CANNES -- Universal and Hasbro Entertainment's big-budget Battleship barely left port in its North American launch, grossing a dismal $25.3 million.
That's well below the anticipated $35 million to $40 million that Universal and director Peter Berg were hoping for. Battleship, designed to put the studio squarely in the tentpole game, cost at least $209 million to produce, excluding a pricey marketing spend.
Battleship's international gross of $226.8 million provides some cushion, but it needed a strong domestic performance to end up in the black. A $25.3 million opening means the movie might not clear $70 million or $80 million over the long haul domestically, resulting in a notable loss for Universal and sparking plenty of Monday-morning quarterbacking within the studio about what went wrong.
There's already speculation that Battleship, starring Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker and Liam Neeson, will follow the same course as Disney's John Carter, which debuted to $30.2 million in March and topped out at $71.8 million domestically. Overseas, John Carter, also starring Kitsch, earned $200.6 million. The pic resulted in a $200 million write-down for Disney.
"It is obviously a disappointment, but we will move on. And we have Memorial Day coming up," Universal president of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco said. "The studio has a picture that already has a quarter of a billion dollars in the bank, and it won't die at $25.3 million domestically. We all know that."
The continuing strength of Disney and Marvel Studios' The Avengers is no doubt making life difficult for Battleship and other new product (Warner Bros.' Dark Shadows, which opened last weekend, is another underperformer) but box-office observers say Battleship faces its own obstacles as well.
The alien-invasion actioner -- based on the classic board game not well known by younger generations -- played notably older Friday, with 66 percent of the audience over the age of 25. Battleship ended up competing with Sacha Baron Cohen's new R-rated comedy for males, who made up 57 percent of Battleship's audience, according to CinemaScore exit-polling data.
Universal's marketing campaign didn't focus on families, even though Battleship is certainly kid and family friendly, much as Hasbro's sister film franchise Transformers was.
Avengers continues to be a box-office monster, growing its global gross to $1.18 billion through Sunday to become the No. 4 movie of all time. It easily crushed the competition domestically, earning $55.1 million in its third weekend for a cume of $457.1 million -- Disney's best showing ever. Overseas, it has earned $723.3 million.
Coming in No. 3 behind Avengers and Battleship was Dictator, which opened Wednesday and posted a relatively modest five-day domestic debut of $24.5 million, almost matching Battleship's three day number. For the weekend itself, Dictator grossed $17.4 million.
While the Paramount comedy, costing at least $65 million to produce, was notablly weak in conservative flyover states, it made up ground in more liberal-minded New York and Los Angeles, as well as in Northern Europe.
Dictator grossed a pleasing $30.3 million in its international debut over the weekend from 29 territories (only nine were top 20 markets), coming in 26 percent ahead of Borat and 50 percent of both Bridesmaids and The Hangover, all of which sailed past the $100 million mark internationally ($133 million, $120 million and $190 million respectively).
Paramount belives Baron Cohen's comedy will continue to overperform with foreign audiences, helping to make up for lost ground in large swaths of the U.S.
Domestically, Dictator received a C CinemaScore and skewed heavily male (65 percent). The pic, which Paramount says cost $65 million to produce, did play notably younger, with 56 percent under the age of 25.
Lionsgate's ensemble comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting opened to No. 5 with a softer-than-expected $10.5 million. At least half the film's $30 million budget was covered through strong foreign presales.
Fox Searchlight had a strong weekend as specialty pic The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel shot up to No. 6, grossing $3.3 million in its third weekend from only 354 theaters for a cume of $8.2 million.
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's Dark Shadows fell a steep 57 percent in its second weekend, grossing $12.8 million for a 10-day domestic cume of $50.9 million.
Domestic box office, May 18-20
Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume
1. The Avengers, 3/4,249, Disney/Marvel Studios, $55.1 million, $457.1
2. Battleship, 1/3,690, Universal/Hasbro, $25.3 million.
3. The Dictator, 1/3,008, Paramount, $17.4 million, $24.5 million.
4. Dark Shadows, 2/3,755, Warner Bros., $12.8 million, $50.9 million.
5. What to Expect When You're Expecting, 1/3,021, $10.5 million.
6. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 3/354, Fox Searchlight, $3.3 million, $8.2 million.
7. The Hunger Games, 9/2,064, Lionsgate, $3 million, $391.6 million.
8. Think Like a Man, 5/1,722, Sony, $2.7 million, $85.9 million.
9. The Lucky One, 5/2,839, Warner Bros., $1.8 million, $56.9 million.
10. The Pirates! Band of Misfits, 4/1,840, Sony/Aardman, $1.5 million, $25.4 million.