A few years ago, the idea of Channing Tatum as an A-lister was about as plausible as the USC men’s basketball team winning the national championship.
Here was a guy who worked a lot, sure; he was a favorite of a wide range of directors who liked his can-do attitude. And Tatum had a low-key likability on screen and a certain presence, if a mild one, on the talk-show circuit. But bring in the big bucks on an opening weekend? I mean, this is the guy from “Step Up,” right?
But it's getting harder to argue against Tatum’s drawing power. His new movie, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" had a solid opening, taking in $51.7 million over a long March weekend.
Of course, the numbers have to be taken in context: The movie a) played over a holiday; b) had, with screenings beginning Wednesday night, 4+ days to make that dough; c) played on a whopping 3,700 screens; d) had the benefit of 3-D ticket prices. Still, it's the second-biggest live-action opening of the young year and validation, more or less, that Paramount was right to move forward with a new, slightly more cost-conscious“G.I. Joe” after the merely adequate returns on its first film back in 2009.
Maybe most important, it's another arrow in the Tatum-as-box-office-draw quiver.
PHOTOS: Scenes from 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation'
A-listers are increasingly scarce. Our most popular actors -- George Clooney, Brad Pitt -- don't consistently open movies. And even those with a strong track record in a given genre, like an Adam Sandler, have struggled lately.
Yet with "Retaliation" Tatum remarkably has four successful wide openings over the last year and a couple months (and, if you throw out two quirky Soderbergh projects in that time, "Side Effects" and "Haywire," four consecutive big openings).
What's particularly notable is that Tatum has done it across a variety of genres: romantic drama ("The Vow"), buddy comedy "(21 Jump Street"), stripper dramedy (hey, it's a thing) with "Magic Mike" and now the shoot-em-up actioner of Duke & Co. The three previous movies garnered an average of $125 million domestically. The new “G.I. Joe” is on track for nearly that, with an added $80 million already taken in on screens in several dozen overseas markets. Whatever it is that has made such a diffuse roster of directors take a shine to Tatum is now making a diverse group of audience members turn out to his movies too.
Tatum will have his work cut out for him with his next movie. It's the G.I. Joe-ishly blow-em-up "White House Down" in June, and audiences will have seen Tatum on a rescue mission this weekend and the White House in general get taken down in the recent “Olympus Has Fallen.” He'll try to push things even further with his next film, the awards-y drama "Foxcatcher.
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And of course it should be taken into account that Tatum has hardly opened these recent hits alone. He'd had help: Matthew McConaughey and general shirtlessness in “Magic Mike,” a well-known brand and Jonah Hill in “Jump,” an even better-known brand and Bruce Willis in "G.I. Joe.
He’s an A-lister with help from other A-list names and ideas. But in a movie culture suddenly deprived of dependable stars, it's interesting to see someone new move to the head of the alphabet.
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