There was some end-of-summer fatigue for the movie business this weekend but no franchise fatigue for "Resident Evil."
On the slowest filmgoing weekend of the year so far, "Resident Evil: Afterlife" was the only new picture released nationwide.
The fourth release in the 8-year-old franchise based on a series of horror video games, and the first made in 3-D, took in a solid $27.7 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures.
Accounting for ticket-price inflation and 3-D premiums, the opening of "Afterlife" was in line with 2004's "Resident Evil: Extinction," which opened to $23.7 million, and 2004's "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," which launched with $23 million (2002's original debuted to $17.7 million). A little more than two-thirds of the theaters playing "Afterlife" showed it in 3-D, including Imax locations.
Overseas, however, "Afterlife" built significantly on its predecessors. Released in 29 foreign markets by Sony, it sold $42.5 million worth of tickets. That's more than twice as much as 2007's "Resident Evil: Extinction" opened to in the same markets. Japan, where the video games are produced and the series has always been most popular, led with $15.5 million. Russia was No. 2 with a strong $9.5 million, followed by Spain with $3.4 million.
"We did terrific in the U.S., but internationally it really killed," said Sony distribution President Rory Bruer. "To take it to this level on the fourth installment really says a lot about the franchise."
It's rare that movie franchises continue to third sequels, and when they do, ticket sales can start to dip. May's "Shrek Forever After," for instance, was DreamWorks Animation's lowest-grossing film domestically starring the green ogre (though it did virtually the same business overseas as the second and third " Shrek" pictures). Last year's " Terminator Salvation," the fourth installment in the science-fiction series, performed worse — both domestically and overseas — than the previous two versions.
"Resident Evil" isn't nearly as big as "Shrek" or "Terminator," but it has been a consistent performer with its mostly male audiences. Marketing for "Afterlife" featured well-known characters from the series, including returning actress Milla Jovovich, in images that emphasized its 3-D effects.
German company Constantin Films spent a little under $60 million to produce "Afterlife," producer Jeremy Bolt said recently. Sony's Screen Gems genre label bought distribution rights in most territories worldwide for $52 million.
Among last week's new pictures, the George Clooney drama "The American" fell a sizable 55% to $5.9 million. Exit polls indicating that audiences hated the picture and would spread negative word of mouth had led some in Hollywood to think it would see an even bigger drop.
But the Danny Trejo action-exploitation film "Machete" took the biggest tumble, 63%, indicating that there wasn't a lot of interest beyond the mostly Latino crowds that came opening weekend. It sold an estimated $4.2 million worth of tickets.
That was slightly ahead of the Drew Barrymore- Justin Long romantic comedy "Going the Distance," which fell only 44% after its weak opening to $3.8 million.
Total movie theater ticket sales for the weekend were $82 million, reported Hollywood.com, down 11% from last year. That's the lowest overall receipts since 2008 according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.