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Call it morbid fascination.
Moviegoers living in California and other Western states prone to earthquakes flocked to see San Andreas, the disaster film opening to a better-than-expected $53.2 million in North America.
Nineteen of the 20 top-grossing theaters were in the Bay Area and greater Los Angeles area, an unheard of statistic. (San Francisco and L.A. are at the epicenter of the action in the movie.) The lone exception was New York City’s E-Walk theater in Times Square. The No. 1 theater was Regal’s L.A. Live, followed by theaters in Burbank and Orange County. The AMC Metreon 16 in downtown San Francisco ranked No. 4.
San Andreas, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, over-indexed across California, as well as in Nevada and Arizona. In San Francisco, traffic was up nearly 71 percent above the norm, and Los Angeles, 62 percent. Moviegoing also spiked in Las Vegas (67 percent) and Phoenix (32 percent).
“You never see this,” said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., which released and marketed the $110 million film on behalf of New Line and Village Roadshow Pictures. “Some of the naysayers said people living in these places would be too scared to see San Andreas. Obviously, they were wrong.”
Or, as one rival studio executive said, “These are the places where I would have expected people to say, ‘No, thanks. I don’t want to see this movie.’ “
San Andreas also overperformed in earthquake-prone Mexico, opening to a stunning $10 million, the top opening of all time for a disaster film and the No. 2 debut for a Warners title.
Conversely, San Andreas under-indexed in some parts of the U.S., including in the Northeast and Midwest, as well as in Canada.
According to exit polls conducted by CinemaScore, 38 percent of ticket buyers in North America were drawn in by the subject matter. An equal reason was Johnson, who plays a helicopter pilot called upon to execute multiple nick-of-time rescues.
San Andreas teams Johnson with director Brad Peyton, who also guided the actor through 2012’s Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, and producer Beau Flynn, who produced both Journey 2 and Johnson’s 2014 Hercules. Lost‘s Carlton Cuse penned the screenplay from a story by Andre Fabrizio and Jerry Passmore. Also appearing in the film are Carla Gugino and Paul Giamatti.
San Andreas skewed slightly female (51 percent), while 70 percent of ticket buyers were over the age of 25. Revenue from 3D locations made up 33 percent of the overall haul.
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