Pigs outraced serpents while motorcycle movies dominated at the box office this weekend, as Wild Hogs opened at No. 1 by a wide margin, third-week holdover Ghost Rider stayed strong, and Black Snake Moan was left in the dust.
According to Sunday’s estimates, the John Travolta-fronted ensemble comedy Wild Hogs enjoyed a super strong $38 million debut, averaging a high-octane $11,561 per theater. In doing so, it achieved a few major distinctions: Third-best March opening in history (following Ice Ages 1 and 2); second-best bow of Martin Lawrence’s career (Bad Boys II started with $46.5 mil); and top premiere ever for Tim Allen (besting Toy Story’s $29.1 mil) and, most significantly, John Travolta (surpassing the $23.5 mil debut of his last release, Be Cool, on this weekend two years ago).
There has been a lot of debate about whether making Wild Hogs — a hokey, reviewer-reviled flick that scored a woeful 27 out of 100 on Metacritic.com — was the right career move for the erstwhile Tony Manero, who hasn’t released a movie in two years and hasn’t had a hit in nearly a decade. But I submit that any actor will always take a $38 mil hit opening: A lot of bragging rights, and bigger paychecks, come from a big bow like this, no matter what critics say. Besides jump-starting Travolta’s career for the umpteenth time (thus joining the ranks of — let’s see — Staying Alive, Look Who’s Talking, Pulp Fiction, and The General’s Daughter), Wild Hogs, which drew a mostly female and mostly older crowd, could signal a savvy shift for the star. When you consider that his next movie role is as the kooky mama Edna Turnblad in the musical version of Hairspray, Travolta seems to be moving toward lighter fare and establishing himself as more of a central player in large casts rather than as a solo star. Which is a wise decision, indeed, for an aging actor.
Motoring on, David Fincher’s long-awaited serial killer flick Zodiac debuted at a distant No. 2, with $13.1 mil — not bad for a dark, 158-minute, R-rated thriller, but not great by most other standards. For example, this is just the fifth-best opening for Fincher ? who has made just six features (only Fight Club’s $11 mil first-weekend take was worse). That the movie, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo, garnered a weak B- CinemaScore from an audience that was three-quarters over the age of 25 doesn’t suggest it’ll have solid staying power.
Ghost Rider (No. 3), meanwhile, put the brakes on its rapid plummet, dropping only 43 percent, to earn $11.5 mil (last weekend, its fall was a much steeper 56 percent). In three weeks, the comic-book adaptation starring Nicolas Cage (hey, in Face/Off, he played John Travolta ? er, was played by John Trav ? er, switched bodies with ? oh, forget it) has earned $94.8 mil. Bridge to Terabithia (No. 4, with $8.6 mil) and The Number 23 (No. 5, with $7.1 mil) rounded out the top of the chart, while Samuel L. Jackson’s Southern fable Black Snake Moan debuted in eighth place with an unimpressive $4 mil.
No matter, though. As perky Paul at Media By Numbers reports, this weekend’s total box office of $125 mil was up a whopping 21 percent over a year ago. Moreover, although attendance for the first two months of the year was down a slight, single percentage point, 2007 is beating 2006 by 1.28 percent, on the wheels of winners like Wild Hogs, Ghost Rider, Norbit, Stomp the Yard, and Bridge to Terabithia. And, to be sure, that should add a ray of sunshine to your Sunday.