Michael Ealy, left, and Taraji P. Henson are shown in a scene from "Think… (Alan Markfield / Sony Pictures-Screen…)
Moe, Larry and Curly couldn't do it. Neither could Snow White, an army of Greek gods or a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio.
After four weeks, the film finally able to dethrone "The Hunger Games" at the box office was "Think Like a Man," an ensemble relationship comedy about five ethnically diverse couples.
The movie's success surprised many in Hollywood over the weekend, because the picture came in more than $10 million ahead of industry projections with what distributor Sony Pictures estimated to be a $33-million debut.
Heading into the weekend, the PG-13 film was expected to be in a tight race for the top spot with the romantic tear-jerker "The Lucky One." But that film, starring Zac Efron as a Marine on a mission to track down a woman he feels protected him during war, ended up grossing $22.8 million — a respectable figure and on par with what pre-release audience surveys had suggested.
Meanwhile, the nature documentary "Chimpanzee" also had a good weekend, scoring the highest debut for Walt Disney Studios' Disneynature label, with $10.2 million.
Moviegoers who saw "Think Like a Man" — a largely female crowd, 62% of whom were 30 or older — loved the film, assigning it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. The film, which targeted an African American audience, performed well in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia. However, it is unclear precisely how well the movie played with different races this weekend, because although Sony gathers that demographic information on audiences, it historically has not provided an ethnic breakdown to news media.
Rory Bruer, Sony's distribution president, would say only "There wasn't a group that this didn't play well to."
"I think there were several elements as to why the film was successful," Bruer said, "starting with the fact that it's hysterically funny, and people loved a humorous look at the difference between men and women."
The strong opening for "Think Like a Man," based on a relationship advice book by Steve Harvey, is good news for Sony's Screen Gems label, which spent only about $13 million to produce the film. Screen Gems — which makes mostly low-budget horror, action and teen comedies — has had a good year at the box office. "Think Like a Man" marks the studio's third No. 1 film in 2012, following the romantic drama "The Vow" and the vampire action movie "Underworld: Awakening."
"Think Like a Man" brought in nearly as much in its opening weekend as last year's comedy "Jumping the Broom," which featured an African American cast, collected overall — $37 million. Its opening was also higher than a number of Tyler Perry's recent films, including the comedies "Madea's Big Happy Family" and "Why Did I Get Married Too?" Both debuted with less than $30 million.
"The Lucky One's" Efron, meanwhile, has been trying to shed his teen pinup image as he attempts to become a serious leading man. The weekend results for his latest film indicate he may be making progress with that endeavor, considering his last weepy drama "Charlie St. Cloud" opened with only $12.4 million in 2010.
Still, it was Efron's female fan base that turned up to see the adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel; 76% of the audience was female. Roughly 56% of the crowd — which gave the movie a CinemaScore grade of B+ — said the biggest reason they went to see it was because of the 24-year-old heartthrob.
"This movie aged him up a little bit. He's looking more like a young adult, and he's believable in the role as a Marine," said Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., which released the film.
Warners and Village Roadshow made "The Lucky One" for about $25 million. The film's debut was the second highest for Sparks, an adaptation of whose "Dear John" started with $30.5 million in 2010 and ended up becoming his biggest hit with a total of $80 million.
"Chimpanzee," which shows four years in the life of a baby chimp and his family, was made by Disneynature, the division that generates inexpensive documentaries about wildlife and the environment. "Chimpanzee" was the first of the label's four films to crack the $10-million mark in its opening weekend, beating the $8.8-million debut of "Earth" in 2009.
About 61% of those who saw the film over the weekend were families, and the audience loved the documentary, giving it an A CinemaScore. As it does with many of its nature films, Disney presold tickets to a number of groups and schools interested in seeing the film. On Friday alone, group sales receipts accounted for $365,000.