BOX OFFICE: X-Men: First Class Opens Below Expectations, Hangover Falls Hard

I’m convinced that Randal from Clerks was right when he said that people pick the most intellectually devoid movies to watch. Though he may have been talking about the stupid customers that frequent his video store, that notion could also be extended to those who frequent movie theaters, especially during the summer. Take this weekend. X-Men: First Class was the only major opening. It was easily the top finisher for the weekend, reigning supreme with $56 million. But how supreme is that reign? Anything above $50 million sounds impressive, but in comparison to other releases this summer – or even under the Marvel Comics brand – it’s not that impressive. Comparatively, X-Men is floundering against the likes of Fast Five and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, two franchises that are five and four films into their series, respectfully.

The reason for the low opening is simple: a lack of consistency. When X-Men was released in 2000, it ushered in the comic-book movie movement. Hollywood had already seen the likes of Superman and Batman on the big screen, but after 20th Century Fox unleashed the first X-Men to surprising success, more and more studios were insisting that they “need their own X-Men movie.” Once X2: X-Men United was released three years later it got even more praise. But with its success saw the departure of its captain, director Bryan Singer, who went to direct Superman Returns. Bret Ratner grabbed hold of the wheel for the third installment in the series, X-Men: The Last Stand. While it was a financial windfall for 20th Century Fox, critical reviews were less than favorable. The process was repeated with the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But that project was micromanaged by Fox, scrutinizing director Gavin Hood’s decisions, that prior to its release it had cluster$%^& written all over it.

Two years removed from the Wolverine debacle, we have X-Men: First Class, an inspired reboot of the X-Men franchise that has espionage, mutants with special powers, and a cameo that gives a shout out to those who have endured the previous four films. But because those last two films lacked the consistency of the first two, the brand is in need of repair. Marvel destroyed the good will of audiences with the Wolverine solo movie, so it’s understandable why they would say, “thanks, but no thanks,” with this release. To be fair, the X-franchise has never been a massive moneymaker. No film has surpassed more than $460 million worldwide. That’s more than likely a result of brand recognition. The X-Men comics are popular, but the team as a whole don’t carry the same recognition as individual superheroes like Batman or Spider-Man.

Moviegoers can be fickle when venturing into a comic-book movie. And in the case of First Class we have a period setting and a cast of actors who are a mystery to most viewers. Those with a longer attention span may remember James McAvoy from 2008’s Wanted. Michael Fassbender registers a “huh?” on the recognize meter. Popular characters like Cyclops and Storm are replaced with Banshee and Havok. As a glass half full kind of guy, I’m optimistic that the word-of-mouth for X-Men: First Class will allow the film to have a slightly lower drop off as compared to the last few releases in the series. At the very least, it should be a hot seller on DVD and Blu-ray in time for Christmas.

Getting back to Randal and intellectually devoid movies, The Hangover Part II took a severe nosedive in its second weekend. Last weekend’s Memorial Day holiday brought out the crowds, so that may have been a major factor in its opening gross, as compared to this weekend. Or it could be that movie just sucked. Already at $187 million (or $338 million if going by worldwide gross), Warner Bros. is no doubt pleased at how many they have suckered into seeing the same movie twice. The Hangover Part III is an inevitability, but unless it involves Alan (Zach Galifianakis’ character) waking up groggy with a trail of dirt leading into his room, a shovel resting by his bed, and grave markers for Phil and Stu in his backyard, it looks like we’ll be getting a Xeroxed copy of Part II, only set in a more exotic location. How about Uranus?

As the film that replaced Rio as the only family entertainment in town, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a good movie that was screwed by advertising. Looking at some advertisements I was unsure if it was Kung Fu Panda 2 or Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom. Still, with it being the only film for kiddos until Cars 2 arrives, DreamWorks will either make the most of its sequel in the States and pray that international numbers and video sales make it panda-size hit.

If the studio hasn’t already done so, Disney should do everything in its power to give Johnny Depp a lifetime contract to make movies exclusively for the house that Mickey Mouse built. Within a matter of weeks, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is closing in on $800 million worldwide (seriously?). It may threaten $900 million overall, but won’t be able to match the cool billion that Dead Man’s Chest made in 2006. And that’s in 2006 dollars with no 3D surcharges.

Judd Apatow has found his mojo. His most recent comedy production, Bridesmaids, has made it past $100 million. Not bad for a comedy that was originally predicted to make $60 million tops. If it can bring in a third of that internationally you’ll have one of the most successful releases of 2011, in terms of overall cost versus earnings. The success of Bridesmaids will definitely weigh heavily with the marketing of next April’s Friends with Kids, a non-Judd Apatow comedy that reunites most of the cast of Bridesmaids.

Thor and Fast Five are nearing the end of their runs (but I thought summer just started?). Both are hits, but a sequel to Fast Five is coming sooner rather than later. A Thor sequel is still up in the air, despite more than $420 million in earnings worldwide. After six arduous weeks in the top ten, Fast Five narrowly beat Woody Allen’s latest comedy, Midnight in Paris. Slowly expanding to more markets, it again has the largest per-theater numbers of any other film in the top ten.

Taking a look at the indie scene, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life played at twenty locations and grossed $621k overall. Beginners debuted on five screens and earned $135k. Beautiful Boy tallied $16k at four locations. Other odds and ends: Source Code has amassed $111 million during its run. Thanks to international help, Scream 4 is sitting at $95 million overall. And Water for Elephants has pushed passed $100 million.

1. X-Men: First Class – $56 million
2. The Hangover Part II – $32.4 million ($187 million overall)
3. Kung Fu Panda 2 – $24.3 million ($100 million overall)
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – $18 million ($790 million worldwide)
5. Bridesmaids – $12.1 million ($107 million overall)
6. Thor – $4.2 million ($427 million worldwide)
7. Fast Five – $3.2 million ($569 million worldwide)
8. Midnight In Paris – $2.9 million ($6.9 million overall)
9. Jumping The Broom – $865k ($36 million overall)
10. Something Borrowed – $835k ($36 million overall)

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