‘San Andreas’ Shakes Up the Box Office!

The earthquake disaster movie easily took the top spot at the box office, grossing an estimated $53.2 million and surpassing expectations that had predicted an opening in the $40-million range. Dwayne Johnson stars as a rescue pilot who springs into action when the San Andreas fault line ruptures and sets off cataclysmic natural disasters across the country.

The movie’s opening gives Mr. Johnson, who first came to fame as professional wrestler “The Rock,” his best debut as a solo star. It is his second hit of the summer after “Furious 7.”

The performance of “San Andreas” shows he is a “four-quadrant, bigger-than-life movie star,” said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at the Time Warner Inc.-owned studio.

Warner Bros.’s New Line label joined with Village Roadshow Pictures on the movie, which cost about $110 million to make.

Given the movie’s graphic destruction of Los Angeles and San Francisco, some industry observers wondered if “San Andreas” would hit too close to home for California audiences who live in fear of “the big one.” But Mr. Fellman said those “naysayers” were proven wrong: 19 of the movie’s top 20 grossing theaters were on the West Coast.

International audiences have been particularly drawn to disaster movies in the past. Recent apocalyptic epics like “2012” and “Battle: Los Angeles” overperformed in overseas markets. “San Andreas” appears to be following suit, grossing $60 million overseas this weekend. So far, it has opened in 60 markets that typically account for about half the international box office.

The weekend’s other new wide release, “Aloha,” starring Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, barely got a chance to say hello. The Cameron Crowe movie from Sony Corp.’s Sony Pictures Entertainment opened in sixth place with a weak $10 million. Mr. Cooper stars as a defense contractor working on a weapons satellite program who falls for an Air Force pilot played by Ms. Stone.

“Aloha” fell behind a quartet of holdovers—“Pitch Perfect 2,” “Tomorrowland,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Of those four, “Tomorrowland” appears to be falling off the map fastest—the George Clooney fantasy from Walt Disney Co. fell 58% in its second week. “Aloha” has been hit with bad buzz since last year, when leaked emails from Sony executives showed some of the studio’s top brass criticizing the movie.

Neither “San Andreas” nor “Aloha” got much love from critics; the latter was hit with particularly scathing reviews. Audiences, however, gave “San Andreas” a strong “A-” grade, according to the market research firm CinemaScore. “Aloha” received a “B-.”

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