A crowded weekend at the North American box office saw Sony's Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 opening to a strong $35 from 4,001 theaters, while the three other new offerings -- Ron Howard's Rush, Baggage Claim and Don Jon -- turned in mixed performances.
Families fueled Cloudy 2's debut, which marks the fourth biggest September opening of all time after fellow Sony title Hotel Transylvania, which rolled out on the same weekend a year ago, raking in $42.5 million; Insidious: Chapter 2, which opened to $40.3 million two weeks ago; and Sweet Home Alabama ($35.6 million).
Cloudy 2 is a needed boost for Sony after a dismal summer, and opens just days after Sony showed its global head of marketing Marc Weinstock the door. Digital marketing president Dwight Caines is replacing Weinstock, although Caines will only spearhead domestic campaigns.
The $78 million sequel, earning an A- CinemaScore, opens four years after the first Cloudy turned into a surprise hit for Sony Pictures Animation, debuting to $30.3 million in late September on its way to grossing $245.8 million worldwide. Cloudy 2 is benefiting from being the only fresh family offering in the marketplace (some had thought the 3D animated pic would cross $40 million, although Sony had always given a lower number).
Alcon Entertainment's holdover Prisoners fell to No. 2 in its second weekend, grossing $11.3 million from 3,290 theaters to edge out Rush, the Formula One drama starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl. Prisoners has earned $39 million in its first 10 days.
Playing in far fewer locations than Prisoners (2,297 versus 3,290), Rush grossed $10.3 million as it expanded nationwide after debuting in New York and Los Angeles last weekend. Some box office observers are predicting that Prisoners and Rush will finish even closer to each other when official weekend numbers come in Monday morning.
Rush, independently financed by Cross Creek Pictures and Exclusive Media for $45 million after tax rebates, before tax rebates, faces a tremendous challenge in the U.S., where Formula One has never caught on. Universal is distributing the film in the U.S., while Entertainment One is releasing Rush in Canada.
In Rush's favor are strong reviews and an A- CinemaScore. Universal and the producers say the film is playing both to sport fans and to adults seeking more sophisticated fare, and believe it will have strong legs. Males made up the majority of this weekend's audience (56 percent), while moviegoers between the ages of 25 and 34 made up the biggest slice of the audience (28 percent).
From an original script by British writer Peter Morgan, Rush recounts the real-life battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda for the 1976 F1 championship. It is only the second independent film Howard has made after his first film, Grand Theft Auto (1977).
Fox Searchlight's comedy Baggage Claim, targeted toward African-Americans, grossed a solid $9.3 million from 2,027 theaters to come in No. 4.
Directed by David E. Talbert, Baggage Claim stars Paula Patton as a woman who embarks on a 30,000-mile expedition to convince a suitor to marry her so that she isn't the only single person in her family. Taye Diggs and Derek Luke also star in the comedy, which nabbed an A- CinemaScore.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's debut directorial effort Don Jon debuted to $9 million from 2,422 locations (rival studios have it opening slightly lower with $8.8 million). Gordon-Levitt stars opposite Scarlett Johansson in the porn addiction pic, which earned a problematic C+ CinemaScore despite generally good reviews.
"Joseph Gordon-Levitt made an original, fun and daring film and his goal was to have it released wide. While we recognize that that is a challenge, we wanted to support his vision and are pleased with its result," distributor Relativity media said.
Don Jon made its world premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where Relativity acquired U.S. rights for $4 million, as well as committing to a $27 million marketing spend. The film, which had to be toned down in order to receive an R-rating, was financed and produced by Voltage Pictures for $5 million to $6 million.
Relativity said that Don Jon marks one of the best openings for an actor directing his or her first film, noting that Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone debuted to $5.5 million in October 2007.
Opening exclusively in select Imax theaters is Metallica: Through the Never, a thriller-concert hybrid that heralds the return of Bob Berney's Picturehouse label. The movie grossed a solid $1.7 million from 308 theaters to place No. 13. In Through the Never, Dane DeHaan is a roadie whose surreal mission to retrieve an item for the heavy metal band is set against concert footage from the band's August 2012 tour.