A Declawed Wolverine Slouches into First Place

X-Man Hugh Jackman extends the run of underwhelming summer superheroes

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Ben Rothstein / Marvel & 20th Century Fox

In like a wolf, out like a Weimardoodle. The Wolverine, which returns Hugh Jackman to the Logan character he played in the X-Men trilogy and his 2009 stand-alone X-Men Origins: Wolverine, won the weekend at North American theaters with $55 million, according to a preliminary estimate by its studio, 20th Century Fox. That sounds like a decent chunk of change: it’s the first action picture since World War Z, four weeks ago, to open at more than $40 million. But industry expectations were much higher — between $65 million and $80 million — for a Marvel movie that will end up selling the fewest first-weekend domestic tickets of any X-Men episode.

[MONDAY UPDATE: According to final stats issued today, The Wolverine earned $53.1 million, or more than 3% less than its Sunday estimate, for the weakest opening of the six X-Men films, in real or inflated dollars. The actual figures for the other movies in the top five were slightly above the preliminary predictions.]

Last week’s winner, The Conjuring, dropped just 47% — a remarkable hold for an R-rated horror film — to take second place with $22.1 million. Universal’s animated comedy Despicable Me 2, which landed in third place with $16 million, has registered $306.4 million in the U.S. and Canada In 24 days, and another $354.6 million abroad, for a very picable $660.9 million worldwide gross. DM2 is now the year’s third highest-earning release, after Iron Man Three ($1.211 billion) and Furious 6, which took in $24 million this weekend in its China debut and has ascended to a global total of $741.1 million.

(READ: Mary Pols’ review of Despicable Me 2)

Hollywood could be pleased with this weekend’s North American total revenue of $171 million — 27% higher than the same frame last year, when The Dark Knight Rises won in its second weekend — if it weren’t that most moviegoers stayed home that Friday evening to watch the London Olympics’ opening night, thus severely depleting the three-day total. Compare this weekend to the one in 2011, when the opening attractions were Cowboys & Aliens and The Smurfs, and the total gross is down about 5%.

(READ: How the 2012 Olympics spectacle dented the summer box office)  

After the poor debuts for White House Down, The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim and R.I.P.D. — four action films with a cumulative price tag of $550 million, not including marketing costs, and an first-weekend average of $26 million — The Wolverine’s opening take can be called respectable. It’s not a catastrophe, but more of a mild but real disappointment. Consider that the first X-Men movie, in 2000, opened to $54.5 million (about $80 million in today’s dollars), followed by $85.6 million for X2 in 2003, $102.8 million for the 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand and $85.1 million for the Jackman-only X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class, in which Jackman’s character had an amusingly obscene cameo, managed a three-day opening total of $55.1 million. Suddenly the new movie’s $55-million premiere, pumped up by inflated ticket prices and 3-D and IMAX surcharges, looks relatively puny.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Wolverine)

On the bright side, this PG-13 Wolverine didn’t cost a clawed arm and a hairy leg: its $120-million budget is low for a Marvel movie with a big star. Critics liked the film, with a 67% “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website of aggregate reviews, and so did audiences: the early crowd (58% male, 58% 25 or older) gave it a pearly A-minus grade in the CinemaScore poll. Further, since the picture has a definite, almost defiant international air — it’s set mostly in Japan and supports Jackman with a predominantly Japanese cast — it can be expected to do well abroad. It already has. This weekend The Wolverine grabbed a robust $86 million in virtually all foreign markets except for China … and Japan. So we won’t yet say sayonara to Logan. Besides, he’ll be back next summer with a full complement of costars (Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen) in X-Men: Days of Future Past. If that one bombs, get the smelling salts ready for the Marvel executives.

(READ: When Hugh Jackman said The Wolverine would be his best X-Men movie)

Back home, moviegoers paid to see animated features — Turbo came in just behind Despicable Me 2 for fourth place, though it could prove to be the lowest-grossing DreamWorks cartoon since the 2006 Flushed Away — and comedies. Grown Ups 2 reached $101.7 million, becoming Adam Sandler’s 13th live-action film to pass the $100-million mark at the North American wickets. And The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, inched up to $141.2 million, making it the year’s top-grossing live-action comedy. In second place: Identity Thief, with Jason Bateman and … Melissa McCarthy.

(READ: Mary Pols’ reviews of The Heat and Identity Thief)

One R-rated comedy, The To Do List starring Parks and Recreations gamine Aubrey Plaza, earned back its budget — $1.5 million — at 591 theaters; its “A” CinemaScore may corral more viewers and put this rowdy rom-com in the black. Woody Allen, an old comedy master, turned to drama with Blue Jasmine and hit the jackpot in limited release: $613,000 at just six venues, for the year’s best per-screen average. The critically lauded film (85% on the Rotten Tomatoes website of aggregate reviews) won special praise for Cate Blanchett’s performance, and could stick around into the year-end awards period.

(READ: Cate Blanchett on working with Woody Allen)

Two other indie films ventured into wider release with encouraging results. Fruitvale Station, whose true story of a young black man killed by a transit officer bears stark similarities to the Trayvon Martin case, boldly expanded from 34 to 1,064 theaters and earned $4.7 million, enough to vault it into the weekend’s top 10. The coming-of-age comedy The Way, Way Back fanned out to 886 screens for a $3.3-million take, good for 11th place.

(READ: Mary Pols’ reviews of Fruitvale Station and The Way, Way Back)

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

1. The Wolverine, $55 million, first weekend
2. The Conjuring, $22.1 million; $83.9 million, second week
3. Despicable Me 2, $16 million; $306.4 million, fourth week
4. Turbo, $13.2 million; $55.8 million, second week
5. Grown Ups 2, $11.5 million; $101.7 million, third week
6. Red 2, $9.4 million; $35.1 million, second week
7. Pacific Rim, $7.5 million; $84 million, third week
8. The Heat, $6.85 million; $141.2 million, fifth week
9. R.I.P.D., $5.9 million; $24.4 million, second week
10. Fruitvale Station, $4.7 million; $6.3 million, third week

2 comments
tmike5
tmike5

You totally forgot Man of Steel, which made more money than Furious 6 at least domestically and almost as much worldwide.

InternetUserJ
InternetUserJ

Richard, not sure if you chose the headline or it was chosen by someone who only read the first paragraph. In either case, it's grossly misrepresentative and confusing in relation to the main body of text.