“Pixels,” the video game action comedy starring Adam Sandler, packed a puny punch in its box office debut, paving the way for Marvel’s superhero saga “Ant-Man” to claim its second consecutive triumph this weekend with an estimated $24.8 million.
“Ant-Man” crossed the $100 million mark after 10 days domestically and grossed an estimated $60 million globally as well this weekend.
The “Pixels” fizzle marked another disappointment for both Sandler, who’s lost his box-office mojo recently, and Sony Pictures, which saw its only summer tentpole movie open to an underwhelming $24 million, according to Sunday’s estimates. It’s close, so it’s possible that Sunday’s business could put “Pixels” on top, but that’s not the kind of number you want to see from an $88 million special effects extravaganza.
The weak domestic debut for “Pixels,” produced by Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions and Columbus’ 1492 Pictures, means it will have to do very well overseas to turn a profit for the studio and co-financiers L Star Capital and China Film Group. Over the weekend, it added $21.4 million from roughly 40 percent of its eventual international rollout.
“Southpaw,” the Jake Gyllenhaal boxing drama directed by Antoine Fuqua, opened to a better-than-expected $16.5 million for the Weinstein Company and finished fifth behind holdovers “Minions” ($22 million) and Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” ($17.2 million), both from Universal. “Paper Towns,” the teen-targeting adaptation of the John Green bestseller, disappointed with $12.5 million in its debut for Twentieth Century Fox and was sixth.
“Pixels,” which was directed by Chris Columbus and co-starred Josh Gad, Kevin James and Peter Dinklage, was at a weak 19 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes, and seemed to suffer from its bad reviews. Critics have never been keen on Sandler’s brand of low-brow comedy, but that didn’t slow his early hits like “Mr. Deeds,” “Big Daddy” and “The Waterboy.” Recent efforts like “Blended,” “That’s My Boy” and “Jack and Jill” have all failed to gain traction with moviegoers, however. Even audiences gave “Pixels” a so-so “B” CinemaScore.
“Pixels” was aimed at family crowds, the same audience targeted by better-reviewed holdovers “Ant-Man,” “Minions” and Pixar Animation’s “Inside Out,” and that took a toll, too. Some moviegoers, particularly families, probably stayed home in the wake of media coverage of Thursday’s deadly attack in a Lafayette, La., movie theater, in which gunman John Russell Houser killed two and injured nine others, before fatally turning the weapon on himself. The audience for Pixels was 62 percent under 25 years old and 55 perent male.
“The CinemaScore for the under-18 group was an ‘A,’ and we think that’s going to be the sweet spot in the weeks going forward,” said Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer, who declined to discuss the impact of the shootings.
A strong ethnic turnout had a lot to do with the debut of “Southpaw” beating the projections of analysts, who had forecast low-teen millions. The film’s audience was 24 percent Latino and 21 percent African-African.
“I think Eminem and 50 Cent, Antoine shooting a great movie and a terrific performance by Jake were the biggest factors,” said TWC distribution chief Erik Lomis.
The soundtrack, featuring the two stars, Gwen Stefani and The Weeknd, seemed to have helped because the crowd was 60 percent under the age of 35 and evenly split gender-wise. Moviegoers gave it an “A” CinemaSore and TWC’s exit polls were very strong for the film, which co-stars Rachel McAdams and Forest Whitaker.
“I think we’re going to be around for awhile because of the word of mouth and the fact that we’re a drama in the middle of summer,” said Lomis. “It can’t be all superhero stuff and comedies, and I think we provided something for grownups.”
“Paper Towns,” which starred Nat Wolff and supermodel Cara Delevingne, didn’t come close to matching the opening of the last film adaptation of a bestseller by John Green, “The Fault In Our Stars.” That film debuted to $48 million last summer and went to top $300 million globally.
Like that one, the Fox 2000 romance was aimed directly at adolescent girls and had a screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. It was also produced by Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, the team behind the “Twilight” movies.
But given the slow start, the most important factor “Paper Towns” shares with “Fault” could be its similarly lean $12 million production budget.