By Pamela McClintock
Will Smith’s R-rated romantic heist pic Focus won the North American box office race with $19.1 million, a muted start considering Smith’s billing and marking one of the lowest openings of his prolific career.
The Warner Bros. movie, co-starring up-and-coming actress Margot Robbie, did topple Fifty Shades of Grey, which had placed No. 1 for two consecutive weekends. And Kingsman: The Secret Service pulled ahead of Fifty Shades for the first time (both films opened over Presidents Day weekend).
Focus is the first test of Smith’s star power since Sony’s tentpole After Earth, which bombed in summer 2013 after opening to just $27.5 million. Focus is a much smaller film than a usual Smith tentpole, having cost a reported $50 million to make after rebates. Still, most believed it would open north of $22 million.
Arguably, a far bigger test for Smith will be NFL sports drama Concussion, which Sony opens this Christmas.
Warner insiders said there is no question but that Focus will be financially successful. They also noted that bad weather in a wide swath of the country hurt moviegoing.
"This was a midrange-budgeted movie, and the strong result reflected that," said Warner Bros. executive vice president of distribution Jeff Goldstein. "The severely inclement weather in the Midwest and the South played havoc at the box office."
Focus, earning a B CinemaScore, finds Smith outside of his comfort zone, which is action comedy, versus dark comedy. His last romantic comedy, Hitch, debuted to $43.1 million in 2005. Focus skewed female (53 percent), while 88 percent of ticket buyers were over the age of 25.
Smith has also starred in several dramas, including Seven Pounds, which debuted to $14.9 million in 2008. His other lowest openings include dramas Ali, which launched to $14.7 million in 2001, and The Legend of Bagger Vance, which opened to $11.5 million in 2000. Taking inflation into account, that would be $19.4 million and $15.6 million, respectively, by today’s terms.
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Focus is also opening in a number of markets overseas this weekend, boosting its potential. Foreign numbers weren’t immediately available.
The storyline revolves around a con man who introduces a young flame to the tricks of his trade before breaking off the relationship. Three years later, they meet again in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when they’re both trying to scam the same billionaire (Rodrigo Santoro).
The weekend’s other new nationwide offering is Relativity Studios’ The Lazarus Effect, the latest microbudget horror film from Blumhouse, which produced the movie with Mosaic. The movie grossed north of $10.6 million to come in No. 5. Relativity paid a modest $3.3 million to acquite the title.
Like Focus, Lazarus Effect came in behind predictions, having been expected to open in the $12 million to $14 million range. It received a C- CinemaScore, not unusual for a horror title.
David Gelb directed Lazarus Effect, which follows a group of researchers who try to achieve the unimaginable and bring the dead back to life. Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Evan Peters and Donald Glover star. Females made up the majority of the audience (52 percent), while 60 percent were under the age of 25.
Fox’s Kingsman: The Secret Service continued to claim the No. 2 spot in its third weekend, declining a modest 36 percent to $11.8 million for a domestic total of $85.7 million.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water continued to benefit from being the only kids offering, earning $11.2 million in its fourth weekend for a domestic total of $140.3 million and falling a narrow 32 percent.
The Paramount sequel placed No. 3 domestically, followed by Universal’s global phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey, which came in No. 4 with $10.9 million for a domestic total of $147.7 million. As expected, the adaptation of EL James’ S&M-laced romance novel took another big hit in the U.S., tumbling 51 percent.
Overseas, Fifty Shades remains far more of a powerhouse, winning the foreign race with another $36 million from 59 markets for a whopping international total of $338.4 million and worldwide haul of $486.2 million.
Elsewhere domestically, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper seemed to get a boost from the attention it received at last weekend’s Oscar ceremony, even if it only walked away with the Academy Awards for sound editing. The Warners and Village Roadshow title fell a slim 23 percent to $7.7 million for a North American total of $331 million and coming in No. 7.
Teen comedy The DUFF did nicely in its second weekend for CBS Films and Lionsgate, falling 34 percent to $7.7 million for a domestic total of $20 million and placing in No. 8.
Specialty offering Still Alice, expanding nationwide, saw a nice Oscar boost from Julianne Moore’s win for best actress. Moving up into the top 10, the Sony Pictures Classics release came in No. 9 with $2.7 million from 1,318 theaters for a cume of $12 million.
Ill-fated sequel Hot Tub Time Machine 2 tumbled 60 percent in its second weekend, placing No. 10 with $2.4 million for a total of $10.3 million.
Watch a video about Focus co-star Margot Robbie below: