For the dog days of August, Hollywood unleashed two top dogs — Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg — to win the box-office weekend. 2 Guns, about a pair of government agents on the run, notched $27.4 million for first place at North American theaters, according to preliminary studio estimates. The other big new film, The Smurfs 2, opened at $18.2 million for the three-day weekend and $27.8 million since its Wednesday debut. That five-day figure is significantly below the $35.6 million that the first Smurfs movie earned in its first three days two summers ago, which leaves the miniature Blue Crew hoping for foreign aid: giant-size numbers from abroad.
[MONDAY UPDATE: Final figures, issued this afternoon, show that all top 10 films finished at least 1% below their Sunday predictions. 2 Guns grossed $27.1 million (down $300,000) and The Smurfs 2 $17.5 million (down $650,000). The most optimistic guesstimate was for Blue Jasmine, which actually earned $1.86 million, or 8% below its reported $2.02 million.]
The same weekend last year, The Dark Knight Rises held No. 1 for the third straight week, earning $35.7 million and easily defeating the new entries: a Total Recall remake ($25.6 million) and the third in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series ($14.6 million). Two years ago, Rise of the Planet of the Apes proved that an August film could wreak midsummer numbers: it opened to $54.8 million, or exactly twice the 2 Guns take. Behind it was The Smurfs in its second weekend, with $20.7 million — more than the current sequel earned in its first weekend.
After a sturdy domestic box office last month — the $1.37 billion was second only to the $1.395 billion in July 2011 — comes an August of lowered expectations. So even though 2 Guns amassed less in its opening weekend than, say, The Lone Ranger‘s $29.2 million, the Denzel-Mark action picture can be considered a hit and the Johnny Depp Western a notorious flop. The difference is one of bookkeeping: the 2 Guns budget was $60 million to $80 million (depending on whether you count the tax rebates), while The Lone Ranger cost nearly a quarter-billion dollars, much of which the Disney studio will never recover.
2 Guns was the 58-year-old Washington’s first action-comedy in a film career that spans three decades, so naturally it attracted an audience skewing slightly female (51%) and way older than usual (77% over the age of 25), with strong showings for African-Americans (28%) and Hispanics (14%). First-night viewers gave the R-rated caper a gentleman’s B-plus in the CinemaScore survey. All these numbers and grades are nothing above ordinary — a mild surprise if you were thinking that the new movie’s two stars, whose films often open in the high $20-millions, would sell a lot more tickets when they are teamed for the first time. You were thinking wrong: Washington and Wahlberg are both action stars who appeal to essentially the same customers. The box-office equation is not “Denzel plus Mark” but “Denzel equals Mark”.
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of 2 Guns)
For a Smurfs movie, the equation is a little domestic money plus a truckload of Euros. The first film earned a respectable $142.6 million in North America and a Smurftastic $421.1 million abroad, or 75% of the worldwide gross. Hatched by a Belgian in 1958, the comic-book cuties have always been more popular in Europe than in the States — like Tintin, whose 2011 movie adaptation amassed 79% of its global revenue in overseas markets. (The Ice Age series, though made in the U.S., flexes similar foreign muscle: the last two episodes have pulled an amazing 78% and 82% of its worldwide total from offshore sales.)
At the April CinemaCon meeting, Adam Sandler took a timeout from promoting his Grown Ups 2 to joke, “I know all you overseas people are f—ing excited about Smurfs 2.” Opening in 43 markets this weekend, the G-rated 3-D movie registered a promising $52.5 million, about 4% below the first Smurfs; and, despite a continent-wide heat wave, it was the No. 1 attraction in most European countries. (A Smurfs 3 is already scheduled for July 2015 release.) Back here, 80% of the audience was families, of which 57% were children. In the CinemaScore poll they awarded Smurfs 2 a very indulgent A-minus, helping to prove the theory that kids give movies the grades they wish they got in school.
(READ: Are the Smurfs Crypto-Fascists?)
Even if the picture had been well received by critics (it pulled a crummy 12% on the Rotten Tomatoes aggregate review site) or had demonstrated any reason for existence beyond sustaining a brand name, The Smurfs 2 would have run into late-summer cartoon fatigue. It’s the fifth child-aimed animated feature in less than three months, after Epic, Monsters University, Despicable Me 2 and Turbo. (Want more cartoons? Disney’s Planes opens next week.) At least three of these will be considered flops at the domestic box office, though Pixar’s Monsters movie is a solid hit ($258.6 million here, $354.9 million abroad) and Universal’s DM2 a worldwide smash — $326.7 million domestic, $387 million foreign, $713.7 total — the year’s most popular movie this side of Iron Man 3, which has earned $1.212 billion worldwide. That DM2 cost only $76 million to produce, compared with the $105 million to $125 million for Smurfs 2, indicates that the Belgian-born elfs should learn to economize if they want to mint some real coin.
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of Despicable Me 2)
Last weekend’s top film, The Wolverine, fell hard to second place, 59% below its so-so opening, but it has grossed a feral $159 million abroad, with Japan (the movie’s main location) still to open. The Conjuring kept scaring up business, dropping less than 40% in its third week — rare for a horror film — and will end up one of the summer’s top successes: perhaps $300 million worldwide on a pinchpenny $20-million budget. Sandler’s Grown Ups 2 held strong, exceeding $100 million at the domestic wickets and challenging the Sandra Bullock–Melissa McCarthy film, The Heat, as the season’s top live-action comedy.
Comedies tend to do best at home; action pictures, like animated features, can salvage mediocre domestic returns with bullish numbers abroad. That’s the case with Pacific Rim. Guillermo Del Toro’s robots-vs.-dinosaurs faceoff has struggled to $93 million in the 24 days of its Stateside release but has earned more than $200 million overseas, including $17.6 million in South Korea and, in the past five days, $45.2 million in China, for Warner Bros.’ all-time biggest opening there. This Friday the film opens in Japan, the home both of costar Rinko Kikuchi and of the whole Godzilla genre. If the movie achieves profitability, and there’s a Pacific Rim 2, you can thank China, South Korea and Japan — three countries on the Pacific rim.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Pacific Rim)
In Indieland, the news was Wow for The Spectacular Now. The Sundance-spawned teen romance, starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, earned $200,181 at just four theaters in New York City and Los Angeles. Two indie hits, The Way, Way Back and Fruitvale Station, finished 11th and 12th this weekend with numbers just under $3 million and total grosses of $13.7 million and $11 million, respectively. One new art-house entry, The Canyons, couldn’t translate its controversy into ticket sales. Playing in a single Manhattan theater, Paul Schrader’s sex-soaked inside-Hollywood drama, starring Lindsay Lohan and porn actor James Deen, took in a prudish $15,200.
The word was better, as in boffo, for the second week of Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Expanding from six screens to 50, this study of a Manhattan high flyer (Cate Blanchett) crashing to earth in San Francisco grabbed $2.022 million for a stratospheric $40,440 per-screen average. While the blue-boy Smurfs fought for the kiddie market, and Schrader’s dramatic movie faltered, Woody kept soaring with Blue Jasmine.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. 2 Guns, $27.4 million, first weekend
2. The Wolverine, $21.7 million; $95 million, second week
3. The Smurfs 2, $18.2 million, first weekend; $27.8 million, first five days
4. The Conjuring, $13.7 million; $108.6 million, third week
5. Despicable Me 2, $10.4 million; $326.7 million, fifth week
6. Grown Ups 2, $8.1 million; $116.4 million, fourth week
7. Turbo, $6.4 million; $69.5 million, third week
8. Red 2, $5.65 million; $45.2 million, third week
9. The Heat, $4.7 million; $149.6 million, sixth week
10. Pacific Rim, $4.6 million; $93 million, fourth week