Friday's surprise, as critically panned "Grown Ups 2," starring Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James and David Spade ended up an easy number one for the day, with $16.3 million, isn't quite the shock you might think.
Dennis Dugan's initial Sony film three years ago grossed $40 million its first weekend, propelled by good word of mouth to a $161 million total (with $100 million more worldwide). Dugan's name doesn't often come to mind when thinking of A-list commercial American directors. But the one-time actor (whose lead role in ABC's short-lived 1970s "Richie Brockelman, Private Eye" was his acting high point) has over the last two decades made 17 films that have amassed a domestic gross higher than those of some of the most acclaimed filmmakers over a span of the last several decades.
Dugan's hits, which include six previous $100 million successes (led by "Big Daddy") have been closely associated with both Adam Sandler (though not exclusively) and with Sony Pictures. Even without any critical support, his films have grossed over $1 billion, is more than the totals for films from directors as acclaimed and popular as Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, David Fincher and Ang Lee.
Overall Friday box office skyrocketed from last year, marking one of the best week-to-week improvements of 2013. The top 10 took in $62 million, compared to $48 million in 2012, and overall year-to-date totals are now down only a bit more than 1% after lagging most of the year.
After opening two far more expensive films ("After Earth" and "White House Down") that fell short, this is a much needed turnaround for Sony. Costing a reasonable $80 million, they not only have a surefire hit but also have established a franchise likely to provide dividends in the future. The Friday gross was their best opening day since "Skyfall" last November.
The gross (which includes $2.3 million from Thursday night shows) positions the film to compete for #1 for the weekend against the next best grossers, both quite good themselves. For now, #2 is Warner Bros. "Pacific Rim" from Guillermo del Toro, which did $14.6 (including $3.6 million Thursday) for a better than expected initial gross for this very ($195 million) expensive coproduction with Legendary Pictures (who just announced a new deal with Universal this week). #3 was "Despicable Me 2" (Universal) at $13.4 fell a bit over 50% from its opening day, but with matinees ahead still could leap over "Pacific Rim" or possibly even "Grown Ups 2" to retain the #1 spot.
#4 "The Heat" from 20th Century-Fox ($4.2 million) bested "The Lone Ranger" (Buena Vista) (which fell to #5 with $3.4 million) and crossed the $100 million mark in only its 15th day, proving, like "Grown Ups 2," the hunger for comedy. Disney's western flop fell more than two-thirds from its opening day, and could fall to #6 for the weekend, with their own "Monsters University" at $3.3 million likely to surge with matinees.
"World War Z," "White House Down," "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" and "Man of Steel" placed #7 - 10, all under $3 million.
The Weinstein Co. opened acclaimed Sundance prize-winner "Fruitvale Station" in seven theaters to a strong $127,000, with its per screen average of $18,143 the third best of any limited film (after "Spring Breakers" and "A Place Beyond the Pines") this year.