Denzel Washington — Mr. Dependable when it comes to the box office — did it again this weekend with “The Equalizer.”
The R-rated action movie re-teaming him with “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua blasted its way to No. 1 with a $35 million opening and easily whacked last week’s top film “The Maze Runner.” Fox’s young adult epic took in $17.5 million and was battling this weekend’s other wide opener, “The Boxtrolls,” for second. Focus Features’ 3D animated family film from Laika Entertainment took in an estimated $17.2 million.
The opening by “The Equalizer,” based on a 1980s TV show and co-starring Chloe Moretz, is among the best September debuts ever and the highest for an R-rated film. “Insidious Chapter 2” ($40.2 million) and “Sweet Home Alabama” ($35.6 million) are the live-action leaders, with the animated “Hotel Transylvania” tops at $42.5 million.
Sony Pictures, which co-financed the $55 million “The Equalizer” with Village Roadshow and Lstar Capital, already has writer Richard Wenk working on a sequel. The explosive debut all but assures that Washington, who won a Best Actor Academy Award for 2001’s “Training Day,” will finally do a sequel for the first time in his 30-year film career.
“The Equalizer” came in at the high end of analysts’ expectations and is another notch on Washington’s impressive box-office gun barrel. His last 10 wide releases have averaged a $28 million opening, an $86 million domestic gross and more than $170 million at the global box office.
“We knew we had a winner and believed in this movie from the start,” Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer told TheWrap. “Dwight Caines (Sony’s marketing chief) and his team really brought it home for us.”
The gritty thriller played like a date movie, at just 52 percent male, and somewhat older with 65 percent of the crowds over the age of 30. The decent showing with younger moviegoers can be attributed in part to Sony’s social media campaign, which featured Eminem. A special trailer was cut featuring his single “Guts Over Fear” and the singer shared it with his 18.7 million Twitter followers and nearly 95 million Facebook fans.
Sony had “The Equalizer” in 3,236 theaters, including full runs of premium large format and IMAX, the latter of which accounted for seven of the top ten locations for “The Equalizer.” Audiences gave the film an “A-” CinemaScore. That’s a higher mark than critics have given the film, which is at 58 percent positive on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.
The opening by “The Boxtrolls” is the best ever for Laika, the production company owned by Nike co-founder Phil Knight and run by his son Travis, who is both the CEO and an animator on its films.
It’s had two earlier releases. “ParaNorman” debuted to $14 million in August 2012 and went on to take in $56 million domestically and $107 million worldwide. “Coraline” opened to $16.8 million in February 2009 and brought in $75 million domestically and $125 million globally.
Women made up 57 percent of the audiences at 3,464 theaters and gave “Boxtrolls” a “B+” CinemaScore, in line with the critics who have it at 71 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes. If Focus can translate the solid reviews and word of mouth into staying power, the $60 million “Boxtrolls” should be a financial win.
Fox’s “The Maze Runner,” the teen action film starring “Teen Wolf” star Dylan O’Brien, fell off roughly 50 percent in its second week. “Maze Runner” is already well over $120 million worldwide and Fox has commissioned a sequel for next September.
Universal’s R-rated Liam Neeson thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones” took it on the chin from “The Equalizer” in its second weekend. It brought in $4.2 million and finished seventh behind “No Good Deed” and “Dolphin Tale 2.” That’s a steep 67 percent drop from its opening weekend.
“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Let’s Be Cops” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” rounded out the top ten. Overall, the box office was running about even with the same weekend last year, when “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” was tops with $34 million.