Welcome to another very crowded weekend at the domestic box office. As expected, Elysium took top honors with an estimated $30.5 million but still fell short of pre-release expectations. We’re the Millers held on to second place with $26.5 million, making it the only feature to top initial projections for its first weekend. That leaves Disney’s Planes grounded in third and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters right behind it as each failed to improve significantly on their modest Friday performances.
|2.||We’re the Millers||$26,555,000||$38|
|4.||Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters||$14,600,000||$23.4|
|9.||Despicable Me 2||$5,700,000||$338.2|
|10.||Grown Ups 2||$3,700,000||$123.8|
If you’ve lost track of how many times we’ve told you that the 2013 summer box office was “overcrowded,” so have we. Another four new features squeezed into theatres this weekend – including two that opted for Wednesday debuts to take the pressure off their openings. Viewed as a whole, this weekend’s box office was a smashing success: with total earnings that will make it one of the most lucrative August frames of all time. But if the sum of the parts was strong, the parts themselves seemed a bit underwhelming.
Starting at the top we find Sony’s Elysium: the last of this summer’s biggish-budget, original sci-fi titles. For those keeping track, both After Earth and Pacific Rim failed to stir much excitement earlier this season – opening to $27.5 million and $37.2 million, respectively. Earlier this year, Oblivion also fell short at the domestic box office, though its international performance made it a financial success in the end. In the wake of these stumbles, all eyes were on Elysium – a film that looked like it might turn 2013’s sci-fi tide.
On this weekend in 2009, director Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 became a surprise hit after its $37.3 million opening. The film went on to earn $210.8 million worldwide and capture a nomination for Best Picture at the 2009 Academy Awards. It was an unprecedented level of success for a (relatively) low-budget genre film from a first-time director. And what happens when a film reaches that level of success? Expectations spike for the project follows it.
That meant that Elysium, unlike District 9 before it, was on everyone’s box office radar. Early projections for the film’s debut were on par with its predecessor: in the $35-$40 million range. Instead, Elysium earned just over $30 million. In this summer’s hyper-crowded atmosphere, that was not a huge surprise and, had Elysium shared District 9’s thrifty $30 million budget or its overwhelmingly positive reviews, the word ‘disappointment’ would not have applied.
Unfortunately, Elysium cost four times that amount and has garnered mixed reviews. That means that a strong weekend multiple here in the US is probably out of reach. Elysium will have to hope for an Oblivion-sized success at the international market but, after a summer of post-apocalyptic action, even international audiences may be tiring of the premise.
The outlook for We’re the Millers is much brighter. The R-rated comedy was expected to pull in less than $20 million this weekend – giving it a total of just under $30 million after five days. Instead, We’re the Millers has earned $38 million since its Wednesday launch – just over the film’s reported budget. With its $26.5 million first weekend, We’re the Millers has now come closer to matching Horrible Bosses than most believed possible. Back in July of 2011, the R-rated comedy featuring the Millers’ Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis opened to $28.3 million on its way to a final domestic gross of over $117 million. Granted, We’re the Millers is not likely to display that kind of staying-power in the weeks to come but, for a film that was expected to limp out of the gate, second place is already a big win.
On the flip side of that win we find Disney’s Planes. An aerial spin-off of Cars – Pixar’s lucrative but little-loved franchise – Planes was originally crafted (without Pixar’s help) for the direct-to-DVD market. From the start, the 3D animated feature was not expected to do Cars-sized numbers, but it was expected to improve significantly upon the openings of recent family fare like Turbo ($21.3 million) and The Smurfs 2 ($17.5 million). After launching with a decent $8.1 million on Friday, however, Planes stalled out – giving the film a dubious box office distinction in the process.
As we told you yesterday, animated films routinely see an earnings spike from Friday to Saturday: the most family-friendly of days at the domestic box office. By contrast, Planes rose by just .1% on Saturday – a fact that helps explain why the film’s total weekend will fall short of the $25-$30 million that most expected.
At the tail end of this weekend’s list of new releases is Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, the follow-up to 2010’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. If you are wondering why a potential tentpole that failed to reach $90 million at the domestic box office was worthy of a sequel, you are not alone. True, Percy Jackson did not become the next Harry Potter, as Fox had hoped. On the other hand, The Lightning Thief did earn $226 million worldwide from a budget of $95 million: just enough of a profit to justify Sea of Monsters. Three years later, the studio knew that international audiences were their only hope, which is why few people were aware of Percy Jackson 2 before its Wednesday debut.
Next weekend, the late-summer box office crush continues. Four more features will squeeze into America’s already overburdened theatres, including Kick-Ass 2, Lee Daniels’ The Butler and the Steve Jobs biopic Jobs. Both The Butler and Jobs are the type of film that does best in September, which should leave Kick-Ass 2 in first with a debut higher than the 2010 original.