It was time for grownups to take back the multiplex. After three weeks of domination by the kid-friendly cartoons Madagascar 3: Europe‘s Most Wanted and Brave, the movie audience’s senior citizens — the sorely neglected over-15 demographic — spent more than $100 million on R-rated movies, propelling two of them to the top of the charts. Ted, the naughty-talking-bear comedy from director, cowriter and dirty-voice actor Seth MacFarlane, rendered industry forecasters mute with awe as it tallied $54.1 million, according to preliminary studio estimates, to win a hot weekend at North American theaters. Magic Mike, starring Channing Tatum as a nightclub stripper, earned a crotch-busting $39.2 million. Never before had two R-rated movies grossed more than $21 million each on the same weekend. And this pair managed its one-two knockout punch by smartly bisecting the adult audience.
Ted — the first live-action movie not based on a comic book, a best-seller or a fairy tale to open at No. 1 since Act of Valor back in February — pulled a lofty A-minus CinemaScore rating from its mostly male (56%), mostly youngish (52% under 30) attendees. The film appealed to fans of MacFarlane’s Sunday-night TV shows Family Guy and American Dad, and got loads of free publicity from the affable cartoon titan’s guest spots on virtually every talk show last week except The 700 Club. But Ted also benefited from the recent dearth of flat-out comedies. With no Hangover or Bridesmaids this year, MacFarlane had a virtual monopoly on the raunch concession.
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of Ted)
Ted’s plot certainly wasn’t original. To find another movie about a young man whose loyalty is torn between his girl friend and his lifelong toy friend, you need go back only to last November’s The Muppets, which opened to a more demure $29.2 million. But whereas the Muppet Walter spoke to Jason Segel’s inner nerd, Ted the teddy bear roars as the inner id of his keeper, played by Mark Walhberg. His star power surely goosed Ted’s grosses: in the past two years Wahlberg has scored in comedies (The Other Guys), lowbrow action films (Contraband) and Oscar-nominated dramas (The Fighter). To those genres he can now add the man-on-bear buddy movie. Costing about $50 million to produce, Ted is virtually guaranteed to make a healthy profit.
(READ: Joel Stein’s profile of Seth MacFarlane by subscribing to TIME)
For a real return on investment, though, Magic Mike won the weekend: its budget was a pinchpenny $7 million. Catching Tatum at the apogee of his appeal — after the $41.2 million opening for the weepie The Vow and the $36.3 for the retro-action comedy 21 Jump Street — the movie played up its guilty-pleasure aspects with this ad line for young women: “On June 29th, tell your boyfriend you’re going to the book club.” The strategy worked: 73% of the early audience was female, and 57% under 25. (They gave the film a mediocre B in the CinemaScore survey.)
(READ: Steven James Snyder’s review of Magic Mike)
For workaholic director Steven Soderbergh, releasing his sixth feature in just over three years, this modest movie could mark his best opening ever. Warner Bros. estimates that Magic Mike will earn $35.155 million by the close of business tonight; the 2004 Ocean’s Twelve, Soderbergh’s previous topper, had first-weekend takings of $39.153 million. Final returns will be issued Monday afternoon.
[MONDAY UPDATE: The official "actual" figure for Ted was a little higher than reported, at $54.4 million, and for Magic Mike a little lower: $39.1 million, leaving Ocean's Twelve as the Steven Soderbergh film with the best opening-weekend total. The final take for Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection was $25.4 million, nearly $1 million below its Sunday estimate, but still bigger than Madea's Big Happy Family last year. People Like Us hit its Sunday number of $4.3 million, but the long-running smash The Avengers earned more, $4.4 million, knocking People out of the final top 10. After 59 days, The Avengers has grossed $606.5 million at North American theaters, beating the $600.8 million that James Cameron's Titanic amassed in its initial 287-day run in 1997-98 — though ticket prices were much lower then, and Titanic earned another $57.9 million in its 3-D revival this March. The Marvel movie now trails only Cameron's Avatar, at $760.5 million, as the highest grossing movie in its initial run in domestic box-office history.]
With four of the weekend’s top seven movies rated R — the two big holdovers, pushing the total above $100 million, were Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Prometheus — the decent showing of Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection was little noted. Yet its $26.35 million finish, for fourth place behind Brave’s $34 million, would have earned Perry the No. 2 spot in either of the past two weekends. The film also took in about $1 million more than Madea’s Big Happy Family, Perry’s previous installment as the housedress-wearing, sass-talking grandma. Adding a few Caucasian actors (Eugene Levy, Denise Richards, Tom Arnold) to his usual Afrocentric cast, the star-writer-director attracted a slightly higher non-black audience (29%, to 20% for Big Happy Family). Those who submitted themselves to Witness Protection liked it: the movie received an A-minus CinemaScore.
(READ: Corliss on Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family)
Hollywood’s remaining white actors — including Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer and Olivia Wilde — were the marquee names in People Like Us, the thematically icky rom-com about a guy who’s ardently attracted to the grownup sister he’s just met. This almost criminally good-looking cast attracted few paying customers: People averaged just over $2,000 in just over 2,000 venues, for a paltry $4.3 million opening weekend and a tenth-place finish. The audience, 58% of which was 35 or older, handed the film a B-plus CinemaScore. And though ethnic demographics were not made public, we’d hazard a guess that this was the whitest crowd around. A Disney spokesperson indicated that People Like Us positively killed in Salt Lake City.
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of People Like Us)
For audiences in New York and Los Angeles, the indie film to see was Beasts of the Southern Wild, the magical-realism drama from first-time feature director Benh Zietlin. A top prize-winner at the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals, but cast entirely with nonprofessional actors, Beasts earned an estimated $169,000 at just four theaters over the weekend — for a sensational $42,250 per-screen average — and $220,000 since its debut last Wednesday. Look for the Fox Searchlight movie to amass more adherents and bigger grosses as it opens in additional cities throughout July. There’s even the chance that next February, when Ted and Magic Mike are distant memories, Beasts and its eight-year-old enchantress, Quvenzhané Wallis, could be the unlikeliest, most deserving Oscar contenders.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Ted, $54.1 million, first weekend
2. Magic Mike, $39.2 million, first weekend
3. Brave, $34 million; $131.7 million, second week
4. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection, $26.35 million, first weekend
5. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, $11.8 million; $180 million, fourth weekend
6. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, $6 million; $29 million, second week
7. Prometheus, $4.925 million; $118.3 million, fourth weekend
8. Moonrise Kingdom, $4.873 million; $18.4 million, sixth weekend
9. Snow White and the Huntsman, $4.4 million; $145.6 million, fifth weekend
10. People Like Us, $4.3 million, first weekend