Matt Damon scored his best box office debut since leaving the Bourne franchise thanks to Elysium, which flew into first place this weekend with $30.5 million. The Neill Blomkamp-directed film started off smaller than his debut feature, District 9, which began with $37.4 million in 2009. That’s problematic for Sony, which entrusted the South African director with a $115 million budget for Elysium. If the film performs similarly to District 9, which ended its run with $115.6 million, it’s headed to a $94 million domestic finish; though, it seems unlikely that Elysium will have strong legs (even if they are robotically enhanced) given its tepid reception and “B” CinemaScore grade.
Elysium couldn’t match the debuts of fellow original sci-fi tales like Oblivion and Pacific Rim, both of which opened above $37 million earlier this year, but it did outdraw After Earth, which grossed a weak $27.5 million in its debut weekend. Elysium played best with men, who made up 61 percent of the crowd (sci-fi is now the only genre that reliably attracts more men than women), and it opened very well on 328 IMAX screens, which accounted for $4.9 million (16 percent) of its opening weekend total. Overall, the film earned a $9,287 average from 3,284 theaters.
The big winner of the weekend finished in second place. Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston’s R-rated pot comedy We’re the Millers smoked expectations with $26.6 million over the Friday-to-Sunday period. The film, which opened on Wednesday, has grossed $38 million in its first five days in theaters – already earning back its $37 million budget. We’re the Millers started in the same range as Horrible Bosses (another film starring Sudeikis and Aniston), which opened with $28.3 million en route to a $117.3 million finish, as well as The Campaign, which opened with $26.6 million on the same weekend last year.
Besides Bosses, Sudeikis has only had a leading role in one other feature film, Hall Pass, which earned an unremarkable $45.1 million in 2011. But the recently departed Saturday Night Live veteran has been on a hot streak lately thanks to viral appearances in Mumford & Sons’ music video spoof and NBC Sports’ An American Coach in London, and the eye-popping debut of We’re the Millers sets him up nicely for a post-SNL career. Aniston has led five films above $100 million in her time as a movie star, and if We’re the Millers holds up over the next few weeks – which seems likely given its “A-” CinemaScore – she may have a sixth $100 million hit under her belt.
Disney’s animated Planes took off in third place with $22.5 million. The high-flying film, originally intended as a direct-to-DVD release, didn’t break the family film curse, which has recently plagued titles like The Smurfs 2 and Turbo in recent weeks, but its slim $50 million budget makes it a much healthier performer than either of those films. Accoding to Disney, Planes earned 22 percent of its gross from 3-D ticket sales, marking the fourth record-low this summer. With no new family competition until Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 on Sept. 27, Planes could be poised for a very slow descent at the box office.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters swam away with $14.6 million this weekend, bringing its total to $23.5 million since its Wednesday debut. Most analysts were surprised when Fox ordered a sequel to Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, which in 2010 grossed $88.4 million domestically and $137 million internationally against a $105 million budget. Those numbers aren’t great to begin with, but a sequel seemed unlikely given audience’s unimpressed reaction to the film. Still, Fox shelled out $90 million on the sequel with hopes of massive international returns. While it remains to be seen whether Percy Jackson can conjure grosses abroad, it’s off to a very weak start at home. Its $14.6 million gross is less than half of The Lightning Thief’s $31.2 million start. Audiences issued the film a “B+” CinemaScore grade.
Last weekend’s champ, 2 Guns, got shot down by the heavy competition. The action thriller starring Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington dropped 59 percent to $11.1 million in its second weekend, bringing its total to $48.5 million. The Universal film cost $61 million to produce, and it currently seems headed for a so-so $70 million finish.
1. Elysium – $30.5 million
2. We’re the Millers – $26.6 million
3. Planes – $22.5 million
4. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters – $14.6 million
5. 2 Guns – $11.1 million
Two notable limited releases also opened this weekend. Bollywood hit Chennai Express garnered an impressive $11,352 per-theater average (the best in the Top 20) from 196 theaters, which yielded a great $2.2 million weekend. Less successful was the much-buzzed-about Lovelace, which floundered with only $184,000 in 118 theaters. The Amanda Seyfried film’s pitiful $1,559 per-theater average needed to be a whole lot deeper to justify expansion.
Next week, four more new releases hit theaters: Jobs, Kick-Ass 2, The Butler, and Paranoia. Check back to EW throughout the week to see how these films fare.