Immortals Outmuscles Adam Sandler. But Still Proves a 97-Pound Weakling

The Greek epic earned $32 million its first weekend, but Modern Warfare 3 did $400 million its first day—so who's the champion of the young-male demographic?

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From left, Stephen Dorff, Henry Cavill, Freida Pinto and Greg Bryk in Immortals.

Congratulations, Theseus, to you and your traveling band of rock-hard mythological Greeks! You beat up on a girl, played by a guy.

Immortals, the Greco-roamin’ wrestling match starring Henry Cavill as Theseus and Mickey Rourke as Hyperion, king of the sadists, took the top spot at North American theaters with $32 million, according to early studio estimates. In second place was Adam Sandler’s cross-dressing comedy Jack and Jill, its $26-million take just a bit better than the $25.5 million earned by two-week champ Puss in Boots.

(MORE: Read Richard Corliss’ review of Immortals)

Execs at Relativity Media boasted that Immortals landed the year’s third-highest opening weekend for an R-rated picture, behind The Hangover Part II’s $85.9 and Paranormal Activity 3’s $52.6 million. And given that director Tarsem Singh’s film is an “original” property, not based on an existing movie, graphic novel, comic book or Tweet, Immortals has nothing to be ashamed of, other than its own solemn silliness. But among the Olympians of mythological movie machismo, the movie flexes muscles that are all show, no strength. In 2006 the Spartan epic 300 opened to $70.9 million, and last year’s Clash of the Titans remake enjoyed a $61.2 million debut. By comparison, this Mythic Warfare 3 looks like a 97-pound weakling.

(MORE: Read 7 reasons why 300 was a hit)

And speaking of guy-angled video games: Why would a movie aimed at young males open the same week as the release of the mega-popular Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3? The Activision game notched sales of $400 million its first day, far above the 24-hour worldwide gross of any movie ever. And when people buy MW3, they don’t put it on a shelf; they play it with monastic obsession for hours, days, weeks. Immortals—which cost $80 million after tax credits and was shot, like 300, in front of green screens in a Montreal studio—did corral a handsome slice of the elusive young-male demographic: 60% of its first-three-day audience was male, 75% under 35. (Early attendees gave the film a so-so B rating on CinemaScore.) But on nearly any other weekend the movie would have grabbed a greater share of its core constituency…

…if that group can be relied on at all. A study of the domestic movie audience over the past four decades, cited by The Wrap’s Joshua L Weinstein, shows that in 1975 fully 60% of ticket buyers were between 12 and 24 years of age. That slice dropped to 43% in 1990, 38% in 2005 and 32% last year. Over the same period, the percentage of moviegoers in the 25-39 age group stayed flat, while the 40-59ers doubled and the over-60s nearly quadrupled (from 3% to 11% of the total audience). The stats indicate that the desertion of tees and young adults from the multiplexes has been long and unreversed. And though the under-12 audience is not included in The Wrap’s survey, it’s ballooning. Animated features, not burly action films, are Hollywood’s surest source of revenue today.

Stars, no less than genres, can fall out of fashion. Sandler has been a consistent comedy magnet since The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer in 1998. A dozen of his films have topped $100 million at the domestic box office; they usually open in the $30 million-$40 million range and earn a multiple of four over their theatrical life span. But the Saturday Night Live alumnus took a hit on Jack and Jill, in which he plays both title roles. This critically excoriated farce registered the lowest opening in the past decade for a flat-out Sandler comedy (we’re exempting the more mature social comedies Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish, Reign Over Me and Funny People). We wouldn’t peg this underachievement as a sign that, at 45, Sandler is suffering the same ebbing of his fan base as Jerry Lewis, Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey did after a hot decade or so as a man-boy comedy favorite. But he should be concerned if his new movie doesn’t pick up steam over the holiday season. If Jack and Jill should break Sandler’s crown, his star career could come tumbling after.

(MORE: Read Mary Pols’ takedown of Jack and Jill)

They can order a round of celebratory margheritas over at Paramount. The studio’s Puss in Boots (a DreamWorks Animation production) held well in its third week and became the top-grossing fall release, at $108.8 million. Paramount’s Paranormal Activity 3 is the only other autumn film to cross the $100-million line.

(MORE: Read why Puss in Boots is one cool cat)

Among the independent films, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia opened to $270,000 in 19 theaters; that’s a decent if not spectacular debut for the acclaimed apocalyptic drama from Europe’s most notorious auteur. Another continental eccentric, Werner Herzog, could manage only $50,784 on 12 screens for his death-row documentary Into the Abyss. Then again, a series of interviews with killers and murder victims might not have the grab power of a semi-immortal clash of titans—let alone a video game where players get to win the Afghanistan War without an injury more serious than Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

(MORE: Read reviews of Melancholia and Into the Abyss)

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

  1. Immortals, $32 million, first weekend
  2. Jack and Jill, $26 million, first weekend
  3. Puss in Boots, $25.5 million; $108.8 million, third week
  4. Tower Heist, $13.2 million; $43.9 million, second week
  5. J. Edgar, $11.5 million, first weekend; $11.6 million, first five days
  6. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, $5.9 million; $23.2 million, second week
  7. In Time, $4.15 million; $30.7 million, third week
  8. Paranormal Activity 3, $3.6 million; $100.8 million, fourth week
  9. Footloose, $2.7 million; $48.9 million, fifth week
  10. Real Steel, $2 million; $81.8 million, sixth week