Taylor Kitsch in the movie "Battleship." (Frank Masi, Universal Studios )
The box-office debut of"Battleship"— an attempt to transform the kids' strategy pastime into a summer blockbuster — looked like a very different board game over the weekend: Trouble.
Universal Pictures' $209-million alien invasion spectacle fizzled badly in its domestic premiere, grossing just $25.3 million and finishing a distant second to the third weekend of Disney's "The Avengers," according to Sunday estimates. The debut of "Battleship" — whose ticket sales were about 40% lower than some predictions — was even worse than the $30.2-million March opening of"John Carter,"one of the biggest fiascoes in Hollywood history, and the film's audience was surprisingly old.
"I'm hugely disappointed in this opening," said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution, who added that the film's respectable international numbers will soften the domestic blow.
The film's lackluster debut is the second setback for 31-year-old actor Taylor Kitsch, who stars not only in "Battleship" but also "John Carter." Kitsch also has a lead role in July 6's drug drama "Savages." Universal hopes it can regain some summer momentum with June 1's"Snow White and the Huntsman."
"Battleship" wasn't the only new release to sink fast.
Lionsgate and Alcon Entertainment's ensemble pregnancy comedy "What to Expect When You're Expecting," which cost $40 million, generated poor opening numbers of $10.5 million, about half the amount that some prognosticators had anticipated, finishing in fifth place. Paramount Pictures' pricey Sacha Baron Cohen comedy"The Dictator" grossed a modest $17.4 million in its first three days, good for third place, but it did much better overseas, unusual for a studio comedy.
"Battleship" and "What to Expect" were savaged by critics, while "The Dictator" received mixed to somewhat positive notices.
Meanwhile, the returns for"The Avengers"were again extraordinary.
In taking the top spot for the third consecutive weekend with estimated domestic sales of $55.1 million and an additional $56 million overseas, the Disney superhero tale has become the studio's highest-grossing release of all time, with global ticket sales of $1.18 billion, passing "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," which had total receipts of $1.06 billion.
Over the weekend, the film surpassed the "Pirates" sequel and"Toy Story 3"as Disney's top domestic release ever. With cumulative domestic ticket sales of $457.1 million, "The Avengers" is on track to surpass $600 million in domestic release and could possibly reach $700 million.
Not factoring inflation, only one other movie ever has grossed more than $700 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters — 2009's "Avatar,"which totaled $760.5 million. "Titanic," also from writer-director James Cameron, is the only other movie to surpass $600 million domestically, grossing $658.5 million. But "The Avengers'" consecutive grip on first place is likely to fall next weekend, when Sony's "Men in Black 3" hits multiplexes.
"The Avengers" clearly hurt "Battleship," but had there been enough people interested in the latter film, they would have found it. Universal opened the film in many international markets about a month ago, and the overseas returns of $226.8 million have been not nearly as grim as the domestic proceeds. "This is not a total disaster," Rocco said.
All the same, overseas income may not be strong enough to offset the meager North American proceeds, and if you were expecting a series of sequels — "Aircraft Carrier,""Submarine"and everyone's favorite little ship, "Cruiser" — you may be waiting a long time. Given historical patterns, "Battleship" could struggle to gross $60 million total in domestic release.
In American and Canadian theaters, "Battleship's" audience was 57% male and 55% ages 30 and older, the latter number a worrying sign of how little interest the film has sparked among young moviegoers, the usual drivers of summer box office. The movie received a B grade on CinemaScore, another unencouraging sign for the film's long-term prospects.
In third place, the $65-million "The Dictator," a comedy about a fictional North African leader, split audiences. The film performed poorly in the South and the Midwest but turned in respectable numbers from some European markets like the Netherlands. The film's overseas ticket sales were $30.3 million, ahead of the pace of Cohen's 2006 breakout, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."
"It's definitely a very polarizing film," said Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore. The audience for "The Dictator" was 65% male and 56% under age 25. But ticket buyers gave it a poor CinemaScore of C.
In fourth place was Johnny Depp's"Dark Shadows" with $12.8 million, a drop of 57% from a week ago, while "What to Expect" was fifth. Lionsgate attributed some of the soft sales to "The Avengers." Said David Spitz, Lionsgate's executive vice president for distribution: "The box office can only expand so much." The audience for the pregnancy movie was 70% female and 64% over age 25, and it received a B- from CinemaScore.
In sixth place and continuing to perform exceptionally well with older patrons was Fox Searchlight's"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,"with $3.3 million in just 354 theaters. The comedy about British pensioners who travel to India for their retirement, which will triple its theater count next weekend, has grossed $8.3 million domestically.
Rounding out the top 10 were"The Hunger Games"in seventh place, "Think Like a Man in eighth,"The Lucky One"in ninth and"The Pirates! Band of Misfits"in 10th.