Weekend Box Office (July 25 - 27, 2014)


by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Scarlett Johansson's brains beat Dwayne Johnson's brawn in a head-to-head showdown between star-driven summer action films. The sci-fi thriller Lucy attracted a larger crowd and captured the number one spot while the epic adventure Hercules enjoyed a fine debut in the runner-up spot connecting with its own fan base. Overall ticket sales were about even with last week, but fell below last year's levels for the seventh consecutive weekend.

Universal scored a number one debut with Lucy which opened ahead of expectations to an estimated $44M from 3,173 theaters for a potent $13,875 average. It was especially impressive given that there was no 3D to boost grosses, no brand with a built-in audience to tap into, and no track record of Johansson ever anchoring an action movie on her own before. Plus reviews were not that strong either for the R-rated pic.

The actress has built herself up as an action hero over the years playing Black Widow in a handful of Marvel films in a supporting role. Last April's Captain America: The Winter Soldier featured her prominently in the film - and marketing - making moviegoers ready to see her headline her own action vehicle. Johansson's appeal is broad and the film's concept was sold effectively in slick trailers and TV spots which engaged audiences.

Lucy's broad appeal was evident in the demographic breakdown. Studio research showed that males and females were evenly split 50/50 (that's a big female share for the action genre) and turnout across all races was strong. 65% was non-white. Age-wise it skewed older with a very high 65% being over 25. Angelina Jolie has been the only woman in Hollywood who consistently was bankable as an action lead in all projects. ScarJo sells and is now ready to take the baton.

As strong as the opening weekend was, Lucy should have a troubling road ahead. Paying audiences were not entirely satisfied as the CinemaScore grade was a discouraging C+. And Marvel, the very company that made her an action star, will attack the box office this Thursday night with guns blazing as it unleashes its next comic property Guardians of the Galaxy which it is investing heavily into as the company prepares to launch what it hopes will be a lucrative new franchise. Guardians reviews are sensational so far.

Still, budgeted at only $40M, Lucy has a good chance of breaking $100M in domestic sales. Set in many cities across the globe including Taipei and Paris, the Luc Besson-directed hit should enjoy a healthy international run as well. No release date has been secured for China yet and with the country's quota system for imported movies, and the film's prominent setting in Taiwan, it is not guaranteed to be allowed into the mainland.

Opening in second place with respectable results was the historical epic Hercules starring Dwayne Johnson with an estimated $29M. The PG-13 pic averaged a good $8,067 from 3,595 locations and was helped by 3D and IMAX ticket prices. Not surprisingly, adult men made up the bulk of the crowd as studio data showed that the audience was 58% male and 64% over 25. The CinemaScore grade was a decent B+ and $4M of the take came from IMAX screens.

It was more than triple the size of the other film this year about this muscle man. January's The Legend of Hercules starring Kellan Lutz bowed to a weak $8.9M on its way to a puny $18.8M final. The Rock's new movie made more than that in its first two days alone. Among films the wrestler-actor has anchored solo, Hercules scored his second best opening ever after the $36.1M of 2002's The Scorpion King which was his first starring vehicle.

Hercules launched in 25 markets overseas this weekend and captured an estimated $28.7M with Russia's huge $12M debut accounting for a massive share of the gross. Budgeted at about $100M, the Brett Ratner-directed adventure film earned mixed reviews.

With two new action vehicles entering the marketplace, two-time champ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes took a tumble and fell 55% to an estimated $16.4M pushing the new cume up to a solid $172.1M - just $4.7M shy of its predecessor's domestic final. 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes had little competition in its third lap that summer following two weeks at number one and slipped only 42% in the third frame. Dawn still seems on track for a final North American take of around $215M.

When is a 67% plunge good news? When you are the horror sequel The Purge: Anarchy and your predecessor fell 76% in its sophomore session. The Universal title held up better thanks in part to weaker competition - last year's Purge faced in its second weekend the monster $116.6M opening of Man of Steel. With an estimated $9.9M weekend and $51.3M total to date, Anarchy looks likely to finish with around $65-70M which is a great take for a $9M-budgeted sequel with a marketing tab that was not outrageous. Plus it will be slightly better than the $64.5M final of last year's installment.

Disney's animated sequel Planes: Fire and Rescue declined by 47% to an estimated $9.3M in its second flight and lifted its sum to $35.1M. Look for a $55-60M final. Animation has been the weakest sector at this summer's box office as the season's toons to date have grossed only $201M which is down an alarming 72% from the $725M at this same point last summer. That's a whopping $524M of less spending on toons this summer. With Pixar sitting it out for the first time in nine summers, and nobody really filling that void, this genre has been a main factor in this summer's alarming deficit from last year with total box office down about 20%.

The Cameron Diaz film Sex Tape dropped by a hefty 59% after a weak debut with only $6M this weekend, according to estimates. With a lackluster $26.9M so far, the Sony title should end its run with a lackluster $40M or so.

Plunging 53%, Transformers: Age of Extinction nabbed an estimated $4.6M giving Paramount $236.4M to date from the franchise's increasingly less important market of North America. Overseas, the China total broke the $300M barrier, the first film to ever do that - Chinese or American. The international cume rose to a staggering $730M pushing the worldwide haul up to $966.4M with the billion dollar mark ready to be smashed in the coming days. With Japan and Spain still to open, Extinction's overseas gross is still on track to end up in the same neighborhood as the $895M of The Avengers.

The Michael Douglas-Diane Keaton comedy And So It Goes was the latest clunker for director Rob Reiner opening in eighth place with a lousy $4.6M, according to estimates. The Clarius release averaged a wimpy $2,583 from 1,762 locations and never generated much interest - or awareness - in the marketplace. Reviews were dreadful, though the CinemaScore was a decent B+.

Warner Bros. collected an estimated $3.4M for Tammy, off 54%, for a new cume of $78.1M. Opening well in tenth place was the new spy thriller A Most Wanted Man starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman with an estimated $2.7M from only 361 locations for a solid $7,526 average. The German-set suspense film earned stellar reviews for Roadside Attractions and played to an upscale audience of older adults. It was the type of film Focus often released in late August targeting the same crowd.

The most-talked-about film in the indie world, Richard Linklater's critical darling Boyhood, expanded again in its third weekend going from 34 to 107 locations grossing an estimated $1.7M, up 47% from last weekend. The average for the IFC Films release was a solid $16,121 and more cities will open next weekend. Cume is $4.1M.

New domestic totals for summer's recent blockbusters dropping out of the top ten include $232.1M for Maleficent, $231.3M for X-Men: Days of Future Past, $185.7M for 22 Jump Street, $165.6M for How to Train Your Dragon 2, and $122.7M for The Fault In Our Stars.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $129.9M which was down 14% from last year when The Wolverine opened at number one with $53.1M; but up 5% from 2012 when The Dark Knight Rises stayed on top with $62.1M.


Compared to projections, Lucy and Hercules both opened above my respective forecasts of $33M and $20M. And So It Goes was on target with my $5M prediction.

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Watch the NEW trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey.

For a review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Monday for final figures and again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Guardians of the Galaxy and Get On Up both open.



THIS WEEKEND's TOP 20


Last Updated: July 27, 2014 at 3:10PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 6:40pm ET.


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