Bad Grandpa: A Jackass Is Stronger Than Gravity

The gross-out comedy wins the weekend, while 'The Counselor' crumbles and '12 Years a Slave' rises

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In the end, all it took to bring Gravity back to Earth was a dirty old man.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, a detour into storytelling comedy for the TV and movie docu-pain series, won the weekend at North American theaters with a $32 million gross, according to preliminary studio estimates. Johnny Knoxville’s merry-punkster road movie dislodged Gravity, which had spent three frames at the top and registered a solid $20.3 million in its fourth weekend. The Sandra Bullock–George Clooney space epic, which has earned nearly $200 million at home and another $164.4 million abroad, is the biggest hit of this or any fall movie season.

(READ: Jeffrey Kluger’s Gravity Fact Check)

The top 10 movies earned $93.2 million, up 24% from the same weekend last year, when Argo finished first with a skimpy $12 million and Cloud Atlas was second with $9.6 million. Mind you, Hurricane Sandy was sweeping up the East Coast that weekend, forcing the closure of movie theaters and much more serious havoc. But if current numbers hold when final figures are issued Monday, this will be first pre-Halloween weekend that two films have earned at least $20 million since 2008, when High School Musical 3: Senior Year took in $42 million and Saw V earned $30.1 million.

[UPDATE: The Sunday numbers did hold in Monday’s “final” figures: Bad Grandpa at $32.055 million, Gravity at $20.135 million.]

Earning more than twice its thrifty $15 million budget, Bad Grandpa pulled a generous CinemaScore of B from an audience that skewed male (54%) and a little older than you might suspect — 63% over 25 — if you didn’t realize that the MTV series ran from 2000 to 2002, and that the Jackass movies appeared in 2002, 2006 and 2010. The target demographic for this episode would be the older brothers, or perhaps bad uncles, of the Tosh.0 crowd. This time Knoxville, in makeup as 86-year-old Irving Zisman, drives his grandson (Jackson Nicoll) cross-country, pranking the citizenry with gross-out shenanigans. Think Borat with a much lower IQ.

(READ: Corliss on the Jackass movies)

The Knoxville spinoff also fits into the “bad” subgenre of movies about naughty people in designations usually thought of as nice: Billy Bob Thornton in the 2003 Bad Santa (“I said, ‘Next,’ goddam it! This is not the DMV!”) and Cameron Diaz in the 2011 Bad Teacher (“I’m going to s— your d— like I’m mad at it”). The trope can be traced all the way back to 1956, with Patty McCormack as the cute, blond, 8-year-old psychopath in The Bad Seed (“You tell lies like that, you won’t go to Heaven when you die!”). The jokes in Bad Grandpa come from an octogenarian and an 8-year-old doing rude things — simple, but good enough for an October box-office win.

(READ: Joel Stein on the High Art of Jackass)

The weekend’s other big new offering opened small. The Counselor, with a classy cast (Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt) and a creative duo of laureled geriatrics (director Ridley Scott, 75, and writer Cormac McCarthy, 80), managed $8 million. The crime thriller, shot for just $25 million, found an elderly constituency (85% over 25) and got no love: an excoriating CinemaScore of D.

(READ: Mary Pols’ review of The Counselor)

Business heated up on the specialty scene. Director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, in its second week, expanded from nine to 123 theaters and earned $2.15 million. We’re still not sure if the unsparing bio-pic of 19th-century free black Solomon Northrup, indentured and brutalized on a Southern plantation, will attract a huge audience. For now, though, Slave finished eighth and scored the weekend’s second highest per-screen average: $17,480.

(LISTEN: How to pronounce the names of the 12 Years a Slave stars)

The highest, at four venues in Manhattan and Los Angeles, went to Blue Is the Warmest Color: $101,000, or $25,250 per screen. Winner of the Palme d’Or from Steven Spielberg’s Cannes jury, this three-hour French drama has received much publicity about its intense sex scenes and the charges of its lead actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, that director Abdellatif Kechiche hounded them predatorily on the set.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Blue Is the Warmest Color)

To what extremes did Kechiche drive his actresses? Let’s just say they do stuff on-screen that even Johnny Knoxville and his Jackass gang might decline.

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

1. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, $32 million, first weekend
2. Gravity, $20.3 million; $199.8 million, fourth week
3. Captain Phillips, $11.8 million; $70.1 million, third week
4. The Counselor, $8 million, first week
5. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, $6.1 million; $100.6 million, fifth week
6. Carrie, $5.9 million; $26 million, second week
7. Escape Plan, $4.3 million; $17 million, second week
8. 12 Years a Slave, $2.15 million; $3.4 million, second week
9. Enough Said, $1.6 million; $13 million, sixth week
10. Prisoners, $ 1.1 million; $59.1 million, sixth week