The summer of 2008 is only two weeks old, and it already has its first flop. Speed Racer, the Wachowski Brothers’ kaleidoscopic retelling of the classic cartoon series, got stuck in neutral this weekend, grossing a mere $20.2 million, according to Sunday’s estimates — a disastrous sum for a movie that cost well in excess of $100 mil and that Warner Bros. had considered one of its major summer tentpoles.
Therefore, the highway was wide open for Iron Man (No. 1) to cruise to an easy repeat win, with $50.5 mil, on a respectable 49 percent decline. That’s the 13th-best second weekend of all time and the fifth-best for a non-sequel. The Marvel comic movie is already 2008’s top earner, with a 10-day total that now stands at $177.1 mil.
But back to Speed Racer (No. 2), which banked less than half of what many in Hollywood had originally expected it would earn over the course of its premiere weekend. Leaked word that the film was tracking poorly coupled with particularly weak reviews made this outcome visible from way down the road (I, for one, saw it coming by a mile). But that doesn’t mitigate the damage. The movie is a wreck on the level of recent memorable summer failures like Kingdom of Heaven (which opened with $19.6 mil) and Poseidon ($22.2 mil) — at the domestic box office, at least. Overseas, well, that’s another (possibly sadder) story. While would-be blockbusters that fail domestically usually have a chance to recoup their costs in foreign multiplexes (the aforementioned Kingdom of Heaven and Poseidon both did just that), there are reports that Speed Racer may have gotten a flat tire at the international box office as well; the dust still has to settle before we know the full story there.
In the meantime, one has to wonder where the movie — which stars Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, and Matthew Fox — goes from here. Its CinemaScore grade of A- from an audience that was generally evenly divided between people old and young and male and female certainly is one bright spot. That could translate into a nice word-of-mouth boost for the film headed forward. But will it be enough gas to help Speed Racer keep up with another family friendly flick, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, which opens a week hence? No chance.
Worse still, Speed Racer could even fall to third place when this weekend’s final numbers are unveiled on Monday. That’s because its total is a mere $200,000 ahead of the initial No. 3 finisher, What Happens in Vegas, which banked an estimated $20 mil. Seen by an audience primarily comprised of older women (which gave the movie an A- CinemaScore of its own), Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher’s farce bowed better than the three romantic comedies that opened in the three consecutive weeks before it.
Two of those films, Made of Honor (No. 4 with $7.6 mil) and Baby Mama (No. 5 with $5.8 mil), rounded out the top five — and the other one, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, came in at No. 6 with $3.8 mil.
Their collective strength, along with Iron Man’s huge haul, propelled the overall box office to a 21 percent improvement on the same frame a year ago (when Spider-Man 3’s $58.2 mil second weekend was the only eight-figure gross). And…aren’t I forgetting something? Oh yeah: Happy Mother’s Day everyone!
MONDAY UPDATE: The weekend’s final totals are now out and, for the second consecutive week, they caused a slight change in the box office narrative. Speed Racer, it turns out, grossed even less than the early estimates indicated. The Wachowskis’ movie brought in a paltry $18.6 mil — a particularly sour turn of events because that drops the film to No. 3 in the weekend rankings. Speed Racer wound up trailing What Happens in Vegas, which came in at No. 2 with $20.2 mil. Returning champ Iron Man, meanwhile, did a bit better than Sunday’s projections stated: The Marvel movie officially banked an impressive $51.2 mil to bring its 10-day total to $177.8 mil.