Matt Damon in "Elysium"
Matt Damon in "Elysium"

Four new films opened this August weekend to overall decent if not sensational results, and several long-running performers yielded a top 10 slightly ahead of last year ($149 million vs. $129 million), bringing the year-to-date total about even with 2012. But the four new films before marketing boasted production costs of $300 million; budgets increased dramatically. So far the summer has yielded six flops.  

Sony's "Elysium" led the way at the weekend box office with $30 million, slightly below expectations for acclaimed young "District 9" director Neill Blomkamp. The comedy "We're the Millers" and two family-oriented films, "Planes" and "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," added to the totals, with only "Millers" showing any real strength.

Just below the top 10 was Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," (Sony Pictures Classics), with an amazing per screen average of $21,000 on only 116 theaters. Already up to $6.2 million, SPC's slow release pattern so far is working great for this acclaimed film that looks to be a factor for months ahead, both for audiences and awards.

1. Elysium (Sony) NEW - Cinemascore: B ; Criticwire:B-; Metacritic: 60

$30,500,000 in 3,284 theaters; PSA (Per screen average): $9,527; Cumulative: $30,500,000

Sony has had a turbulent summer. They scored two solid hits with "This Is the End" and "Grown Ups 2." But the jury is out on he internationally-driven "The Smurfs 2," and they suffered big-budget flops "After Earth" and "White House Down." None hit #1 for their openings. So it's a relief that their not inexpensive pickup from Media Rights Capital ($115 million reported acquisition cost) is #1, Sony's first since "Evil Dead.") Initial foreign reports suggested a better relative performance in initial territories (particularly Russia) for Blomkamp's futuristic sci-fi/action film, so this has gotten off to a promising start overall.

This #1 August opening falls short of last year's "The Bourne Legacy" ($38 million) and 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" ($55 million). In fact, there was a higher anticipation for this film that the rest of the month's entries, because of Blomkamp and his earlier film's success. The reviews fell short of "District 9"'s, which might have lessened interest a bit. The B Cinemascore is not a good sign for positive word-of-mouth. 

This is something of a comeback for its two stars. It marks Matt Damon's best opening weekend since "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007), although Christmas release "True Grit" more recently was a bigger hit. In unadjusted figures, it is Jodie Foster's best ever, although "Inside Man" and "Panic Room" with similar totals came with lower ticket prices.

What comes next: Most of the international rollout starts next week, and with that the determination of whether this turns out to be a success.

2. We're the Millers (Warner Bros.) NEW - Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire; C+;  Metacritic: 43

$26,555,000 in 3,260 theaters; PSA: $8,146; Cumulative: $38,044,000

For the second time in a month, Warner Bros. has scored with a lower-budget ($37 million) film that could end up with a total gross above some of the $100 million+ cost summer entries. Coming on the heels of "The Conjuring," it is further good news for a studio that has rebounded this summer after a rough start for 2013.

This New Line-produced comedy looks like it could become Jennifer Aniston's sixth $100 million + film (which puts her in rare company among contemporary actresses) and should enhance the profile of "Saturday Night Live" alum Jason Sudeikis, who as a co-star has previously had hits with "Horrible Bosses" and "The Campaign." Director Rawson Marshall Thurber has had only two notable previous films - "Dodgeball" and the much more limited "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," with this likely to push him more to the forefront.

The uptick on Saturday from Friday - after already having had two earlier days of play - suggests the kind of word of mouth that should keep this around for the rest of the month.