Matt Damon's futuristic action movie "Elysium ultimately had too much firepower for the Jennifer Aniston-Jason Sudeikis pot comedy "We're the Millers" at the jam-packed U.S. box office over the weekend.
Director Neill Blomkamp's follow-up to his first film, the surprise 2009 sci-fi hit "District 9," took in an estimated $30.5 million, topping the $26.5 million rung up by the R-rated comedy over the three days.
The unusually crowded weekend featured four wide openers. Disney's animated "Cars" spin-off "Planes" debuted in third with $22.5 million and teen fantasy "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" was fourth with $14.6 million, giving it $23.5 million since opening Wednesday for Fox. The multiplex mash-up may have kept the top films' grosses from going higher, but the overall box office was up 5 percent from the comparable week last year.
With the $115 million for worldwide rights paid by Sony, "Elysium" is a much bigger play for the studio than "District 9," which cost $30 million and took in $210 million globally.
Sony had hoped for more from the "Elysium" debut domestically, and analysts had projected a $35 million first weekend, so foreign will be critical to the film's financial success. Its first major market was Russia, and it opened there at No. 1 with $6.8 million.
"We're very happy to be in the Neill Blompkamp business," Sony's head of distribution Rory Bruer told TheWrap. "There's a lot of summer left here in the U.S. and the tracking from overseas looks very good, so we're confident." "Elysium" rolls out in much of Europe and Australia next week, and in Latin America the following week.
The sci adventure, which co-starred Jodie Foster, skewed male at 61 percent and 52 percent of the audience was under 30. Audiences gave it so-so "B" CinemaScore, in line with the critics' take.
"Elysium" received a major boost from the 328 Imax screens it played on, bringing in an August-record $4.9 million. "Elysium" was in 3,284 theaters overall, more than "We're the Millers" (3,260) and "Percy Jackson" (3,031), but less than "Planes," which was in 3,702 locations.
"We're the Millers" is the second summer win in a row for Warner Bros. and New Line, which are coming off the hit horror film "The Conjuring," and will be a financial success.
"We're the Millers" has taken in more than $38 million since opening on Wednesday – basically what it cost to make. And it's a nice rebound for Aniston, whose last movie "Wanderlust" tanked in 2012.
The critics didn't like it much – it has a 41 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes – but audiences did, giving it an "A-" CinemaScore. It played like a date movie – nearly an even male-female split – with 61 percent of the crowd over 25 years of age.
Opening early was part of the plan, Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman told TheWrap.
"The screenings were very well-received and we had a lot of confidence in its playability. We figured the sooner we got it out there and let the word of mouth kick in the better, and you see what happened," he said.
He pointed to the Saturday numbers – the $10.3 million run up by the "Millers" nearly matched the $10.8 million of "Elysium" – as evidence of the good word getting out.
"Planes" will be a financial score for Disney, too, and like "Cars," the franchise will likely bring in as much from toys, licensing and theme parks as it does at the box office.
It was produced by DisneyToon Studios for a $50 million – modest for an animated film – and was originally intended to go direct-to-video. But after seeing the movie – which features the voice of Dane Cook as Dusty Crophopper -- Disney changed course. The studio has since commissioned two more "Planes" feature releases, the first of which will come next summer.
"Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," which stars Logan Lehrman as the title character, couldn't match the numbers put up by the original film.
"Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" debuted to $31 million in February of 2010 and went on to take in $226 million globally. Its $138 million foreign haul is what justified the sequel, and Fox expects this one will do as well or better overseas.
Rick Riordan's five-novel young-adult adventure series – from which the films are drawn -- has sold more than 20 million copies in 35 countries, and have been a fixture on the New York Times best-selling list.
Last week's No. 1 movie, the Mark Wahlberg-Denzel Washington action comedy "Two Guns," tumbled 60 percent from its debut last week and took $11.1 million for fourth. That gives it a domestic total of $48.5 million for Universal.
Sony's 3D animated kids movie "The Smurfs 2," back for its second week, took in $9.5 million. That's off just 46 percent from last week runs its two-week domestic total to $46.6 million.