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Top Ten Takeaways: Sequels Rule as Women Boost ‘Pitch Perfect 2,’ ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Also Strong

Top Ten Takeaways: Sequels Rule as Women Boost 'Pitch Perfect 2,' 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Also Strong

This weekend, both “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” performed beyond expectations, and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” continues to show strength. If this kind of success carries through the summer, it could be an exciting one ahead.

The Top Ten

1. Pitch Perfect 2 (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 66; est. budget: $29 million
$70,300,000 in 3,473 theaters; PSA (per screen average); $20,242; Cumulative: $70,300,000

2. Mad Max – Fury Road (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 89; est. budget: $150-200 million
$44,440,000 in 3,702 theaters; PSA: $12,004; Cumulative: $44,440,000

3. Avengers: Age of Ultron (Buena Vista) Week 3 – Last weekend #1
$38,387,000 (-50%) in 4,276 theaters (-); PSA: $9,803; Cumulative: $372,008,000

4. Hot Pursuit (Warner Bros.) Week 2- Last weekend #2
$5,780,000 (-58%) in 3,037 theaters (+34); PSA: $1,903; Cumulative: $23,504,000

5. Paul Bart Mall Cop 2 (Sony) Week 5 – Last weekend #5
$3,600,000 (-32%) in 2,632 theaters (-569); PSA: $1,368; Cumulative: $62,929,000

6. Furious 7 (Universal) Week 7 – Last weekend #4
$3,600,000 (-33%) in 2,238 theaters (-301); PSA: $1,609; Cumulative: $343,800,000

7. The Age of Adaline (Lionsgate) Week 4 – Last weekend #3
$3,200,000 (-45%) in 2,623 theaters (-447); PSA: $1,220; Cumulative: $37,072,000

8. Home (20th Century Fox) Week 8 – Last weekend #7
$2,700,000 (-12%) in 2,006 theaters (-489); PSA: $1,346; Cumulative: $165,647,000

9. Ex Machina (A24) Week 6 – Last weekend #6
$2,103,000 (-40%) in 1,718 theaters (-286); PSA: $1,224; Cumulative: $19,566,000

10. Far from the Madding Crowd (Fox Searchlight) Week 3 – Last weekend #14
$1,300,000 (+67%) in 289 theaters (+190); PSA: $4,498; Cumulative: $2,631,000

The Takeaways

Originality, Diversity and Timing Matter

This was an exceptionally big weekend prior to the Memorial four-day blowout. Next week’s openers don’t share the pedigree of most years (among others, the previous “Furious” entries have opened then), making the huge numbers this weekend more critical.

The Top Ten came to $175 million, up $9 million from last year (which was dominated by “Godzilla” at $93 million). “Tomorrowland” and the rebooted “Poltergeist” relaunch next week. Whatever their appeal, neither should stand in the way of possible strong holds for the top three this week. This is healthy for the industry with multiple hits playing at the same time appealing to different audiences (only older adults are a bit discounted, although Searchlight’s expansion of “Far from the Madding Crowd” will try to capitalize on this).

The top films remain sequel-heavy, but an interesting element is shared by the “Pitch Perfect,” “Mad Max,” “Paul Blart” and “Furious” series that may have some significance. Unlike the Marvel and other comic book-based franchises or the recent young adult novel adaptations, they are all more or less original creations (“Pitch” started as a low-impact non-fiction book). It doesn’t make the movies superior per se, but it does add an element of originality to the mix. Creative movie people (not just those making the movies, but also the marketing brains involved) take greater chances when they don’t have the tried and true as a safety net.

All these successes fit into established patterns, but there is some real effort at being a bit less predictable. It’s healthy and bodes well for the future, even if contemporary constraints on movie production (including dependency on one-size-fits-all worldwide appeal and hefty budgets) make it more of a challenge.

Pitch Perfect 2 – What It Achieved

This is the biggest musical opening ever, even adjusting for inflation. “Grease,” which opened in 1978 in under 900 theaters — a very wide release at the time — adjusted had a higher per screen average, but that was a huge hit, and to be in that league is a big deal. In total, “Grease” adjusted is the third biggest musical ever (the equivalent of $624 million today, behind “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins.” The $70 million “Pitch Perfect 2” gross totally blows away other big musical recent openers (“Mamma Mia,” “Into the Woods,” “Les Miserables,” in the $27-31 million range). This kind of jump in a record is very rare.

It seems to be at the very high end of opening grosses, adjusted or otherwise, for first time live-action feature directors. It helps that it’s a sequel, but that doesn’t take away from Elizabeth Banks’ achievement.

It isn’t the biggest opening for a female director — that belongs to Sam Taylor-Johnson three months ago with “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Which, combined with Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken,” means that Universal, run by chairwoman Donna Langley, in six months time will have three films directed by women gross over $100 million and at least $150 million total worldwide, destroying the notion that women-directed efforts are niche items, or domestic only.

Even better, the combined budgets of the three films comes to under $150 million, less than what most individual blockbusters generally cost.

The first weekend outgrossed the entire run of the original. A sequel topping a popular first isn’t abnormal (though happening less often these days with male fanboy oriented movies — see, at least domestically, “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” as big as it is.) With a more women-targeted film, theatrical afterlife — streaming, cable, what remains of Netflix and other DVD rentals — kicked in big time to enhance interest.

The 29 international territories so far have added $38 million, terrific for a non-action/non-male oriented studio film. It even bested “Mad Max” in the U.K. and Germany (both doing well there). Domestic likely ends up being a majority of its take, but the total worldwide might be over $300 million and much more than many women’s demo releases, it could be a fairly even split. That’s crucial, because the perceived lesser foreign appeal has been a barrier that has limited studio interest.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” Is Impressive – and Now a Potential Success

Both because it finished a distant second and it has a huge expense hurdle to overcome — at least $150 million production budget, easily $100 million and likely more in marketing costs — one could argue for a mixed take on its initial returns. But considering the risk and advance negative expectations (led by weak tracking and bewilderment about how this could be recreated three decades later with an uncertain cast), this is nearly as much of an overachiever as “Pitch Perfect.” Why?

Let’s start with this: The gross is about 81% of what similarly great-reviewed “Gravity” (also 3D/IMAX price-enhanced, though the latter benefited more) despite having an R rating and without the huge boost that film got from Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and the expectation of a strong heart-tugging narrative. That’s impressive.

Not only is this the first “Mad Max” film since 1985, the three original films, though successful and leading to more success for director George Miller and star Mel Gibson, were hardly blockbusters. The biggest — “Beyond Thunderdome” — when adjusted opened to under $17 million and topped out at $83 million. And again, it’s been 30 years — few moviegoers under 40 (i.e., most of the potential audience) has much memory about them.

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are terrific actors, but draws for an expensive production? Hardy gets acclaim (Los Angeles Film Critics Best Actor for the sadly ignored “Locke”), but other than his supporting roles for Christopher Nolan, he isn’t an established draw. Only “This Means War” of his previous lead roles has grossed more in its entire run than this weekend total. Theron has had bigger openings, but is no guarantee of success. But both lent the movie built-up credibility even though they couldn’t propel this to success on their own.

This has room to grow. The initial audience was 70% male (a huge number these days) and 54% over 35. (“Gravity” though older-appealing skewed younger.). The powerful Furiosa character played by Theron and the astounding action scenes — on a scale beyond “Furious 7” — could draw younger and more female audiences after word of mouth gets around. That’s the key (along with other major foreign territories) to whether this will manage to get its steep cost back. The initial foreign haul is $68 million.

Critics created the excitement that boosted this. Its Metacritic score of 89 is better than any other initially wide release studio film this year (“Paddington” is second at 77), and better than any last year (“The LEGO Movie,” best at 83). It’s not quite “Gravity” (96) but good enough to anticipate some serious year-end attention, both on Ten Best lists and potential crafts Oscars.

George Miller, 70, is another veteran director that Warner Bros. seems to stay loyal to and vice versa (Clint Eastwood leading the way, along with Tim Burton and Peter Jackson). Miller has had an amazing career — he started in his native Australia with the independently made “Mad Max” (released in the U.S. by AIP before Warner Bros. took over). He contributed to the mid-80s “Twilight Zone” movie, then had a smash with “The Witches of Eastwick.” He was a practicing medical doctor before getting the directing bug (“Lorenzo’s Oil” for Universal tapped into that interest). At Universal, he produced “Babe” and then directed “Babe: Pig in the City.” He was the original director of Zemeckis’ “Contact” (Warner Bros.), parted company and came back with “Happy Feet” (which won him an Oscar) and its sequel. That’s a career closing in on four decades, and one that in older film circles means something. Still, turning over such an expensive project to him at this stage of his life, and at this expense, represents about as big a risk as any studio is taking this year. So far it looks like it could pay off.

Read: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Auteur George Miller Does It His Way

The Holdovers

In its third weekend, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is now domestically bigger than any film this year or last, and after next weekend the biggest since the first “Avengers” three years ago. It’s already at $1.1 billion worldwide, and foreign increases likely take the total to about what the first “Avengers” made. Domestic is down — in 2012 at the same point the total was $457 million, $85 million better. A minor quibble in context of the big picture and other big hits at the moment.

“Ultron” dropped 50%, but the strong female appeal of “Pitch” led to big drops for similarly-aimed “Hot Pursuit” and “The Age of Adaline,down 58 and 45% respectively. “Home,” helped by being the sole kids film, only lost 12% (and is now at a much better than expected $125 million). Long run hits “Furious 7” and “Paul Blart :Mall Cop 2” despite losing hundreds of theaters each held their drops to the low 30s, again quite positive.

As happened when “Ultron” opened, “Ex Machina” seemed to lose some momentum against new openings. Down nearly 300 screens, it dropped 40%. It is strong enough maintain enough of these to hit a healthy $25 million or better, and has been helped going before the heavier release schedule ahead, but it has been a struggle for A24 — as good a job as they’ve done with this — to reach its maximum potential.

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