The micro-budget home-invasion thriller "The Purge" debuted with an estimated $36.3 million at the box office this weekend, putting the brakes on the two-week dominance of the cars-and-criminals sequel"Fast & Furious 6."
The weekend's other wide opener, Fox's Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn comedy "The Internship," was no match, bringing in roughly half the haul of "The Purge" with $18.1 million for fourth.
The big showing by "The Purge" means quite a return on the dollar for Universal Pictures, which is distributing both of the top two movies. "The Purge" is the first movie to come out of its 2011 deal with Jason Blum, the producer of the famously lucrative "Paranormal Activity" franchise, and cost just $3 million to make.
At the same time, the studio was celebrating "Fast 6's" high-speed run by adding $19.7 milllion in its third week, breaking the $200 million mark at the domestic box office.
That was enough to top magic-themed heist thriller "Now You See Me," which managed $19.5 million in its second week.
As for "The Purge," major returns on small investments is the stock-in-trade for Blumhouse Productions, whose "Paranormal Activity" is among the most profitable movies of all time. That found-footage project cost $15,000 and took in $193 million globally in 2009. "Insidious," made for $1.5 million, grossed $97 million worldwide in 2011, and 2012's $3 million "Sinister" has brought in $77 million.
The combination of Blum's low-budget big-return formula and the Universal marketing machine proved a potent combination this weekend. Even though he critics didn't like it, and it received just a "C" grade from its audiences, "The Purge" rolled up its winning haul from just 2,586 theater -- an impressive $14,345 per-screen average. "Fast 6" averaged $5,248 in 3,771 theaters, "Now You See Me" took in $6,457 from each of its 3,020 screens and "The Internship" averaged $5,295 at 3,366 locations.
Main drivers for "The Purge" were young women and Hispanics; the audience was 56 percent female and 56 percent under 25 years of age. Hispanics made up 33 percent of the crowd.
The R-rated thriller stars Ethan Hawke ("Sinister") and Lena Headey from TV's "Game of Thrones." James DeMonaco wrote and directed the future-set tale of a family held hostage during a 12-hour period in which all crime is legalized.
It got a big boost from the $3.4 million it rang up at late shows on Thursday night, which contributed to its $16.7 million Friday, and its strong social media presence in the days leading up to its release clearly translated to the box office.
Expect to see "Purge 2." The filmmakers' application for tax credits from the California Film Commission was approved last week.
It was a very strong second week for "Now You See Me," which dropped just 34 percent from its surprising $28 million opening last week and has now taken in $61.3 million for Lionsgate's Summit Entertainment. Directed by Louis Leterrier, the ensemble cast includes Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman and Dave Franco.
"The Internship," the reteaming of "Wedding Crashers" stars Wilson and Vaughn, finished just ahead of expectations, which had dropped to the mid-teen millions in the wake of withering reviews. Audiences like it a little more than the critics, and gave it a "B+"CinemaScore, but it won't come close to the $209 million domestic total "Wedding Crashers" took in 2009.
The audience for "The Internship" was 50-50 males and females, but skewed older with 65 percent of the crowd older than 25 years of age.
"This is a good result for us," Fox's head of distribution Chris Aronsold told TheWrap. "We've got some room to grow with the young crowds, but our exit polls show they liked it even more than the older moviegoers so we're optimistic. We'll be the only PG-13-rated comedy out there, and this storyline has multi-generational appeal."
Fox's animated family film "Epic" was fourth with $12 million, upping its domestic total to $84 million after three weeks. It beat out Paramount's "Star Trek Into Darkness" -- which crossed the $200 million domestic mark -- at $11.7 million and Sony's Will and Jaden Smith sci-fi adventure "After Earth," which brought in $11.2 million and is now at $46.5 million domestically after two weeks.
Warner Bros. "The Hangover Part III" was seventh with $7.3 million, ahead of "Iron Man 3," which brought in $5.7 million in its sixth week and "The Great Gatsby," which upped its domestic total to $136 million with a $4.2 million fifth week for Warner Bros.