Ironically, in a weekend that banked on 1980s nostalgia, this weekend brought back the summers of my youth in a different way. Back when I was growing up, June was THE month of summer. Sure studios would release a big title over Memorial Day and/or the Fourth of July weekend, but the (alleged) big 800 pound gorillas debuted in mid-to-late June. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Batman, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Jurassic Park, The Lion King... the film that most expected to rule a given summer was usually released in the heart of June. Alas, since 1996 (when Twister, Mission: Impossible, and Independence Day crushed everything else released that summer), the studios have banked on early May, Memorial Day weekend, and the Fourth of July weekend (which would occasionally include the very last day of June), and the Warner Bros' mid-July slot as prime real estate. This June, at least over the next two weekends, mid-June is once again a release-period to be reckoned with.
Surprising even the most optimistic pundits, Sony's remake of The Karate Kid opened with a whopping $55.6 million, the eighth-biggest June opening of all-time. Costing just $40 million, the Jaden Smith/Jackie Chan vehicle benefited from surprisingly-decent reviews, as well as a marketing campaign that sold the film as simply a compelling character-drama (and it played as such, with a solid 2.95x weekend multiplier). The film played to nostalgic fans of the original, young fans of the stars who probably had never seen the 1984 picture, and others who merely thought the movie looked pretty compelling. I'll presume the Justin Bieber single/music video didn't hurt either. We may have all ranted and railed about the idea at the idea of remaking such a beloved 80s classic at the time. Ironically, The Karate Kid is, with the possible exception of the Julia Roberts romantic drama, Eat Pray Love, and the Zach Efron vehicle Charlie St. Cloud, arguably the only such character-driven drama being given a wide release by a major studio this summer. By the standards of Iron Man 2, Sex and the City 2, and Prince of Persia, The Karate Kid practically comes off as Oscar bait. Speaking of which, if the film holds up throughout the summer, Jackie Chan has an outside chance at his first Oscar nomination (everyone loves him, and Pat Morita was nominated the first time around).
And, issues with remaking everything 80s under the sun, this is exactly the kind of movie that studios should be making. At just $40 million, this star-driven drama will be absurdly profitable for Sony even if Toy Story 3 steals most of its young audience next weekend. As it is, the solid reviews, the surprisingly-large debut, and the positive word-of-mouth means that this one will be the likely second-choice for general moviegoers for the next few weeks (if you can get past the the fact that its a remake of a beloved 80s film, this new version is a charming and engaging drama). And, if I may editorialize for a moment, I must say it was refreshing to see a film that starred a young African-American and an older Asian that was not advertised in any way, shape, or form, as an 'ethnic' film. Speaking of the stars, this is Jackie Chan's second-biggest US debut, behind the $67 million opening of Rush Hour 2 back in 2001. Breaks my heart to say this, but The Karate Kid will out-gross both Shanghai Noon ($56.9 million) and my personal favorite Chan-advanture, Shanghai Knights ($60.4 million), in the next day or two. And, amusingly enough, the debut is larger than all-but two of Will Smith's openings (Hancock opened with $62 million and I Am Legend opened with $77 million). Whether this is the launching pad of Jaden Smith as a box office draw, or the beginning of Jackie Chan's next career phase (less kicking, more acting) remains to be seen, but this is a massive win for a project that was ridiculed from conception until just a few weeks before release.
Coming in second, The A-Team did not-so-much under-perform as get hammered by the weight of the weekend's other debut. The adaptation of the popular 1980s TV show debuted with $25.6 million. Some expected as much as $35 million, but I think this is simply a case of another movie over-performing to the detriment of the former. Point being, Fox was positioning the $100 million action picture as an all-ages adventure picture. But it was a plan that did not come together, as The Karate Kid sweep-kicked The A-Team by snatching away most of the younger audience. Without that core demographic, and battered by reviews that compared it to the shallow and calorie-empty Sex and the City 2, the film merely played to male and female action-junkies, male and female prurient fans of the not-bad-looking cast (Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Liam Neeson, etc), and nostalgic fans of the original television show. Besides, TV adaptations (think SWAT, X-Files: Fight the Future, or Charlie's Angels) have a ceiling as far as opening weekends, so it was never going to open higher than $40 million. As usual with Fox over the last couple years, the studio is counting on overseas grosses to carry the day, but a worldwide release right at the start of the World Cup is a risky proposition. As is often the case with slightly-underwhelming but-not catastrophic openings, next weekend will tell the tale.
In limited release, the two big indie winners were the IFC documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and the critically-acclaimed rural thriller Winter's Bone. The well-reviewed look at the groundbreaking stand-up comedian turned cultural-icon grossed $170,000 on just seven screens, for a scorching $24,368 per screen average. IFC plans a full expansion and should hit the top fifty markets by Independence Day weekend. Winter's Bone, which may net an Oscar nomination for Jennifer Lawrence, grossed $84,887 on three screens. Roadside Attractions is also planning a national expansion, as the big numbers for a thriller concerning rural poverty in New York and LA could theoretically mean strong showings in the rest of the country. The Lottery, a documentary about parents attempting to get their kids into charter schools, grossed $16,435 on a single screen. Solitary Man (a Michael Douglas vehicle), Jean Pierre-Jeunet's Micmacs, and the Rachel Weisz historical drama Agora all continued their slow, but promising expansions.