Box Office Report: Will Smith's 'After Earth' Loses to 'Now You See Me' in Major Misstep

"After Earth"
"After Earth"
 Columbia Pictures

Marking a sizeable blow for one of the world's top stars, Will Smith's sci-fi adventure After Earth narrowly lost to magician heist pic Now You See Me in one of the most surprising box office upsets in recent memory.

Sony's After Earth, starring Smith opposite his son, Jaden, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, took in $27.5 million in its North American debut, compared to $29.6 million for Now You See Me, from Summit Entertainment.

Universal's Fast & Furious 6 beat both films to stay at No. 1 in its second weekend, declining 65 percent to $34.5 million for a stellar domestic cume of $170.3 million. The action pic earned another $75 million overseas for a dazzling worldwide total of $480.6 million. Todd Phillips' The Hangover Part III, however, topped the international box office with an outstanding $82.3 million.

For nearly two decades, every summer film starring Will Smith has opened at No. 1, an enviable run (Made in America debuted at No. 2 in 1993).

Heading into the weekend, After Earth was expected to easily outpace Now You See Me with a $35 million to $40 million opening, still one of the lowest numbers for a summer film starring Smith, but in line with Tom Cruise's sci-fi adventure Oblivion.

STORY: 'After Earth' as Scientology Propaganda: What Critics Are Saying 

Hindered by dismal reviews and a B CinemaScore, After Earth vastly underperformed. The pic will now need to make a strong showing overseas if it has any chance of making up its $130 million budget, plus a major marketing spend. Smith is beloved internationally, although sci-fi can be a tough sell in some major markets.

After Earth opened in South Korea over the weekend, placing No. 2 behind The Hangover Part III with a so-so $2.7 million.

The father-son adventure is a passion project for Smith, who came up with the idea for the story and helped tap Shyamalan to direct the film for Sony. The actor's character sits out much of the action in the film, with the younger Smith taking top billing. Numerous reviewers raised parallels between the film and Scientology.

"Would we have liked to do more? Certainly. But the film has always been a world play. It's going to to be opening in 60 countries. It's a movie everyone worked very hard on, and everyone is proud of the film. But its always been a world play, and will open in 60 countries next weekend," said Sony worldwide president of distribution Rory Bruer.

One Sony insider added that the parallels being drawn between the storyline and Scientology couldn't be "further from the truth."

Now You See Me, designed to serve as counterprogramming to summer studio fare, wasn't expected to open much past $20 million. Directed by Louis Leterrier, the movie's ensemble cast includes Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco

The film, receiving an A- CinemaScore, cost just north of $75 million to produce, with much of the budget offset by foreign presales.

Lionsgate president of distribution Richie Fay credited a strong marketing campaign that included an aggressive screening program, among other tactics. Noting After Earth, he said, "I don't like dancing on anyone's grave, but I am pleased with our success."

Elsewhere, Paramount's Star Trek Into Darkness and 20th Century Fox's 3D animated pic Epic tied for fourth place with $16.4 million each. The final order will be determined when official weekend numbers are released on Monday.

J.J. Abrams' Star Trek sequel ended the weekend with a domestic total of $181.2 million. Overseas, Into Darkness took in $37.6 million as it opened in China and South Korea for an international total of $147.4 million and worldwide cume of $328.6 million. The sci-fi adventure opened in China to a strong $25 million.

Epic, produced by Fox Animation Studios and Blue Sky, the team behind the Ice Age franchise and Rio, took in $28.8 million overseas from 56 countries for an international cume of $86.3 million and worldwide haul of $151.5 million.

Warner Bros.' and Legendary's The Hangover Part III tumbled 62 percent in its second weekend to place No. 6, grossing $15.9 million for a disappointing domestic total of $88.1 million. The final title in Todd Phillips' R-rated comedy franchise received great news internationally, where it is outpacing the two previous films.

At the specialty box office, Zal Batmanglij's thriller The East opened to $75,628 from four theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a location average of $18,907. From Fox Searchlight, the film stars Brit Marling, Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard and Patricia Clarkson.

CBS' The Kings of Summer likewise opened in four theaters, grossing $58,000 for a location average of $14,500. The film, from first-time director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, received an A- CinemaScore.

Indie drama Mud, from Roadside Attractions, stayed in the top 10 in it sixth weekend, grossing $1.2 million from 580 theaters for a total $16.9 million.

 
Twitter: @PamelaDayM

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