Box Office Shocker: 'The Purge' Tops Weekend With $36.4 Million

"The Purge"
"The Purge"
 Universal Pictures

Universal and Jason Blum's microbudgeted thriller The Purge had no trouble scaring off The Internship as it grossed a stunning $36.4 million -- double the opening of the Google comedy.

The Purge, starring Ethan Hawke and Game of Thrones' Lena Headey, wasn't Universal's only victory of the weekend. Fast & Furious 6 claimed the No. 2 spot as it grossed $19.8 million in its third weekend to race past the $200 million mark domestically. Overseas, it all but tied for No. 1 with new entry After Earth, grossing $45.3 million from 62 markets in its third weekend for a worldwide total of $584.6 million.

Directed by Shawn Levy, The Internship placed No. 4 behind Now You See Me as it opened to a muted $18.1 million, despite reuniting Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson for the first time since Wedding Crashers in 2005.

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That's slightly better than expected, but 20th Century Fox and New Regency, which split the $58 million budget, had hoped for much more when embarking on the comedy. Many reviewers have skewered The Internship -- starring Vaughn and Wilson as washed-up salesmen who become interns at Google -- for being an advertisement for the giant tech company. Audiences were more generous, giving the PG-13 entry a B+ CinemaScore.

This marks Levy's worst opening in a decade (in 2003, Fox comedy Just Married debuted to $17.5 million). And it will come nowhere near to Wedding Crashers, which debuted to $33.9 million, ushering in a new era or prosperity for R-rated comedies. Levy and Vaughn, who produced and co-wrote The Internship, worked closely with Google throughout the process of making the film.

Fox president of domestic distribution Chris Aronson countered that the comedy received great scores.

"Well above-average ratings and definite recommends echo our test scores. This playability should ensure a great multiple as moviegoers continue to discover a gem of a comedy," he said.

From writer-director James DeMonaco, The Purge --  costing a mere $3 million to produce and already making its budget back -- is set in a future where one night a year all crime is legal. The film received a C CinemaScore, not unusual for the genre.

Heading into the weekend, The Purge --  Hawke's biggest opening in North America -- was tracking to open south of $20 million, but a strong turnout among younger female moviegoers and Hispanics led to the movie vastly overperforming.

"We didn't expect anything near this result," Universal president of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco. "The social media campaign really paid off, as well as the traditional campaign."

Hispanics -- the most avid moviegoers in the U.S. -- made up 33 percent of those buying tickets to The Purge, while those under the age of 25 made up 56 percent. The pic skewed female (56 percent).

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The Purge is the first title to be released through Universal's partnership with Blum, the producer behind the Paranormal Activity franchise and Insidious. Blum produced the movie with Michael Bay, Sebastien K. LeMercier and Bay's colleagues at Platinum Dunes, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller.

Fox's 3D animated family film Epic placed No. 5 in its third weekend, grossing $12.1 million for a domestic cume of $84.2 million.

J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness, continuing to enjoy an enviable hold, also jumped the $200 million mark in North America, grossing $11.7 million in its fourth weekend for a total of $200.1 million. Overseas, the film grossed $17.6 million for the weekend for an international haul of $176.4 million -- 40 percent ahead of Abrams' first Star Trek film, released in 2009. Into Darkness' worldwide cume is $376.4 million.

Sony's sci-fi epic After Earth, starring Will Smith and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, tumbled to No. 7 in its second week, grossing $11.2 million for a domestic cume of $46.6 million. The troubled pic debuted to $45.5 million overseas from 60 territories for an early foreign total of $48.6 million and worldwide cume of $95.2 million, well below what Smith is usually used to grossing.

Internationally, After Earth opened roughly on par with Tom Cruise sci-fi pic Oblivion, which has earned a solid, but unspectacular, $191.2 million. After Earth did its biggest business in Russia ($8.6 million).

Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing soared at the specialty box office, grossing $183,400 from five theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco for a location average of $36,680, a victory for the filmmaker and Roadside Attractions. The black-and-white film, a festival darling, broke the house record at the Lincoln Center Film Society's theater on Saturday night with $15,027.

Twitter: @PamelaDayM

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