Led by two openers whose series combined have reached nine films total, business for the first time in 2013 blasted far ahead of the previous year. And more importantly, it did so on one of the biggest weekends of the year.
The top 10 films, which include five with grosses over $30 million for the three days, totaled nearly $250 million, compared to only $144 million last year, and when not adjusted for inflation, mark the highest ever for Memorial Day. After five months of lower-than-expected grosses, particularly from action films, 2013 roared back this weekend.
Although the large total of competing films naturally lowered the performance of some, the big uptick in audience interest across a broad spectrum of audiences provides a solid sign that the expensive, franchise and sequel-oriented summer ahead could be a success. And with most of these same films doing better (in some cases, by a significant degree) overseas, things are looking up.
1. Fast & Furious 6 (Universal) NEW - Cinemascore: A; Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 61
$98,500,000 in 3,658 theaters; PSA (Per screen average): $26,935; Cumulative: $98,500,000
An astounding gross for a sixth film in a series, more so for one that has grown from modest roots, which changed its emphasis from street-racing to broader international intrigue with a "Dirty Dozen" twist, all while upping the ante for action and adrenalin-pushing stunts. This is second only to "Iron Man 3" as an opening weekend gross this year, and comes without the extra boost of 3-D surcharges (can that be far behind in future sequels?).
And the worldwide picture -- this has opened in most territories -- is just as rosy. The weekend estimate is over $275 million total so far, which based on the A Cinemascore will just be the start of something really big.
The cost of the films has risen -- this one checked in at $160 million before marketing -- but the investment (which includes returning director Justin Lin and the cast regulars) is paying off. For veteran producer Neil Moritz, this comes after flops "Jack the Giant Slayer" and "Total Recall." Among the cast, it should be noted that this is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's fourth starring film already this year. Though he is more an ensemble than the central figure here, he increasingly becoming the go-to star for major action hits.
What comes next: This looks like it could be among the top three or four hits of the summer.
2. The Hangover Part III (Warner Bros.) NEW - Cinemascore: B; Criticwire grade: C-; Metacritic score: 31
$42,415,000 in 3,555 theaters; PSA: $11,931, Cumulative: $54,203,000
A big falloff in gross from Part II of the series (almost exactly 50% down last time for the first three-day weekend), with a harsher Cinemascore (the first two entries were A and A- respectively) suggesting word of mouth issues combining with more competition this time around will lessen the impact.
With virtually the same cast and crew as the previous films and a similar concept/execution, this is one of the rare comedy series to go to a third entry. The "Fockers" family series did go that route, and its third go-round also saw a big drop from the second, though the first weekend gross was down a third, with the total run only slightly better than half as good ultimately.
The better-received initial films were helped by strong audience response. This one has yielded a sense of disappointment and been-there-done-that.
What comes next: This was not an inexpensive film -- the budget was triple the $35 million of the first, one problem with keeping the series going. Although international grosses could pull this one out, it looks like the end of the series, at least with the current team.