‘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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Box Office: Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Lucy’ Scores $44M this Weekend and Ranks First!

Not to be outdone, Dwayne Johnson‘s Hercules opens to a respectable $29 million to place second in the weekend rankings.

The two big new releases, Scarlett Johansson‘s Lucy and Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules are both hits this weekend. This is also yet another example of why the obsession over rank is foolhardy. Yes, Universal’s sci-fi actioner easily topped the box office this weekend with a superb debut, but Paramount and MGM’s fantasy actioner is performed much better than I expected.

First off, Universal’s Lucy, which cost EuropaCorp around $40 million to produce, debuted with a whopping $44.025 million over the weekend, giving it a solid 2.57x weekend multiplier off a $17.1m opening day (and $2.8m worth of Thursday grosses).  This is a huge win for Scarlett Johansson. Coming off her Black Widow roles in the Marvel universe and her acclaimed art house triumph in Under the Skin, this should be her first $100m domestic hit outside of the Marvel universe while trouncing her biggest non-Marvel opening (He’s Just Not That Into You, an ensemble film, with a $27m debut and $93m final gross).

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This will easily be Luc Besson‘s biggest directorial box office hit, as it will pass the $63 million domestic gross of The Fifth Element by the middle of next weekend and should play like gangbusters overseas (The Fifth Element‘s $263m worldwide gross shouldn’t be a problem). It’s already his second biggest domestic grosser ever, topping the $36m gross of The Family from last year. Among films that the prolific French genre filmmaker has produced, the goalpost is the $145m domestic gross of Taken and the $363m global gross of Taken 2, both of which are possible without being explicitly plausible. The opening is Besson’s second-biggest as a producer or director, coming in just below the $48m debut of Taken 2. But pretty much any film Besson produced or directed aside from the Taken series and possibly The Fifth Element is going to be left in the dust.

The R-rated picture played 50% female and 65% over-25 years old. It played 35% Caucasian, 29% Hispanic, 19% African American, 12% Asian, and 5% “other.” It also played 12% on PLF screens. I’ll say this again and again, but the story of the summer box office should darn-well be the breakout success of female-skewing genre properties. This is a clear example of where a known but not explicitly box office “star” was pared with a simple but attractive concept (watch that female star you know get superpowers and kick butt) and the results show accordingly. I don’t know if the blatantly misleading marketing will hurt the film over the long run, but it certainly got audiences into the theater this weekend.

As the San Diego Comic Con panel ends this weekend with no major new female-centric superhero films from the DC/Marvel slate, it is worth noting that there are few (if any) male stars currently headlining the male-centric superhero films who could have pulled off an “all by myself” opening of this nature.

Despite doom-saying box office pundits who needed a catchy headline as a gateway into writing about something else, Hercules will not be the summer’s first box office flop. I’m happy to be wrong, as the summer’s “no studio mega-flops” streak continues into August. Despite terrible buzz, some misleading and relatively uninspiring marketing, and the film itself mostly being hidden from domestic press until the last minute, Brett Ratner’s Hercules scored a solid $29 million over its debut weekend, including $4m on IMAX. That’s about where Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow ended up on its debut weekend, but that film cost $175m while the Dwayne Johnson fantasy action-adventure film cost $100m to produce. Budgets matter, folks. It’s why 300: Rise of an Empire (budgeted at $110m) is a big hit at $330m worldwide while Edge of Tomorrow is struggling at $360m worldwide.

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This is easily Dwayne Johnson’s biggest “all by myself” debut weekend since his breakout in The Scorpion King ($36m) back in 2002, which had the bonus of being a Mummy Returns spin-off. Considering how uninspiring the film looked, again the film’s marketing campaign sold something the movie wasn’t, this is a case where star+concept (See The Rock as Hercules!) was enough to overcome the utter lack of anything else to entice moviegoers. The irony is that the picture was much better than anyone expected. As such, we’re seeing tons of “It’s actually pretty darn good!” reviews dropping over the weekend and it stands to reason that audiences will be surprised too. This one may just hang in there past opening weekend.

The one-two-three punch of Guardians of the GalaxyTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Expendables 3 is going to hurt, but Hercules stands a solid chance of being the second-choice consensus pick over the next month. It’s an old-school popcorn entertainment that should get positive word-of-mouth from Dwayne Johnson fans and action junkies. I still think Paramount made a mistake in hiding the film from critics, especially as said decision was arguably more about hiding their false advertising (the film isn’t remotely about Hercules fighting supernatural monsters while avenging his murdered family) than the film’s quality.

But the film didn’t go down in flames as some expected and may well be a big hit depending on how well it plays overseas. $100 million domestic is a possibility and numbers similar to Edge of Tomorrow or even 300: Rise of an Empire are quite plausible. In America, it played 58% male and 64% over-25 years old. It also made $28.7 million from nineteen international markets, including $12m in Russia, as the start of its overseas roll-out, giving the film a $57m worldwide bow. Again, this is just one weekend’s gross we’re talking about here, but perception matters right from the get-go. Dwayne Johnson’sHercules is no flop and I’m happy to be wrong on this one. It’s also a pretty good movie, and I’m even happier to be wrong on that score.

The other wide release, from Clarius Entertainment, is the Rob Reiner-directed comedy So It Goes. The Michael Douglas/Diane Keaton picture was obviously intended to be counter-programming for older audiences, but audience awareness was almost non-existent. So cue a rather terrible $4.55 million weekend gross on 1,762 screens. Blame the light marketing, which didn’t really sell the premise (Douglas being forced to care for a granddaughter and roping Keaton into the mix) and just-plain didn’t make its existence known. There really is a marketing difference when you compare smaller distributors to the major studios. But heck, even CBS Films was able to get Last Vegas to a $16m opening weekend last November and to a whopping $63m domestic gross.

Open Road Film’s The Fluffy Movie (a stand-up concert film featuring Gabriel Iglesias) debuted with $1.31 million on 432 screens. Alas…  A Most Wanted Man received a surprisingly wide release, as the Roadside Attractions spy thriller earned $2.7m on 361 theaters ($7,527 per-screen). Obviously the hook is that it’s the last starring role for the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight (starring Colin Firth and Emma Stone as his daughter… er, I mean love interest*) opened on 17 screens from Sony Pictures Classics and grossed $425,720 for the weekend for a solid $25,042 per-screen average.

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In holdover news, IFC expanded Boyhood to 107 theaters this weekend and earned around $1.6m weekend. The acclaimed Richard Linklater drama has earned $4m domestic. 20th Century Fox’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes earned $16.4 million (-55%) on its third weekend, for a $172m domestic cume. It’s legs are starting to fall under its predecessor (which earned $16.1m on its third weekend for a 42% drop), but the $170m sequel will pass the $176m total of Rise of the Planet of the Apes in a couple days and will probably cross $200m probably the weekend after next.