off.
Bruckheimer –aside from his two “National Treasure” hits– has recently failed with pricey “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Prince of Persia.” His earlier franchises “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Bad Boys” followed standalone hit “Top Gun.” Disney, after an otherwise boffo year boasting three multi-hundred million worldwide performers (“Oz: The Great and Powerful,” “Iron Man 3” and “Monsters University”), has failed to provide the start for a hoped-for theme-park and multi-media franchise to replicate “Pirates,” and director Verbinski has his first big-budget failure after a string of successes, including the Oscar-winning “Rango.” For Johnny Depp, this follows “Dark Shadows” as another disappointment after a decade of standout success.
What comes next: How international does — will Depp’s usually strong draw overcome an aversion to Westerns and lack of familiarity with the character? — will determine how big a loss this finally is.
3. The Heat (20th Century-Fox) Week 2; Last weekend #2
$25,000,000 (-36%) in 3,184 theaters (+3); PSA: $7,852; Cumulative: $86,398,000
The star chemistry of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy continues to propel this female variation on buddy cop comedies like “Beverly Hills Cop” to strong grosses, with an initial budget at about 20% of Disney’s western. The total is above what “Bridesmaids” took in through its third weekend, but that started at a lower level and held better (second weekend was down only 20%). Still, this has a real shot at equaling that films’s $169-million total. And it jumped over “Monsters University” to become the best of the holdovers, a terrific achievement that speaks well for its near-future succcess.
What comes next: Bullock stars in Venice opener “Gravity” in September and McCarthy joins Bullock as the top comedy stars of either gender for the immediate future.
4. Monsters University (Buena Vista) Week 3; Last weekend #1
$19,590,000 (-57%) in 3,739 theaters (-265); PSA: $5,239; Cumulative: $216,127,000
The Minions did real damage to Pixar’s latest release, which fell three spots from #1 down to earth from its strong opening performance. Still solid, it likely will fall less in upcoming weeks.
What comes next: “Despicable Me 2” opened worldwide much more quickly than Disney chose to do for “Monsters,” so most of the latter’s foreign take is still ahead. This likely is heading to a successful $600 million+ worldwide take.
5. World War Z (Paramount) Week 3; Last weekend #3
$18,200,000 (-39%) in 3,316 theaters (-291); PSA: $5,489; Cumulative: $158,758,000
Down under 40%, this is a decent showing in a crowded market, and combined with similar results worldwide, this $190 million production might just eventually make its money back. Maybe. But tentpoles are not supposed to break even. They’re supposed to pay for other flops.
What comes next: Guillermo del Toro’s somewhat similar “Pacific Rim” opens next Friday, which should provide another test of how well this will stand up to fierce competition, which it has done quite well so far.
6. White House Down (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #4
$13,500,000 (-46%) in 3,222 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $4,190; Cumulative: $50,478,000
The second weekend drop was kept under 50%, but with the much lower opening last week than needed for this $200 million+ cost film, Sony must have been hoping for better. They staged a successful July 4th promotion (free admission for military personnel and veterans, which with those brought along boosted the gross to a big jump from Wednesday), but word of mouth at this point isn’t strong enough to get this near to what the domestic part of the overall total needed to be to keep this from being a significant loss.
What comes next: Next week’s performance could be the film’s last real chance to plateau and justify a multi-week future in the top 10.
7. Man of Steel (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #5
$11,415,000 (-45%) in 2,905 theaters (-1,226); PSA: $3,929; Cumulative: $271,206,000
Losing 30% of its theaters in its fourth weekend isn’t exactly the norm for a tentpole film that opened as strong as this did, but considering that drop, the gross for the weekend is still strong enough to ensure that this will soar past $300 million.
What comes next: Brazil and China have yet to open, making $700 million worldwide (on the low side of expectations) still possible.
8. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic score: 56
$10,100,000 in 876 theaters; PSA: $11,530; Cumulative: $17,460,000
Lionsgate’s stock hit an all-time high on Friday after this under 900 theater-opening film grossed nearly $5 million of Wednesday, solid for an inexpensive concert film from a comedian on his way up but not yet really established as a film draw. What makes the film important is that it is yet another indication that the merger of Lionsgate with Summit continues to pay dividends. 2013 — with the “Twilight” series over, the next “Hunger Games” entry not until November and with Tyler Perry a bit down from past success — has seen the company thrive with a variety of mid-to-lower budget original projects, including “Snitch” and the surprising “Now You See Me.”
This is Kevin Hart’s second film in the top 10 — he is among the actors playing themselves in “This Is the End.” It is also his second comedy concert film, with his sleeper “Laugh at My Pain” (from Codeblack Films, which partnered with Lionsgate last year) grossing a surprising $7.7 million in 2011. This effort, co-directed by veteran Tim Story and long-time comedy TV, cable and video director Leslie Small, should help Hart above the supporting roles in movies he has been known for (along with his successful stand-up career).
What comes next: In a very crowded market, this has a shot of expanding with these numbers and easily doubling this total so far.
9. This Is the End (Sony) Week 4; Last weekend #6
$5,800,000 (-33%) in 2,104 theaters (-606); PSA: $2,757; Cumulative: $85,554,000
Sony’s most successful (in terms of profit, but also potentially in terms of actual gross) domestically among its summer releases so far continues to thrive as this all-star comedy heads to a likely $100 million take.
What comes next: Most of foreign — where much of the cast is less well known — is yet to open, but this is already in profit territory, which puts it ahead of the troubled “After Earth” and “White House Down.”
10. Now You See Me (Lionsgate) Week 6:; Last weekend #7
$2,770,000 (-%) in 1,606 theaters (-958); PSA: $1,725; Cumulative: $110,415,000
Wrapping up its successful six week top 10 run, Lionsgate’s surprising (though not low-budget) sleeper success holds on despite a big drop in theaters.
What comes next: Foreign is gradually opening, with a combined $200 million + worldwide total looking likely.