There's still some magic in the Steven Spielberg touch as "Super 8," a coming-of-age/sci-fi movie hybrid, topped the box office this weekend — a rarity for an original film released in a summer filled with reboots, prequels and sequels.
The Spielberg-produced and J.J. Abrams-directed film, with no A-list stars and a moderate budget, grossed $37 million upon its debut, according to distributor Paramount Pictures. That was enough to beat out a movie from a more well-established franchise in its second week of release, "X-Men: First Class," which collected $25 million.
"We launched an original movie into a window with the biggest brand names in history, and we made the movie an event in its own way," said Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount.
That's not to say "First Class" didn't hold up well. The film's ticket sales fell 55% — the second-best hold for any of the five movies in the "X-Men" series.
"Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer," the weekend's other new film in wide release, did not fare as well, bringing in a weak $6.3 million.
Heading into the weekend, it was unclear how wide of a reach "Super 8" would have. Tracking on the movie was subdued, which Paramount said was due to the fact that Abrams and the studio ran a secretive marketing campaign that didn't give away much of the movie's plot.
To boost the buzz before the film's opening, Paramount announced on Twitter last week that it would hold screenings of "Super 8" in 324 theaters nationwide Thursday. Those pulled in about $1 million, which is not included in the weekend's total gross.
"For us, it wasn't about how much money we were gonna gross that day," said Moore. "When we launched the trailer, we realized that the Twitter community was really intrigued by this movie and we knew there would be a lot of dialogue. A hundred thousand people went to the sneak screenings, and those 100,000 people have the most reach — when they say something, it is communicated to a giant multiple. It's the difference between the movie opening in the low $30-million range and opening at $37 million."
Because Paramount spent around $50 million to produce the movie, the film about six young friends who witness a mysterious train crash is off to a solid start at the box office. Still, word-of-mouth will be especially important in the coming weeks. Those who saw the well-reviewed "Super 8" liked it, giving it an average grade of "B+," according to market research firm CinemaScore. That's the same grade that both "True Grit" and "Bridesmaids" received, two sleeper hits that crossed generational divides whose success Paramount has said it hopes to replicate.
A large contingent of the "Super 8" audience — 71% — was over the age of 25. That seems to indicate that the film is being embraced by older movie lovers who grew up in the '80s and see "Super 8" as a modern version of films such as "E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial" or "The Goonies."
Overseas, "Super 8" opened in nine foreign markets and collected $6.7 million, grossing $2.7 million of that total in Australia. The film will debut in an additional 16 countries, including Russia and Korea, next weekend.
Those who saw "Judy Moody" liked it as much as those who saw "Super 8," also giving it an average grade of "B+." Unfortunately, far fewer moviegoers showed up to the film based on author Megan McDonald's book series. As expected, a largely family audience — 88% — turned up to see "Judy Moody." Of those who saw the film, 78% were female, and 60% were younger than 25.
But the soft opening will not hurt Relativity financially, as the company said it did not invest any money in the film's production or marketing. The movie about a third grader on summer break was financed by Smokewood Entertainment Group, the production company behind 2009's "Precious," for about $20 million. Relativity received a fee from Smokehouse to market and distribute the movie in the U.S.
Meanwhile, after just 18 days in release, "The Hangover Part II" has already passed the $200 million mark at the domestic box office, as the raunchy film's total came to $216.6 million this weekend. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," which was released in the U.S. about a week earlier than "The Hangover" sequel, also passed the same milestone this weekend. The film starring Johnny Depp has grossed $208.8 million domestically.