Two films with grosses over $50 million in one weekend -- the first of a string of highly anticipated studio summer releases -- returns the box office to normal. "Iron Man 3" held onto the #1 spot, with the expected second weekend falloff for a huge opening, but still strong. And "The Great Gatsby" had a stellar start despite mixed reviews and concern about its earnings potential.
With the rest of the top 10 struggling to get noticed, the net results were a total of $151 million, still down from a year ago (when the $103-million second weekend of "The Avengers" pushed the total to $161 million). What is more important is that two films in a row with high potential have exceeded expectations. If that continues over the next few months, 2013 will begin to catch up with last year.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" should continue that trend next weekend with an anticipated #1 ranking. It opened in much of the world last Friday. J.J. Abrams' film opened in seven territories (including the best performing ones for the relaunch of the series in 2009) to just under $32 million, 70% better total in the seven countries than last time around. This time, it's in 3D, which accounts for some, but not close to all of the uptick. The U.K. led with a bit over $13 million. Most of the rest of the world opens next week (head to head with "The Great Gatsby in most territories.)
1. Iron Man 3 (Buena Vista) Week 2 - Last weekend: #1
$72,472,000 (-58%) in 4,253 theaters (unchanged); PSA (per screen average); $17,040; Cumulative: $284,893,000
This is a credible hold for the second weekend (huge openers often fall by large percentages - "The Avengers" dropped 50% its second weekend, with a $103 million gross). "Iron Man 2" fell similarly (58%) at a lower gross ($52 million, though not in 3-D) and also had a big new film opening against it ("Robin Hood").
That's the domestic news - but the worldwide figures are even more impressive. Through this weekend, the worldwide total in under three weeks is already $949 million, which could put it well on the way toward being the first $1 billion and top grosser for 2013.
What comes next: "Star Trek Into Darkness" likely pushes "Iron Man 3" out of #1 next week, but with so much money taken in so early that will be a minor glitch, as well as a sign of the strength of this month's new releases.
2. The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros.) NEW - Cinemascore: B; Criticwire grade: B; Metacritic score: 55
$51,115,000 in 3,525 theaters; PSA: $14,460; Cumulative: $51,115,000
A much bigger than expected opening (why is it that female-driven films underperform in tracking?) and solid evidence that more than 15 years after "Titanic" Leonardo DiCaprio remains the go-to actor for a role involving a dashing romantic leading man, particularly in a period piece. It also justifies the risks that Warner Bros. -- a company that has been struggling most of this year -- took with this project.
The weekend total (not accounting for inflation or surcharges) is just short of the most any of director Baz Luhrmann's films have done in total domestically ("Moulin Rouge" took in $57 million). His films have done much better internationally even before the recent explosion in overseas markets. Letting Luhrmann make an expensive ($100 million or so, although the money is on-screen) from a classic novel is hardly typical studio risk these days. But they clearly found the right horse to ride.
And delaying the opening (perhaps for production reasons) from the intensive awards late-year slot -- when critics are at maximum power -- to the beginning of the summer season was clearly the right call. And then, against what is becoming the norm, delaying the foreign opening until after it opened in the U.S., with the Cannes opening night presentation coming Wednesday, could have gone very wrong if the film had not opened up strong stateside. All in all, one of the more successful coming together of production elements for a risky project for some time.
Not being #1 means little as long as the grosses sustain themselves decently via strong word-of-mouth and more importantly the rest of the world reacts as well. "The Life of Pi," "Django Unchained" and "Les Miserables" were never at #1 for any single week (indeed, none had a weekend as strong as this).
And after "Django" and with Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" coming later this year, 2013 could be a banner year for DiCaprio. And unlike what the 1974 version did for Robert Redford (fun fact - he was younger than Di Caprio when he played Gatsby) this should reinforce DiCaprio's stature as one of the top marquee draws of our time. This is second only to "Inception" as his biggest opening weekend (though at higher ticket prices than some of his other successes).
What comes next: Expect studio execs to be googling "most read novels in high school" to figure out how to try to duplicate this. Europe and much of the world open this week, with French-speaking territories on Wednesday as the film plays Cannes, most others by Friday. Two of the biggest -- Australia, the film's country of origin, and Japan, where DiCaprio is perhaps bigger than anywhere else--come a bit later.