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Riding a wave of largely positive reviews and enthusiastic audience response, Lee Daniels’ The Butler took the top spot at the North American box office, taking in an estimated $25 million as it bowed in 2,933 theaters. The Weinstein Company release, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, easily outperformed the weekend’s three other new wide releases.
Universal’s Kick-Ass 2, the sequel to the 2010 movie about would-be superheroes, debuted in third place with $13.56 million. Jobs, the biopic about Apple founder Steve Jobs, distributed by Open Road, failed to create much of a stir, collecting $6.7 million for a seventh-place showing, and the thriller Paranoia, from Relativity, lagged further behind with just $3.5 million, landing outside of the top 10 in 13th place.
Among the holdovers, Warners’ We’re the Millers showed remarkable staying power. Rawson Marshall Thurber‘s comedy about a drug-dealing pseudo-family, starring Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston, pulled in $17.8 million to secure the second spot on the box-office list in its sophomore outing. It fell just 33 percent from its opening weekend, the best hold for any of this summer’s wide releases. Its domestic cume now stands at $69.5 million. The Millers also began its international rollout, grossing $10.6 million in 13 markets.
Sony’s sci-fi tale Elysium, also in its second weekend, scored $13.6 million, bringing its domestic total to $55.9 million. That left Elysium and Kick-Ass 2 effectively tied for third place in the rankings. Elysium also rang up $22 million internationally, bringing its worldwide total to $93.6 million.
Disney’s animated Planes rounded out the top five. Grossing $13.1 million for the weekend, its domestic purse is currently $45.1 million.
The Butler‘s performance represented a coup for TWC, which originally planned to release the movie, inspired by the true story of White House butler Eugene Allen, on Oct. 18. However, in May, after seeing positive test results for the film, independently produced at a cost of about $30 million, Harvey Weinstein decided to move up its opening to August.
“We saw an opportunity to stand out and be different,” said Erik Lomis, TWC president of theatrical distribution. The movie got a lot of attention earlier in the summer when TWC battled with Warners and the MPAA over the use of the title The Butler and Winfrey herself led a full-court publicity effort in recent weeks to further raise the profile of the PG-13 film. But heading into the weekend, most observers expected the title to bow in the mid-to-high-teen range. “We’re absolutely thrilled,” Lomis said. “We were extremely hot on Friday and never slowed down.”
He reported that the movie played well everywhere, from the big cities to the suburbs, but was particularly strong in the Northeast, especially in the Washington, D.C., area, which reflected the movie’s setting. But, he added, it also played in smaller towns like Richmond, Va., Columbia, S.C., and Macon, Ga. The movie did open to an older, female audience. Women made up 60 percent of the opening weekend audience, while 76 percent were over 35 and 71 percent were college graduates. “I think younger people will find the movie,” Lomis said. “I think the opening will draw them in.”
Word of mouth should be strong, since The Butler picked up an A CinemaScore, and TWC reported that exit polling was extremely positive, with 90 percent of those surveyed saying they would definitely recommend the film. Potentially, the film could perform along the lines of The Help, another civil rights drama, which opened to a comparable $26 million in August 2011.
Kick-Ass 2, which observers had expected to lead the charge this weekend, failed to duplicate the opening of the original movie, which Lionsgate bowed to $19.8 million in April 2010, and which then went on to gross $96.2 million worldwide. The new film, independently financed at $28 million, directed by Jeff Wadlow and starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz and Jim Carrey, attracted $13.56 million in 2,940 locations.
Internationally, the movie picked up another $6.3 million from 1,500 screens in 17 territories. It did manage to outperform the original Kick-Ass in Mexico, Finland and the Philippines. And it will open in another 17 territories next weekend.
“We were disappointed we didn’t match the opening of the first movie,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal president of distribution. “The good thing is that it represented very minimal risk for the studio, and the first film did very well in ancillary markets, so we’ll see where this goes domestically and internationally.”
Younger males dominated the crowd that turned out for the movie. Its opening weekend audience was 63 percent male, and 58 percent were under 25. While the movie earned an overall B+ CinemaScore, the 15 percent of the audience that was under 17 gave it an A.
Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher and directed by Joshua Michael Stern, failed to ignite the frenzy that usually surrounds most things Apple. Produced and financed at $15 million by Five Star Films, with Endgame Entertainment partnering on the marketing and Open Road handling distribution, the PG-13 film took in just $6.7 million in 2,381 locations. Bad reviews appeared to hurt the movie, and moviegoers also appeared to turn their thumbs down, giving it a B- CinemaScore as the movie flatlined from Friday to Saturday. Those who did show up were primarily older — 59 percent were over 25 — and male, with men making up 53 percent of the audience.
Trailing even farther behind was Robert Luketic‘s thriller Paranoia, starring Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford. The $35 million movie was produced and financed by IM Global, Reliance and Demarest Films. Relativity picked up U.S. distribution rights at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and IM Global is overseeing international distribution. Its domestic opening resulted in just $3.5 million from 2,459 locations, with the audience, which tilted male (54 percent) and older (64 percent over 25) giving it a discouraging C+ CinemaScore.
On the specialty film front, Sony Pictures Classics continued to see real demand for Woody Allen‘s latest movie, Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett. Entering its fourth weekend, the film expanded from 119 to 229 screens and grabbed $2.4 million for a per-screen average of $10,303, bringing its total to $9.5 million. SPC also introduced Jerusha Hess‘ romantic comedy Austenland, starring Keri Russell, on four screens, where it took in $42,633.
IFC Films debuted David Lowery‘s drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, on three screens, where it took in $28,800. And TWC’s Radius label bowed Zachary Heinzerling‘s documentary Cutie and the Boxer on another three screens, where it rang up $21,093.
In its second weekend, Roadside Attraction’s release of Lake Bell‘s In a World… picked up $230,510 on 37 screens to bring its total to $334,067.
Internationally, Elysium‘s $22 million included a No. 1 showing in Australia, where it took in $3.2 million. Another recent Sony release, Smurfs 2, collected $20 million overseas to bring its worldwide total to $206.9 million. And Grown Ups 2 attracted $10 million to bring its worldwide figure to $172.4 million.
Fox’s Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters was No. 1 in 10 international markets, as it amassed $21.8 million 36 territories, bringing its international cume to $36.5 million and its worldwide total to more than $75 million. The Wolverine collected $10.8 million in 72 markets as its international gross rose to $216.4 million, making it the second best X-Men film in terms of international grosses. Its worldwide total stands at more than $335 million.
Warners’ Pacific Rim grossed $20 million in 58 territories, dropping just 33 percent in holdover markets. It collected $14.6 million in China as, passing the $100 million mark, it became the highest-grossing Warners film of all time in that country. Its international cume is now $286 million, and its worldwide tally is $384 million.
Universal’s Despicable Me 2 pulled in $19.3 million from 26 territories, and it ranked No. 1 as it opened in Russia to the tune of $12.2 million. Its worldwide haul now amounts to $781.2 million.
Paramount’s World War Z registered another $4.3 million from 43 markets, and its worldwide cume now stands at $517.6 million.
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