Beyond Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, Father's Day, timing and the laugh factor all contributed to R-rated comedy's surprise win
The weekend box-office race wasn't as close as most figured it would be, and the winner was a surprise, too.
The Channing Tatum-Jonah Hill sequel “22 Jump Street” powered to a $60 million No. 1 opening — the fifth best ever for an R-rated movie, according to Box Office Mojo — soaring higher than DreamWorks Animation's “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which took in $50 million.
Analysts had projected debuts in the $55 million range for both of the well-reviewed movies. Most observers, including this one, gave “Dragon 2” the edge because it was in many more theaters and was the summer's first animated kids film. Distributor Fox maintained that something in the high $40 millions was more realistic for the kids film and proved correct.
“22 Jump Street,” from Sony and MGM, took off on Friday and hit heights few expected, with the second-best opening for an R-rated comedy ever, behind only “The Hangover Part II,” and ahead of “Ted” and “Sex and the City.”
“Dragon 2” had a strong $18 million first day, but didn't explode on Saturday when most expected the minivan crowd to make a major difference.
They played to entirely different audiences, so it's not like the raunchy comedy stole the kids film's crowd, and the difference between the two films was only $10 million. But there are reasons “Jump Street” took off, and “Dragon 2” didn't:
Channing and Jonah vs. Hiccup and Toothless: The careers of Tatum and Hill are as hot as they've ever been, and Sony marketers timed their campaign so that it peaked at just the right time. The duo's relentless promo work on social media and on the late-night TV circuit set up the breakout, and Hill even deflected a PR gaffe days prior to the opening, admitting, “I am not good at being a famous person.” The “Dragon 2” campaign behind the young Viking and his pal connected solidly with its target family audience and viewers of the first film, but didn't inspire beyond that. Had Hiccup been able to do Jimmy Kimmel's show, who knows?
Father's Day: It was a non-factor for “22 Jump Street,” which played to a date-night crowd with a 50-50 male-female split and did its major business on Thursday and Friday nights. No one knows for sure, but it's a good bet that taking the kids to the movies was not No. 1 on the wish list for a significant number of couch-potato pops, and the holiday may actually have hurt “Dragon.”
Hang Time: “22 Jump Street” arrived just over two years after the original film, so audiences clearly recalled the well-liked “21 Jump Street.” It's been four years since the original “How to Train Your Dragon” debuted, and that's a long wait. Whether the TV series “DreamWorks Dragons” stoked or cut into the appeal of the big-screen sequel is an open question.
The Laugh Factor: “Jump Street” directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller now claim the year's two biggest comedy openings, having scored earlier with “The Lego Movie.” The beloved “How to Train Your Dragon” films have their share of comic relief, but are more inspiring and exciting adventures than laugh riots. On a midsummer weekend, the inspired silliness of two bumbling undercover cops mobilized more moviegoers.
No one is overly disappointed at Fox, which is having a terrific summer with “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “The Fault in Our Stars” having openings at No. 1 and ”Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “Let's Be Cops” still to come.
The “Dragon 2” opening reverses a rough trend for DreamWorks Animation, which has been forced to take writedowns on its two most recent previous releases, “Turbo” and “Mr. Peabody & Sherman.” And there's a good chance that the $145 million sequel could wind up No. 1 this coming weekend. Family films tend to hold, especially when they have strong reviews and an “A” CinemaScore, as “Dragon” does.
The first “Dragon” film opened to $43.7 million and went on to make $217 million domestically. Without an animated challenger until Disney's “Planes: Fire and Rescue” on July 18, “Dragon 2” has a good shot at matching that total.
The first “Dragon” also brought in $277 million from overseas, a relatively low 56 percent of its worldwide total. Fox, which has scored big with the “Rio” and “Ice Age” franchises, knows how to maximize foreign returns on animated films, so it's a very good bet that “Dragon 2” will outstrip the original abroad.