Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Lucy’ Hammers ‘Hercules’ and The Rock at Box Office

Universal’s R-rated sci-fi thriller powers to a $44 million opening as sword-and-sandals epic manages $29 million

Scarlett Johansson‘s “Lucy” pummeled “Hercules” and Dwayne Johnson in a box-office battle of the action heroes and sexes, taking in a muscular $44 million over the weekend.

The Rock’s “Hercules” did better than expected and wound up with $29 million, to beat out two-time reigning champ “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which finished third with $16.4 million. And one of Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s final films, “A Most Wanted Man,” cracked the top ten in its limited debut.

But this weekend belonged to “Lucy,” written, directed and produced by Luc Besson. The thriller about a woman who gains extraordinary brainpower after a drug implanted in her body seeps into her system, beat analysts’ projections by at least $10 million, and exceeded its production budget in the first three days for Besson’s EuropaCorp and distributor Universal.

See photos: The Evolution of Scarlett Johansson: From ‘Ghost World’ to Super Smart Girl

“Lucy” marks Johansson’s top opening as the lead in a film and is one of the highest openings ever for an R-rated action movie starring a female. Johansson has burnished her action star credentials playing the Black Widow in “Iron Man 2,” “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” The performance of “Lucy” — for which Angelina Jolie was considered at one point — cements her status as a leading lady in the genre.

The audience was split evenly between male and female, and the age breakdown was broad, with 35 percent under 25 and 65 percent 25 years of age and older. They gave it a “C+” CinemaScore, weak given its 60 percent positive score on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.

The big debut by “Lucy,” which co-stars Morgan Freeman, is all the more impressive because it is an original story, an anomaly in a summer saturated with franchise films. The overall box office is running nearly 20 percent behind last summer’s record season, and while this weekend was still about 13 percent behind the same frame last year, the strong performances of the top films is an encouraging sign.

“To have a female lead in an original property absolutely made a difference,” Universal’s distribution chief Nikki Rocco told TheWrap. “Scarlett is a star, and her presence made it a lot more appealing for women.”

Also read: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Review: Chris Pratt Rides Shotgun on Marvel’s Charming Space Opera

The opening of “Hercules,” the first movie directed by Brett Ratner since 2011’s “Tower Heist,” topped the expectations of analysts by roughly $4 million. But the $100 million price tag of the action epic from MGM and Paramount takes some of the edge off the opening, and it’s clear “Hercules” will have to do the bulk of its business overseas to get into the black. It’s off to a solid start, taking in $28.7 million from 26 foreign markets in which it debuted this weekend.

“Hercules” played very male (58 percent) and surprisingly older domestically, with 64 percent of its audience over the age of 25. Moviegoers gave it a “B+” CinemaScore, a little better than its 63 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. IMAX helped, with “Hercules” delivering $4 million from 347 IMAX locations.  

Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes and John Hurt co-star in “Hercules.” In it, the Greek strongman come to the aid of his daughter and the King of Thrace who are threatened by a tyrannical warlord.

Also read: Joaquin Phoenix Eyed to Star in Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’ (Exclusive)

The weekend’s other wide opener, the Michael Douglas-Diane Keaton romantic comedy “And So It Goes,” opened on far fewer screens and finished eighth with an estimated $4.5 million. Distributor Clarius had the film, directed by Rob Reiner, in 1,768 theaters. That’s well below the 3,173 locations that “Lucy” was in, or the 3,595 of “Hercules.”

Universal’s low-budget horror film “The Purge: Anarchy” finished fourth with $9.8 million. That’s a pretty steep 67 percent drop from its first weekend, but better than the original’s, which fell off more than 75 percent in its second week. It’s taken in $51.3 million, or more than four times its production budget.

Disney’s animated “Planes: Fire and Rescue” wasn’t far behind with $9.2 million in its second week. It was well ahead of “Sex Tape.” The R-rated Cameron Diaz-Jason Segel comedy was off 59 percent from its opening weekend and was sixth with $5.9 million for Sony.

Also read: Philip Seymour Hoffman’s ‘A Most Wanted Man’ Debuts With Eye on Oscar

“A Most Wanted Man” delivered the first top ten opening in 11 years for Roadside Attractions, which is distributing the spy thriller based on John le Carre’s novel with Lionsgate. The film directed by Anton Corbijn and co-starring Rachel McAdams and Robin Wright opened to $2.7 million from 361 locations. That’s a very strong $7,527 per-screen average for “Wanted Man,” which has drawn terrific reviews, particularly for its star Hoffman, who died of a drug overdose in February.