Ethan Hawke in 'The Purge'
Ethan Hawke in 'The Purge'

Ethan Hawke is smiling. "The Purge" kicked its rivals to the curb with a surprise $36 million opening. After two weekends that pulled ahead of last year's numbers (a rare occurrence in 2013), grosses slipped back to their customary falloff. The top 10 totaled around $145 million, down $25 million from last year. That's because there were no top-end new releases (next week "Man of Steel" will challenge "Iron Man 3"'s record as the summer's biggest opener), but it's not a good sign.

Universal's continuing to deliver at the box office as "Purge" joins Lionsgate/Summit "Now You See Me" as a strong unheralded overperformer, ending up an easy #1, grossing in the mid-$30 million range, great for its cost, but at the low end for a summertime #1. Fox' "The Internship" fell short of two holdovers for a more modest $18 million.

1. The Purge (Universal) NEW - Cinemascore: C; Criticwire grade: C+; Metacritic score: 43

$36,400,000 in 2,536 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $14,353,000; Cumulative: $36,400,000

This isn't the first surprising success from low-budget horror film producer Jason Blum ("Insidious," "Sinister," "Paranormal Activity"), but his first with Universal is one of his more unexpected. His films usually don't appear on such a prime date (other than Halloween). Once again this year, the studio has exceeded expectations and scored a major success with a low-budget ($3 million in this case).

Helped by being the first horror-related film in two months (never underestimate the strength of one when it's been a while), this will fall short of Blum's best opening ("Paranormal Activity 3" delivered $52.6 million in October 2011), but is also the best first weekend total for one since then.

It is also an unusual June release, and though a strong number, still a low one to be #1 this time of year. If Universal's estimates come true (Sunday's guess seems a bit high, particularly with the not so good C Cinemascore and NBA competition today), it will just beat the other most recent low, "Super 8", which grossed just under $36 million two years ago.

That said, even if this has taken in a majority of its domestic haul (likely), with lower-cost social media-driven marketing costs added to the small upfront costs, and later foreign take, this will be one of the more successful films in relation to expense of the year.

This is easily a career-best opening for a film with Ethan Hawke as the lead; he also has well-reviewed "Before Midnight" performing well in limited release.

What comes next: This might not be better than #5 next weekend, but Universal's bet has already paid off.

2. Fast & Furious 6 (Universal) Week 3 - Last weekend: #1

$19,800,000 (-44%) in 3,771 theaters (+85); PSA: $5,251; Cumulative: $202,300,000

Nearing $600 million worldwide, this continues to thrive domestically, although it just barely edged out "Now You See Me" for #2. This is now about to overtake "The Croods" as the second biggest film of the year in total gross (behind "Iron Man 3").

What comes next: This is the rare series that hits it high point (so far) with its sixth go-round. Universal's only worry going forward is to keep the budget under control.

3. Now You See Me (Lionsgate) Week 2 - Last weekend: #2

$19,500,000 (-34%) in 3,020 theaters (+95); PSA: $6,457,000; Cumulative: $61,374,000

Down only a modest amount, and placing higher for the weekend than anticipated (although it did edge "Fast & Furious 6" during the week), this looks like the surprise success of the summer to this point. Clearly, word of mouth for this hard to classify magician-centered caper is solid and despite upcoming competition this isn't going to disappear anytime soon.

What comes next: The slow, staggered worldwide rollout (Japan doesn't open until late October) doesn't give much indication yet of its appeal elsewhere, but so far this looks like a solid success for the Summit division of Lionsgate, clearly moving beyond the "Twilight" series a production entity.

4. The Internship (20th Century-Fox) NEW - Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire grade: C; Metacritic score: 43

$18,100,000 in 3,366 theaters; PSA: $5,377; Cumulative: $18,100,000

Though this Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson Google-home office set comedy managed to come in a bit ahead of late expectation, this is still a routine gross considering the elements involved. It's the lowest opening for normally surefire director Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum," "Real Steel") in more than a decade, and although the stars have had a more mixed reaction in recent years still sounded stronger on paper.

Their previous co-starring effort, "Wedding Crashers," opened to nearly twice as much business in 2005 (more when adjusted for inflation). Still, both the gross and the audience reaction (as shown by its decent Cinemascore) were ahead of what was anticipated, so with a relatively small $58 million budget before marketing, this is still in the game for further advancement as a comedy alternative to the higher-profile films out there. Still, a #4 opening (Levy's films usually open at #1) is disappointing.

What comes next: Word of mouth and the impact of competing comedy "This Is the End" will determine much of the future.