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Weekend Box Office: X-Men First Class Pulls a Batman Begins, Grosses $56 Million, Bridesmaids and Kung Fu Panda 2 Cross $100m, Fast Five Crosses $200m

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EMMA FROST
Fox
For better or worse, X-Men: First Class performed like an X-Men picture in its debut weekend, at least in terms of staying power.  Like X-Men parts 1, 2, and 4, it had just over a 2.5x weekend multiplier (X-Men: The Last Stand had a mere 2.2x weekend multiplier).  Actually, this film film had the second-highest weekend multiplier of the series, with a rock-solid 2.66x just behind the 2.7x multiplier for X2: X-Men United back in 2003.  The 60s-set, character actor-filled, and critically acclaimed prequel/reboot opened to $56 million, which is identical to what the first X-Men opened to back in 2000.  Of course, adjusted for inflation, the original X-Men's opening is about $79 million, so obviously there were far fewer tickets sold this time around.  And that should be no surprise and no defeat.  Unlike the previous trilogy, the film is filled not with fan-favorite mutants that even the general audiences know, but more 'inside baseball' characters.  There was no Wolverine, no Cyclops, no Storm.  The tone of the marketing was low-key and emphasized setting and character over spectacle.  Fox did not advertise a thrilling action adventure with Wolverine and his pals, but rather a morose and contemplative science-fiction character drama set in the 1960s, filled with unknowns and respected actors who are not box office draws (the biggest name in the film was arguably Kevin Bacon).  This was never going to replicate the massive openings of the previous entries in the series.  

And Fox damn well knew that, correctly playing down expectations, repeating that the film was basically a redo and should be treated like Batman Begins, which opened with $48 million back in 2005 (again, comparable to the $43 million that Tim Burton's Batman opened with in 1989).  It's actually a similar situation.  The original X-Men and the original Batman opened at or near the top of the opening weekend list with their respective debuts.  Batman of course more-or-less created the modern opening weekend in 1989 by debuting with $43 million ($40 million on Fri-Sun, with $2.2 million in Thursday advance-night screenings).  The original X-Men opened with $54 million back in 2000, which was the biggest debut in history for a non-sequel and the fifth-biggest debut ever at the time.  Batman Returns and Batman Forever both also broke the opening weekend records in their day ($46 million and $53 million respectively), while X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand both pulled down the fourth-biggest opening ever at the time of their releases ($85 million and $102 million respectively).

So like the Batman series before it, X-Men was used to being near the top of the box office charts, but now has to rebuild from the ground up, emphasizing quality and character over big-budget spectacle.  Viewer dissatisfaction over X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: the Last Stand played the same role as the presence of Batman & Robin did last time around.  There is a clear sense of caution on the part of general moviegoers.  But critical raves and solid word of mouth will hopefully help the film reach a solid $150 million final gross, with much more overseas coin than was plausible back in 2000 (because no one is better at milking overseas grosses these days than Fox).  The film had a decent B+ from Cinemascore. But more encouragingly, the Saturday grosses were down only 5% from Friday figures, meaning that audiences are indeed spreading the word.  Alas, the X-Men series has had notoriously short runs, with only Harry Potter and Twilight having worse legs (the last two entries barely grossed 2.2x their opening weekends).  So next weekend will tell the tale.  Oh, for those wondering, had Fox decided to release the film in 3D, the opening weekend (presuming the now normal 55/45 2D preference) would have been around $64 million, or nearly identical to Thor's $65 million debut last month.  So Fox gets points for choosing art over commerce.

Opening in limited release this weekend was the Ewan McGregor/Christopher Plummer drama Beginners.  Focus Features opened the film on five screens, and it earned about $27,000 per screen.  YellowbrickRoad, a Bloody Digusting-distributed horror film that opened in 24 selected AMC theaters, grossed about $250 per screen.  It's quite encouraging that AMC is willing to screen these festival-favorite horror pictures, but its obvious that most of the would-be audience is waiting for the home market. I was supposed to review the film, but my screener copy crashed at about the 40 minute mark, so I will merely say that the first 40 minutes were pretty good. The rest is basically holdover news.  In good news for Universal and moviegoing in general, two terrific films crossed notable benchmarks.  Fast Five crossed the $200 million mark yesterday, as the inexplicably terrific fourth sequel to the normally mediocre franchise also crossed an eye-popping $550 million worldwide.  Bridesmaids crossed the $100 million mark yesterday as well, and it dropped just 27% this weekend.  With $107 million in a month, the Kristen Wiig vehicle has at least two weeks to itself before the female-driven R-rated comedy turf gets invaded by Cameron Diaz's Bad Teacher on the 24th.  But the Judd Apatow-produced film should easily cross the $121 million take of Superbad to be the third highest-grossing film that Judd Apatow has been involved in (be it writing, producing, and/or directing).  And it very well may cross the $148 million mark set by Talladega Nights and Knocked Up.

Both of last weekend's debuts took tumbles, which is to be expected coming off a holiday weekend.  The Hangover II plunged 62% in weekend two, grossing $33 million.  For the record, the first film also grossed $32 million in its second weekend, but it was coming off a $45 million debut, not an $85 million opening weekend.  Still, the film already has $186 million after eleven days, which makes it the tenth-biggest R-rated grosser and puts it on track to become the first R-rated franchise ever to have two $200 million earners.  Kung Fu Panda 2 dropped 49%, for a $24 million second weekend, which is a bit high of a drop and a bit small of a second weekend for a Dreamworks cartoon.  Still, the film crossed the $100 million mark today and has equaled the ten day gross of the other Dreamworks Memorial Day opener, Madagascar.  That film ended with $193 million, so the Kung Fu Panda sequel will likely finish around $175 million (or just under the $180 million earned by Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa).  That's a solid figure, but it will be foreign sales that will likely determine the fate of Kung Fu Panda 3.  Madagascar 2 made $423 million overseas, so we are indeed getting a Madagascar 3.  Kung Fu Panda 2 has $225 million worldwide thus far.

Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris continued to play well in slowly widening release.  The film expanded to 144 theaters and now approaches $7 million in its twenty-first day.  Terence Malick's The Tree of Life expanded to 20 theaters and saw its per-screen average drop from $96,000 to just over $31,000.  No great shakes, that's still a huge per-screen average and this uber-arty picture was never going to be a mainstream hit, and most who are flocking to it are finding it to be an intensely emotional experience.  The film has grossed $1.2 million thus far. Me?  I saw it on opening day and liked it and admired it, but didn't love it (the film's first half is notably stronger than the second half).  But it delivers exactly what the hardcore Malick fans (which I am not) want and crave.  Oh, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides continue to slightly falter in America while crushing overseas competition.  The film plunged 54% in weekend three and sits at $190 million seaside while it has amassed an eye-popping (or eye-rolling) $790 million worldwide.  Thanks foreigners... hope you enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Voyage of the Bored. Finally, Thor now sits with $169 million and will likely crawl to $180 million domestic.  And the two rom-coms Jumping the Broom and Something Borrowed are still neck-and-neck with both just over $35 million.

And that's it for this weekend.  Join us next weekend for J.J. Abrams's Spielberg homage Super 8 (was invited to see it last week but had to pass, so will likely wait until opening day for IMAX) and Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, which I will gladly see if Allison is interested.  It looks amusing and Heather Graham looks hotter than she has since Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (I certainly hope it's a better film).  Until then, keep reading and commenting.

Scott Mendelson