With the help of an unexpected sleeper success ("Now You See Me") and a continued decent showing for "Fast and Furious 6," the combined weekend gross for the top 10 again rose above last year's ($150 million, up from $133) even with the disappointing initial numbers from "After Earth," which was expected to be #1 this weekend.
Even Sony admitted that the Will Smith-starrer lagged behind hopes, surprising considering the reliable star's established ability to stand up to competition. This summer so far has risen above last year's post-"Avengers" string of disappointments, and with "Man of Steel" soon to appear, and "Now You See Me" showing room for riskier ventures to find audiences, there's no reason for short-term concern.
1. Fast & Furious 6 (Universal) Week 2 - Last weekend: #1
$34,500,000 (-65%) in 3,686 theaters (+28); PSA (per screen average): $9,370; Cumulative: $170,400,000
The big post-holiday weekend drop is only slightly more than "Fast Five"'s, which opened at a lower gross, but this action juggernaut remains #1 and more impressively is already at $480-million worldwide with three major territories (China, Japan, Australia) still to open.
What comes next: Anyone arguing against the logic of nurturing sequels will need to explain the success here -- this could be the protypical 2013 studio film.
2. Now You See Me (Lionsgate) NEW - Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire grade: C; Metacritic score: 50
$28,050,000 in 2,925 theaters; PSA: $9,590; Cumulative: $28,050,000
Showing that audiences will sometimes embrace an original, unheralded non-franchise film, this surprise #2 film wasn't expected to be the best opener this weekend or to get to this level of business. Lionsgate (and production partner Summit) has a track record for thinking more outside the box than the major studios. But taking a magician-based project (the most recent one, "Incredible Burt Winterstone" bombed despite the Steve Carrell/Jim Carrey involvement) with solid but not box office guaranteed actors like Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman and reaching this initial level is both a creative and marketing triumph.
Apart from the cast, other elements didn't suggest a summer success. Director Louis Letterier has been involved with conventional hits -- "Clash of the Titans," "Incredible Hulk," "Transporter" -- the last two of which opened to $55 million or more. But at $75 million this film is relatively more economical, and more importantly seems to not only have opened well but also gotten a positive reaction which could lead to a sustained run. The writers and producers include people involved with a wide range of past successes ranging from "Remember the Titans," "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," "Revolutionary Road" and "Star Trek in Darkness," an unusual melange that reminds that utilizing creative talent to do something a bit different can pay off.
What comes next: The competition is intense over the next month, but this has room to thrive ahead. This could be one of the more interesting stories of the year.
3. After Earth (Sony) NEW - Cinemascore: B; Criticwire grade: C-; Metacritic score: 32
$27,000,000 in 3,401 theaters; PSA: $7,939; Cumulative: $27,000,000
M. Night Shyamalan's second lowest opening weekend (after "The Lady in the Water") since "The Sixth Sense" and Will Smith's lowest for an action film (not adjusting for inflation) since 1998 comes against the backdrop of an expensive production ($135 million pre-marketing) and a project that rests squarely on the shoulders of both previously successful creators. $27 million on its own for a non-3-D film doesn't indicate a total flop despite all the commentary -- it actually shows that despite bad reviews and advance negative hype Smith is still a strong draw. But in terms of expectations as well as Shyamalan's recent struggle to succeed with expensive/star-driven projects, it's a disappointment. And with the good but not great performance of "MIB 3" last year, Smith is vulnerable to no longer being perceived as the most reliable box office draw around.
What comes next: Smith is a bigger international star, and a big-scale action enterprise like this could do substantially better when it starts opening soon (atypically these days, this was a U.S.-first release). But this has a long way to go before coming close to be a success.
4. (tie) Epic (20th Century-Fox) Week 2 - Last weekend: #4
$16,400,000 (-51%) in 3,894 theaters (+12); PSA: $4,212; Cumulative: $65,161,000
Falling more than normal for an animated film's second weekend (the most recent hit "The Croods" fell 39%), this isn't getting the same level of response of other breakout hits in the genre. Without much competition for family audiences at the moment, this comes as something of a surprise, even without the benefit of being part of a series.
What comes next: This cost less than a lot of recent animated releases (under $100 million), and with international should be OK. But the potential was there for much more.
4. (tie) Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount) Week 3 - Last weekend: #3
$16,400,000 (-51%) in 3,585 theaters (-322); PSA: $4,575; Cumulative: $181,156,000
Though still a bit under expectations considering its cost, this is still a solid gross for another entry in this long-running series (including TV, alone with the Bond films for maintaining continued interest five decades later), with international doing better than the last one even if domestic is lagging.
What comes next: This will end up somewhere around $220 million, good under the circumstances, but not great.
6. The Hangover Part III (Warner Bros.) Week 2 - Last weekend: #2
$15,930,000 (-62%) in 3,565 theaters (+10); PSA: $4,468; Cumulative: $88,086,000
A big second week drop, similar to "Part II"'s - although that was from a $103 million start. Add to that, a fall to sixth place from #2 last time around. All this suggests that though this will top $100 million, it won't be by much, which confirms that this a disappointment.
What comes next: The first film was in the top 10 for nine weeks; second for five. This, likely the last, at best three.