‘Straight Outta Compton’ Goes Gangsta on Box Office With $56 Million Debut

The biopic about rap group N.W.A plays across ethnic lines to post biggest opening ever for an R-rated movie in August

Straight Outta Compton

“Straight Outta Compton,” the R-rated biopic about iconic West Coast rap group N.W.A., blazed into box-office history with a $56.1 million debut this weekend, the biggest opening ever for an R-rated film in August. 

The stunning launch of the F. Gary Gray-directed drama is also the biggest opening for a rap or hip-hop movie ever, ahead of the $51 million 2002 debut of Eminem’s “8 Mile.” And it made a blowout of the weekend race after surpassing analysts’ projections by at least $20 million.

Two-time champ “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” was a distant second with roughly $18 million in its third week for Paramount and the weekend’s other wide opener, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” opened with $13.5 million in third place for Warner Bros.

“Straight Outta Compton” recounts the rap group’s rise from the streets of the notorious Los Angeles suburb as N.W.A — Niggaz Wit Attitudes. The group became a leading voice for young African-Americans by challenging authority with profane hits like “F–k Tha Police,” a song that helped earn N.W.A the nickname “the world’s most dangerous group.”

The weekend’s record-breaking showing makes clear that the film’s themes of racial injustice, free speech and standing up to authority still resonate today, and not just with African-Americans. “Straight Outta Compton” played across ethnic lines, something previous rap movies didn’t do.

Forty-six percent of the audience was African-American, but 23 percent of attendees were Caucasian, 21 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian and 6 percent “other.” The film also played surprisingly female at 52 percent, and 49 percent of the crowd was over the age of 30.

Those audiences gave “Straight Outta Compton” an “A” CinemaScore, in line with the high marks critics have given the film, which is at 88 percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. It features newcomers Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell are Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, respectively and O’Shea Jackson Jr. as his real-life father, Ice Cube, in his first starring role.

“N.W.A was an extraordinarily popular group, and there are a lot of people who grew up with that music, and it is still vital today,” Nicholas Carpou, Universal’s distribution chief, told TheWrap Sunday. “The release date, coming at a point in the summer when some fatigue sets in for many moviegoers, worked because we delivered a film that was something special, something that got audiences talking about it.”

The “Straight Outta Compton” rollout was in a relatively conservative 2,757 theaters, and it delivered an outstanding $20,345 per-screen average. That was far better than that of “Mission: Impossible,” which averaged $4,700 in 3,700 theaters, or “Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” which averaged $3,720 in 3638 locations.

The opening is a big financial score for Universal and the film’s backers, given the $29 million production budget of “Straight Outta Compton.” Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were joined as producers by Eazy-E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright, Matt Alvarez, Gray and Scott Bernstein. Will Packer serves as executive producer of the film alongside Adam Merims, David Engel, Bill Straus, and Legendary’s Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni.

“Straight Outta Compton” becomes Universal’s sixth film to open at No. 1 in what has been a dominating and record-breaking year for the studio, following “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Furious 7,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” “Jurassic World,” and “The Minions.” On Saturday, Universal passed the $2 billion mark at the domestic box office in record time, overtaking the speed record previously held by Warner Bros., which reached $2 billion on Dec. 25, 2009.

Warner Bros. had hoped for more from the Guy Ritchie-directed “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” an action film starring “Superman” actor Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer based on the 1970s TV show of the same name.

Analysts had projected a debut in the high-teen millions for the film, which had hefty $75 million budget. It received a “B” CinemaScore from audiences, in line with the critics, who gave it a 68 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Things didn’t get much better for “The Fantastic Four.” The Marvel superhero reboot from Fox took a whopping 68 percent drop from its disappointing debut last week to finish fourth with an estimated $8 million.

STX Entertainment’s ‘s low-budget psychological thriller “The Gift” was fifth with a $6.5 million second weekend, a 45 percent falloff from last week. “Ricki and the Flash,” the Meryl Streep dramedy from Sony’s TriStar, fell just 31 percent and took in $4.5 million in its second weekend. That bodes well for the playability of both films, which target older women.