NOW YOU SEE ME

On paper, who would think that Will Smith could be beat by a movie about magicians that starred that guy from The Social Network? Well, that’s exactly what happened. Both were behind Fast and Furious 6, but this is big blow to the Will Smith dynasty. No question.

Film Weekend Per Screen Total
1 Fast and Furious 6 $34,538,000 (-64.5%) $9,370 $170,377,000
2 Now You See Me $28,050,000 $9,590 $28,050,000
3 After Earth $27,00,000 $7,939 $27,000,000
4 Epic $16,400,000 (-51.1%) $4,212 $65,161,000
5 Star Trek Into Darkness $16,400,000 (-56.0%)
$4,575 $181,156,000
6 The Hangover Part III $15,930,000 (-61.8%) $4,468 $88,086,000
7 Iron Man 3 $8,006,000 (-58.6%) $2,765 $384,751,000
8 The Great Gatsby $6,265,000 (-53.7%) $2,378 $128,256,000
9 Mud $1,226,000 (-36.8%) $2,110 $16,866,000
10 The Croods $615,000 (-49.6%) $1,215 $180,538,000

Even with an over sixty percent post-Memorial day weekend tumble, audiences made Fast and Furious 6 the number one movie of the weekend. The movie is on track to do just a bit better than Fast Five, which closed out with $209 Million domestic and $626 Million worldwide. That the studio wants to have another one next year is totally understandable.

But as much as After Earth is the big loser this weekend, Now You See Me is the big winner. The “Magicians pull a heist” movie looked silly (and CGI heavy) in the trailers, but audiences responded to the movie more than expected. It’s almost as if the audience that was expected to go to After Earth went to this instead. Though there’s a lot of competition, See Me could sneak its way past $100 Million, which is a huge number for the film, and a big counter-programming win.

There are many things that can be blamed for After Earth‘s failure. Will Smith hasn’t made as many movies of late, and this was his follow up to the mostly good, but kind of lumpy Men in Black 3, so his brand has been diluted. The movie obviously starred his son Jaden Smith, not him, and it had the earmarks of a vanity project. Audiences may have turned The Karate Kid into a hit, but not because of Jaden. The film was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who has been a critical punching bag for a while, and even though the film didn’t put him front and center in the advertising, critics weren’t going to pass a chance to hit him again. There’s word that Will Smith is a Scientologist, and as Will had a hand in writing it, it’s been called a Scientology tract. But more than any of this, I’m going to blame it on the release date.

I don’t think release dates are as make or break as some, but if this movie were scheduled for the July 4 weekend (a number of Smith’s biggest films were released for Independence day) it would have looked like Sony was really proud of the film and that it was one of the biggest films of the year. Originally, the film was dated for June 7, but they moved it to May 31, and though they showed it to some of the press (mostly those who junketed the film) a few weeks back, they held most critic screenings until week of. These things, in the poker vernacular, are what’s referred to as a tell. The movie didn’t want to be too close to Man of Steel, because they knew there could be a box office vacuum effect (which is real, Hellboy 2 opened a week before The Dark Knight, and its second weekend drop was 70%), but by not opening on a big holiday weekend, by wiggling around the schedule, it showed weakness. If fear is a choice, then this movie chose poorly.

And I’m not saying critics are afraid of giving bad reviews to films that look like they’re going to make $400 Million or whatever at the box office, or give soft passes to films by artists who grant coverage based on fealty, or anything like that. Never. Nope. Or that when they know they have free reign to lay into a picture, that it gets ganged up on partly because of timing (like opening after four weeks of a number of not all that great summer blockbusters that offer the same empty calories in similar ways), and partly because they know that audiences are ambivalent about it because it wasn’t being shoved down their throat, and because it doesn’t have the sort of branding that guarantees an audience.

Otherwise, Star Trek Into Darkness is going to cross the $200 Million mark, but it is going to barely break even – if that – theatrically. Hopefully Trekkers either like the film enough to buy it, or are such completists that they’ll have to have it anyway. There was a push to get the film in front of more worldwide eyes, but though the film is doing better internationally than the first, it’s no barn burner. The first film did $385 worldwide, with a lot of that domestic money. This will probably do about the same, with it grossing at least $40 million less domestically.

Speaking of international, The Hangover Part III opened in the rest of the world. Where the film is going to do a little over $100 Million domestic, it’s already done over that in international markets. The film is about to cross into profitability big time. This is one where the foreign numbers are looking to be much much bigger than domestic, though I would guess a worldwide total in the $350-$400 range. Epic held okay, but it’s either going to just get over $100 million or barely miss it. The good news is foreign is doing a lot better business, so it probably won’t lose money, but it wasn’t given a lot of domestic love.

Iron Man 3 could limp to $400 Million, while The Great Gatsby is puttering out, but played well in its run. Next weekend offers some very weak titles, but that’s because Man of Steel could be the biggest film of the summer.

Reality Check: I didn’t think this weekend would be this tight with the top three, and I thought Now You See Me was going to flop.

What did you watch this weekend?