Johnny Knoxville, left, and Jackson Nicoll star in "Bad Grandpa,"… (Paramount Pictures )
What goes up must come down, and so "Gravity" finally did this weekend, falling to the runner-up position as "Bad Grandpa" ruled the box office.
Johnny Knoxville's hidden-camera prank flick was an easy No. 1 this weekend, debuting with a robust $32 million, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. After three weekends atop the charts, "Gravity" came in second with $20.3 million, meaning the 3-D space film is now a stone's throw from another box-office milestone with its overall gross of $199.8 million.
The only other film that opened nationwide this weekend, the dramatic thriller "The Counselor," flopped. A star-heavy cast headlined by Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem couldn't attract moviegoers, as the film opened with just $8 million.
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Heading into the weekend, "Bad Grandpa" pre-release audience surveys indicated that the movie was generating the most interest among young males. But mostly older men turned up to see the film, as 63% of the opening weekend crowd was over the age of 25. Only 33% of those who saw 2010's "Jackass 3-D" — the last film released under Knoxville's "Jackass" banner — were over 25.
“I think that shows that the franchise’s fans are getting older,” said Megan Colligan, Paramount’s president of domestic distribution. “But I think it also had something to do with the main character being older — the narrative provided something that people thought was sweet.”
"Bad Grandpa" follows Knoxville as he disguises himself as an 86-year-old traveling cross-country with his 8-year-old grandson (Jackson Nicoll). Together, the two pull over-the-top pranks on random strangers. The movie, which has received decent reviews, earned an average grade of B from moviegoers, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
The picture was financed by Paramount for $15 million, meaning it should be a solid performer for the studio. Paramount has done well over the years with the "Jackass" franchise, which began as an offshoot of the popular MTV series on which a group of friends performed outlandish stunts. Not adjusting for inflation, "Bad Grandpa" — whose title officially begins with "Jackass Presents" — got off to a better start than the first two installments in the "Jackass" series, though it couldn't top the impressive $50.4-million opening of "Jackass 3-D." With $117 million in domestic ticket sales, the 3-D version went on to become the highest-grossing of the three "Jackass" films.
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On paper, it seemed "The Counselor" had the potential to attract plenty of moviegoers: The movie has a well-known director in Ridley Scott and stars A-listers such as Diaz, Brad Pitt and Penélope Cruz. But the movie only notched a 35% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the few who saw it this weekend disliked it too, assigning the picture an average grade of D.
“It’s challenging filmmaking and we did not get good reviews, which is unfortunate,” acknowledged Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution for 20th Century Fox, which distributed the film. The studio executive said the movie played best in big cities, “where audiences are more likely to be looking for that challenging fare.” The few who the movie appealed to this weekend were older, he added, noting that a whopping 85% of the crowd was over the age of 25.
If there's any silver lining to the poor opening weekend, its that the movie wasn't too expensive to produce. Fox said it co-financed the movie with the Seelig Group and Ingenious Media for $25 million. The film, written by Cormac McCarthy, stars Fassbender as an upscale lawyer who gets involved with a group of criminals when he begins smuggling drugs.
Fassbender saw better results this weekend with his other movie currently in theaters, "12 Years a Slave," in which he plays a cruel plantation master. The historical drama, directed by Steve McQueen, expanded from 19 theaters to 123 locations and fared pretty well, breaking into the weekend's top 10. The Fox Searchlight release took in $2.2 million, meaning its per-cinema average was a respectable $17,480 — a sign that the best-picture hopeful may not become a huge commercial hit, but is still on pace to do some healthy business at the box office. In the 10 days since the film hit theaters, it has collected a total of $3.4 million.