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'Men' fights well but misses a prediction

The sci-fi comedy 'Men in Black 3' leads the weekend, toppling 'The Avengers,' but misses a $250-million worldwide projection.

May 28, 2012|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times
  • Tommy Lee Jones, left, and Will Smith star in "Men in Black 3."
Tommy Lee Jones, left, and Will Smith star in "Men in Black 3." (Saeed Adyani / Columbia…)

Some "Men in Black" took down both aliens and superheroes at the box office this weekend, as the third installment in the sci-fi comedy series knocked"The Avengers"out of the No. 1 position after four weeks.

"Men in Black 3," starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin, grossed a respectable $70 million domestically over the four-day holiday, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures. Overseas, where the 3-D movie debuted in every major foreign country, the movie collected a solid $133.2 million, bringing the film's worldwide total to $203.2 million.

That was enough to beat "The Avengers," which grossed an additional $46.9 million over the long weekend, raising its domestic total to a whopping $523.6 million. The movie is now the fourth-biggest release of all time — not adjusting for inflation — with its $1.3-billion worldwide gross behind only "Avatar,""Titanic"and the final "Harry Potter" movie.

Overall, Memorial Day ticket sales were down 32% from the holiday weekend last year, when"The Hangover Part II" and"Kung Fu Panda 2" debuted with robust ticket sales.

Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience surveys had suggested that "Men in Black 3" would rake in at least $250 million globally upon its premiere. While the film is still off to a decent start, its opening weekend ticket sales indicate the film likely will not end up being the mammoth summer blockbuster that Sony was hoping for — especially given that the picture had a budget of nearly $250 million.

Rory Bruer, Sony's distribution president, said those in the industry who are labeling the debut of "MIB3" as a disappointment are "being out of line or way harsh."

"I wouldn't think that anybody could feel that the kind of business the picture did is not an excellent start," Bruer said. "Despite the budget, we're definitely going to come out of this in a very positive way."

The "Men in Black" franchise, featuring Smith and Jones as two alien-fighting federal agents (and Brolin as Jones' younger self) originated in 1997. While the original movie was a smash hit, grossing $589 million worldwide, its sequel was less well received by critics and fans; it made $442 million globally. 

The third installment appealed to men and women in nearly equal measure this weekend, as 54% of the audience was male. Those who saw the solidly reviewed film — 56% of whom were older than 25 — gave it an average grade of B-plus.

"MIB3" had a tumultuous journey to the big screen. Production shut down for three months after Smith voiced his unease over the time travel sequence in the film, which was eventually rewritten. Since the original film's premiere, the actor has continued to gain clout at the box office, starring in hits like "I Am Legend" and "Hancock." "MIB3" marked the 43-year-old's return to the big screen following a four-year hiatus; his last picture was the 2008 drama "Seven Pounds."

That film, like nearly all of Smith's movies, fared better abroad than it did in the U.S. "MIB3" will follow suit, as fans overseas propelled the movie to the No. 1 spot in 104 of the 106 foreign markets in which it premiered. The picture performed best in China, where it sold $20.6 million worth of tickets and had the second-biggest opening of the year in the country. It also did strong business in Russia, where its $18.9-million start was 25% higher than the opening of "The Avengers."

The only other new film to hit theaters nationwide this weekend, the low-budget horror flick "The Chernobyl Diaries," barely made a dent at the box office. TheWarner Bros.movie sold only $9.3 million worth of tickets over the long weekend. And those who saw the film about friends who run into trouble at a nuclear power plant hated it, assigning it an average grade of D-plus, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

Meanwhile, Universal Pictures' "Battleship" continued to sink in its second week of release. After premiering with a lackluster $25.5 million, the movie's ticket sales fell 57% to $13.8 million over the long weekend. The $209-million production has racked up $232.7 million abroad but will be hard-pressed to break the $100-million mark at the domestic box office.

In limited release, the French film "The Intouchables"debuted in four U.S. theaters and grossed a solid $137,438 through Monday. That marked the best debut for a foreign-language film at the box office this year, said distributor the Weinstein Co. The movie, about a quadriplegic millionaire who hires a Senegalese caretaker, is an international blockbuster, having collected $340 million abroad.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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