The latest episode of the long-running X-Men franchise, X-Men: First Class, wrangled the number one spot at the North American box office this weekend. The 20th Century Fox release easily beat out holdovers The Hangover Part II and Kung-Fu Panda 2, both of which took the standard post-holiday drops to land in second and third place, respectively. Once again, the box office continued to show improved signs of life as the top ten rose approximately 29% over this time a year ago.
Since its debut eleven years ago this July, the X-Men franchise has remained a popular draw at the national box office. Following the trilogy that spanned from 2000-2006, the series’ next step of cinematic evolution was to do prequels. The first was 2009′s Wolverine, which withstood critical and fanboy scorn to earn a big $179.8 million. A film centering around Magneto, played in the first three films by Ian McKellen, was to be next. That project went through several creative twists and turns, eventually evolving into an origin story about the start of the X-Men team in the early 1960s.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) and starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Bacon, X-Men: First Class arrived on 3,641 screens this weekend to earn a solid but slightly underwhelming (in comparison to the previous mutant flicks) $56 million in estimated ticket sales. In comparison to the new film’s debut, 2003′s X2 opened to a huge $85.5 million, X-Men: The Last Stand commanded the 2006 Memorial Day weekend to the tune of $102.7 million while Wolverine opened with $85 million. The opening for the 2000 original was close to the opening of First Class with $54.4 million. Of course, that was eleven years ago where tickets were substantially lower-priced than they were today. Factor in inflation, and you are probably talking about a figure for the first movie opening closer to the $70 million mark.
The lower opening for the new film could be the result of several factors, the first being franchise fatigue. While they were big hits, many people found the 2006 and 2009 series entries to be less than satisfactory (and that is putting it mildly). Another could be the lack of a major marquee draw. You don’t need a superstar to make a film good or great. Case in point is the film we are talking about here. But many out there would probably be more enticed to see another mutant flick if Hugh Jackman returned as Wolverine for the fifth time. One could also point the finger at the so-so marketing campaign that distributor Fox assembled for the movie. Aside from a great pair of trailers, the anticipation for the new film was the working definition of the word “meh.”
One thing is for certain: the movie didn’t suffer due to bad reviews. In fact, with the exception of Bryan Singer’s 2003 sequel X2, First Class is the best-reviewed entry in the series thus far, earning a strong 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ticket buyers polled by Cinemascore gave it a decent “B+” rating. Positive feedback from the latter is going to be the key for the X-Men to survive the upcoming onslaught of effects pictures such as Green Lantern and Super 8.
After ruling the roost last holiday weekend with a party-worthy $135 million opening, Warner’s comedy smash The Hangover Part II suffered the usual post-holiday/sequel drop off this weekend to land in second place. Off a steep 62%, Stu and the boys earned an estimated $33.2 million from 3,615 screens this weekend to bring its ten-day total to the $186.8 million mark. Depending on how fast the film continues to cool off, the film could finish its run near the $250 million mark with an identical amount due from overseas market. And yes, a third part is officially in the works.
The other big opener from last weekend, Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda 2 also dropped but had a better hold than Hangover Part II did. Off 49% from Memorial Day, the well-reviewed animated sequel earned an estimated $24.3 million from 3,952 screens to bring its ten-day total to just over $100 million. With no direct competition arriving on the scene until the June 24th opening of Pixar’s Cars 2, Po and company could see its domestic total kick its way to the $150 million mark. A healthy total, but roughly 35% less than the 2008 original.
Captain Jack Sparrow recruited approximately 55% less crew members in his third weekend as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides earned an estimated $18 million from 3,966 screens to land in fourth place. To date, the pricey Disney flick has earned $190.2 million in domestic sales and is heading for a final domestic take somewhere near the $240 million mark. Overseas, the movie has been an unstoppable monster, earned over $500 million so far.
In fifth place was Universal’s hit Bridesmaids, which withstood the post-holiday blues to have another great hold. Off only 26% from last weekend, the movie earned $12.5 million in estimated sales on 2,919 screens to bring its total to the $107 million mark. The movie is still on course to hit the $140-145 million mark. Taking a direct hit from the X-Men this weekend was another Marvel superhero, Thor. For the weekend, the Kenneth Branagh-directed action flick dropped 55% to earn $4.2 million in leftover sales to bring its domestic total to the $169 million mark. The film should call it a day with $180 million in the bank. Universal’s Fast Five crossed the $200 million mark this weekend with a $3.2 million weekend to land in seventh place.
Woody Allen’s new comedy Midnight In Paris continued to impress by earning $2.9 million from a mere 147 screens. After three weeks, the Owen Wilson-headlined comedy has romanced a solid $6.8 million in very limited release. The film goes wide in early July. Another hit in limited release continued to be Fox Searchlight’s The Tree of Life. Playing on only 20 screens, the Terrence Malick drama earned $621,000 to bring its ten-day total to the $1.2 mark. The film will continue to slowly roll out over the next few weeks.
Rounding out the top ten were two spring comedies. Warner’s Something Borrowed earned $865,000 million in leftover sales to bring its total to the $36 million mark, while Sony’s Jumping the Broom also brought in $500,000 to bring its total to $35.8 million.
Next weekend, Paramount unleashes J.J. Abrams’ ode to the early works of Steven Spielberg, the sci-fi thriller Super 8.
– Shawn Fitzgerald