The weekend after Angelina Jolie propelled "Maleficent" (Buena Vista), an expensive summer tentpole, to significant success, Shailene Wooley did the same with the low-budget romance-amid-illness "The Fault in Our Stars" (20th Century Fox).
Building on a core of interest from the young adult novel and then adding smart casting and imaginative, significantly social-media based marketing, "Fault" came in significantly ahead, at least in domestic totals, of Tom Cruise's "Edge of Tomorrow" (Warner Bros.), whose budget was about 15 times more. The end result is a Top 10 total of $152 million, ahead of the $141 million a year ago (when the even lower budget "The Purge" was #1) and, for the second straight weekend, an improvement after a May loaded with action and gadget movies fell significantly from 2013 (the first full month drop this year). With two likely major hits coming next week -- "How to Train Your Dragon 2" and "22 Jump Street" -- concerns about a weaker than usual summer look at least for the moment to be receding.
1. "The Fault In Our Stars" (20th Century Fox) NEW - Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 69
$48,200,000 in 3,153 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $15,191; Cumulative: $48,200,000
Somewhere in the List of Rules for Studio Releases is the section about movies with romantic themes and/or primarily aimed at younger females: release them in November or on Valentine's Day or sometimes March. The summer is for boys of all ages (more so overseas). Another rule is: reserve summer for your biggest budget films, since they need maximum advantage to make back their money.
Those rules are taking a hit this month. Last week, an actress-centered top budget film ("Maleficent") exceeded expectations worldwide and looks like it will end up somewhere in the same territory as four April-May, more male-oriented action and/or comic book character tentpoles. This week, "The Fault In Our Stars," with a targeted marketing campaign that went full bore after a young female profile (many familiar with the love story in the middle of fighting cancer) and having (by studio standards) a micro-budget ($12 million), showed that counter-programming can work any time. With confidence and social-media smarts, the Fox team created strong buzz for this, then pushed a "special event" opening on Thursday (not only early shows, normal these days, but some $25 screenings with a simulcast with actors and other talent to elevate the excitement and gross). This led to a front-loaded result-- $26 million combined for Thursday/Friday, then $12 million yesterday. The result is a terrific weekend gross, though one that came in below the high end of predictions based on initial reaction (yesterday was down about one-third from the isolated Friday gross, not normally a positive sign).
Whatever the minor negatives, the most important comparison is to other recent romantic genre films. The best opener in recent years was "The Vow" which took in $41 million for Valentine's Day 2012 weekend. The best of the rest of similar films opened to $30 million or less (usually much less). And most had higher budgets as well, making them less profitable. It is a breakout film for director Josh Boone (whose 2012 Toronto Film Festival film "Stuck in Love" had a minor play last summer). It confirms the rising stardom of Shailene Woodley, who has built on "The Descendants" and "The Spectacular Now" with two #1 films already this year ("Divergent," the first of an expected series from Lionsgate). She and Jennifer Lawrence, both not yet 25, have achieved a level of stardom that no male actors under 30 currently command.
Fox provided some intriguing stats to go along with the gross -- the audience was a staggering 82% female, and 79% under 25. And reflecting the diversity of younger America, it was also 44% non-white, suggesting that this love story has a very wide appeal.
What comes next: With two strong openers next week, this could be very good next weekend and still be only #3. Even with a fall-off, it should be an easy $100 million+ domestic gross, with international (a bigger question - initial territories opened in some cases strong this weekend).
2. "Maleficent" (Buena Vista) Week 2 - Last weekend #1
$33,523,000 (-52%) in 3,498 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $9,583; Cumulative: $127,370,000
With a second week drop less than other recent tentpoles, despite the competition from "Fault in Our Stars" among females, this continues to justify its high-end budget ($185 million). The $335 million worldwide take in under two weeks, with the two biggest foreign territories yet to open, makes this even more standout (and helps negate the industry belief that male stars are needed to carry a film abroad).
What comes next: "How to Train Your Dragon 2" will cut into this next weekend, but this should be headed to over $200 million domestic and $600 million+ total worldwide.