The "Jackass" crew pulled off perhaps its unlikeliest exploit yet this weekend: Opening its latest low-budget compilation of safety- and taste-defying stunts to an estimated $50 million.
The phenomenal debut was the highest for any movie since July's "Inception" and represents an increase in attendance over 2006's "Jackass 2," which launched with $29 million, even accounting for rising ticket prices and 3-D surcharges. It's rare in Hollywood for a franchise to keep growing 10 years after its debut, particularly one that appeals to young people who in many cases never saw the 2000-02 MTV series.
Paramount Pictures' "Jackass 3D" blew away the bigger-budget Bruce Willis action movie "Red," which opened to a so-so $22.5 million. However, the Summit Entertainment picture showed evidence of strong word-of-mouth among adult audiences that might ultimately turn it into a hit.
Aggressively promoted on such youth-skewing programs as "Jersey Shore" on MTV, which like Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc., "Jackass 3D" drew an audience that was two-thirds under 25 and 60% male. However, it actually attracted 15% more females than "Jackass 2."
Research also showed that 92% of ticket sales came from theaters that showed the movie in 3-D, and Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore said he thought the technology was key to the movie's appeal.
"It was a really simple idea that people rallied to: What would these crazy guys do in 3-D?" he explained. "All you have to do is tell people the title."
Though audiences gave it a solid average grade of B+ according to market research firm CinemaScore, movies that skew young often disappear from theaters fast. That trend was already evident as ticket sales for "Jackass 3-D" sunk 23% from Friday to Saturday.
Still, a domestic gross of more than $100 million, which is virtually certain for "Jackass 3-D," will make the picture profitable for Paramount, which spent only $20 million on production. Moore also said he was optimistic that unlike "Jackass 2," which grossed only $11.8 million in foreign countries, the appeal of 3-D would make the new film a bigger hit internationally.
While "Red" wasn't a major success out of the gate, Summit hopes that the movie about an aging group of former CIA agents and assassins will enjoy a slow burn at the box office. Ticket sales rose 26% from Friday to Saturday, and the average audience grade was A-, both good signs. In addition, the majority of moviegoers was over 35, a group that doesn't typically rush out to see films on opening weekend but will attend later if word-of-mouth is good.
"Red," which is based on a comic book and also stars Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, is 3-year-old Summit's most expensive non-"Twilight" movie, with a production cost of about $60 million after tax credits.
Ideally, Summit is hoping "Red" performs like another older-skewing action movie, "The Town," which opened to $23.8 million and is now, after five weekends, at a strong $80.6 million.
Among movies that opened last weekend, "Secretariat" stood out for its sensational second lap. Ticket sales for Walt Disney Studios' inspirational horse racing drama dropped just 25% to $9.5 million. That's the smallest second-weekend decline for any movie this year, albeit not enough to turn the film into a clear success after its soft start.