Starting out on a record-breaking pace in May, the summer box office will finish with a strong closing kick in August.
With two weeks to go until the summer session ends, Sony’s space-alien-immigration-themed "District 9" outperformed expectations this weekend with a $37 million debut.
Produced by Peter Jackson, directed by South African Neill Blomkamp and featuring a cast of obscure actors, the R-rated sci-fi film, independently produced and licensed to Sony for $25 million, overshot projections by about $10 million, garnering an opening audience that skewed 64% male.
"You had the Peter Jackson pedigree for the film, sure, but lets be real about it," noted Rory Bruer, President of Distribution for Sony. "You have a director who is unknown and a cast that is unknown and a title… ‘District 9,’ what does that mean? We knew we had a terrific movie, but if we had opened in the mid-$20 million range, we would have been pretty happy with that."
Last week’s champ, Paramount popcorn film "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," still found enough male moviegoers left over for a $22.5 million second weekend, rallying with a strong $9 million Saturday even though it declined 59% from its opening, according to studio estimates.
The $175 million action film now has taken in $99.4 million domestically, and Paramount is confident it will creep to $300 million worldwide.
"I think when you have a movie like ‘District 9’ that crosses our demo the way it does, you expect to take a back seat on Friday," said the studio’s Executive Vice President Don Harris.
For its part, "G.I. Joe" was figured by most box-office watchers to be the last big hit of the summer season, which going into the weekend had generated about $3.6 billion in North America since it started May 1, less than a percentage point behind last summer’s record-breaking revenue pace.
However, the surprising strength of "District 9" has pushed the summer back ahead of 2008.
"Given the economy, to come in slightly up on revenue and flat on attendance is a pretty good result," said Paramount exec VP Don Harris, remarking on the broader box office scenario.
Finishing third, Warner-New Line’s women-targeted "The Time Traveler’s Wife" will conclude its first three days with $19.2 million, in line with expectations for the romance-fantasy drama starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams.
"Wife" took some of the female eyeballs away from Sony comedy "Julie and Julia," directed by Nora Ephron and starring Meryl Streep, but the foodie film will still conclude its second weekend with another $12.4 million, down only 41 percent from last weekend. The $40 million film’s total now stands at $43.7.
Among other openings this weekend, Paramount Vantage’s low-budget, R-rated comedy "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" starring Jeremy Piven was projected to finish the weekend in sixth place with $5.4 million, roughly on par with studio expectations.
Opening in only 927 theaters, meanwhile, Disney’s animated "Ponyo" from Academy Award winning filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki placed ninth, finishing with $3.5 million.
Summit Entertainment’s teen-targeted "Bandslam" opened out of the top 10, taking in $2.3 million for its first three days. The film was co-produced by Summit and Walden Media for $15 million.
In fifth place behind "Julia," Disney’s Jerry Bruckheimer family film "G-Force" declined only 29% week-to-week and is now at $99 million domestically.
Managing to cling onto 10th place in its third week of release, Universal’s Judd Apatow dramedy "Funny People" added another $3 million and is now up to $47.9 million — still a long way away from recouping its $91.5 million production budget.