Box Office: 'Pixels' in Trouble; 'Southpaw' Could Beat 'Paper Towns'

Pixels Still 6 - H 2015
Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Pixels Still 6 - H 2015

It's still too early to say whether Thursday's night theater shooting in Louisana is impacting moviegoing overall.

Sony's Pixels may struggle to win the North American box office race ahead of holdover Ant-Man in another blow for star Adam Sandler, while Jake Gyllenhaal's boxing drama Southpaw could beat John Green YA adaptation Paper Towns in a surprise twist.

Pixels won the Friday race with $9.2 million from 3,868 theaters, putting it on course for a $23 million-$25 million debut, a muted domestic launch considering the movie's budget of at least $88 million. The tentpole, co-financed by LStar Capital and China Film Group, hopes to make up ground overseas, where it is already off to a strong start in Latin America, Europe and parts of Asia.

It's still too early to say whether moviegoing in the U.S. will take a hit this weekend because of Thursday night's theater shooting in Louisiana during a screening of Trainwreck that left three dead and nine others injured. (Saturday will answer the question.)

Christopher Columbus' Pixels, starring Sandler, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad, is battling Ant-Man and Minions for family love, as well as trying to get nostalgic older adults. Critics have ravaged the movie, about aliens who use video games from the 1980s to attack Earth, while audiences gave it a B CinemaScore.

Paper Towns, fueled by younger girls, took in $6.3 million Friday from 3,031 locations for a projected $15 million debut. While that's a win in the sense that the Fox movie cost a modest $12 million to produce, it's behind expectations.

Last summer, The Fault in Our Stars debuted to a stunning $48 million for Fox and Green. However, that book was more popular than Paper Towns, while the film adaptation of Fault boasted a bigger star in Shailene Woodley. Paper Towns stars Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne, and earned a B+ CinemaScore.

The weekend's third new offering, Antoine Fuqua's gritty boxing drama Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is the only one to be overperforming. The Weinstein Co. release grossed $6.2 million Friday from 2,772 theaters for a projected $17 million weekend.

Nabbing an A CinemaScore, the $30 million film stars Gyllenhaal as a boxer who finds success with the gloves on, but is having major issues in his personal life. Rachel McAdams, Rita Ora, Forest Whitaker, Naomie Harris and 50 Cent co-star. The script was written by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter.

Trainwreck, starring Amy Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, is holding well in its second outing despite the shooting, earning $5.3 million from 3,171 theaters Friday for an expected weekend haul of nearly $17 million (a decline of just 44 percent).

Thursday's shooting has no doubt cast a pall on the weekend for Hollywood studios and theater owners. The tragedy comes almost exactly three years after James Holmes opened fire in a theater in Aurora, Colo., at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 people and injuring dozens of others.

Like Holmes, the Louisiana gunman, John Russel Houser, was alone when he bought a ticket to see Trainwreck at the Grand Theatre in Lafayette, La. About 20 minutes in, he opened fire and then tried to exit the auditorium. When he spotted police, he went back into the theater and shot himself.

"While definitely a tragedy, I would not expect much impact on either the exhibitor stocks or overall box-office trends," says B. Riley analyst Eric Wold. "Looking back to the July 2012 shooting with The Dark Knight Rises, there was some noticeable box-office weakness in the next week or so, but then trends normalized and the next quarter set a new box-office record."

July 25, 7:20 a.m. Updated with Friday numbers.