Millennials saved the day for Power Rangers, Lionsgate's big-screen adaptation of the classic kids TV show about a group of morphin' superheroes.
The movie, produced by Saban Entertainment, exceeded expectations over the weekend with a $40.5 million debut in North America, despite monstrous competition from Beauty and the Beast.
Heading into the weekend, tracking suggested Power Rangers would bow in the $30 million range, prompting rival studio executives to question whether it was wise to make the movie more grown-up than the original television series, which began airing in 1993. (The new film is rated PG-13, versus PG.)
Lionsgate was correct in its hunch to target die-hard fans of the show, who are now full-grown millennials, a tech-obsessed demo that relies on a variety of entertainment platforms. Also, Power Rangers, which skewed male (60 percent), served as an antidote to Beauty and the Beast, a female-skewing, family friendly film that powered to $88 million in its second weekend.
According to comScore's polling service PostTrak, 34 percent of Power Rangers' audience was between the ages of 18 and 24; more impressively, 39 percent was between the ages of 25 and 34. Put another way, the two age groups made up 73 percent of all ticket buyers. Overall, moviegoers awarded the movie an A CinemaScore. That meant the kids who were in grade school when Power Rangers first hit TV, now grown-up, made up the largest share of ticket buyers.
"Power Rangers clearly inspired 18 to 34 years olds to head to the theater and was the perfect yin to Beauty and the Beast's yang by drawing huge numbers of male patrons by offering up a perfectly counter-programmed alternative to the more female-centric number one film," says comScore analyst Paul Dergarabedian.
He added, "It also had a leg up by virtue of its March release date, thus giving moviegoers their super-hero fix ahead of the slated summer movie onslaught of films from this highly competitive genre.
Directed by Dean Israelite and written by John Gatins, Power Rangers follows five teens (played by Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin and Becky G) in a small town who discover artifacts that allow them to morph into crime-fighting heroes called the Power Rangers. They are tasked with learning to use their new skills in order to save their town from destruction by power-hungry villain Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).
In some ways, the characters are more complex and mature than their TV series counterparts. The film tackles modern-day issues that wouldn't have been addressed on a '90s kids show, with one Ranger admitting he is on the autism spectrum, another coming to terms with her sexual orientation,and the Pink Ranger (Scott) revealing the reason she is in detention is her involvement in a cyberbullying scandal. The Rangers' leader, Jason (Montgomery), is involved in a drunk driving incident and is put under house arrest early in the film. The costumes and visuals are also major upgrades; the original TV series had a shoestring budget.
"The trick for us always was not to alienate the core kids that watched the kids every day, as well as to speak to a broader audience," says Tim Palen, Lionsgate's marketing president and chief brand officer. "Everyone has the option of being nostalgic about their childhood. How many 24-year-olds dressed up in a Power Rangers costume for Halloween? My nephew slept in his all the way through New Year's."
Palen said the online campaign had a huge impact in terms of reaching millennials, an advantage the first two Power Rangers movies - released in 1995 and 1997 - didn't have (both those films failed to work).
Power Rangers played to a diverse audience: 38 percent identified as Hispanic, followed by Caucasian (30 percent), Asian/other (18 percent) and African American (9 percent).
The movie didn't power to especially strong numbers overseas - it took in $18.7 million from its first 62 markets - but has yet to open in Japan and China.
And in North America, nostalgia didn't help CHIPS, another big-screen adaptation of a classic TV show, this one from the late 1970s.
CHIPS, from Warner Bros., opened to a dismal $7.6 million from 2,464 theaters for a seventh-place finish. Overseas, the R-rated update likewise ran out of gas with $1.9 million from 31 territories. Dax Shepard directs and stars with Michael Pena in the action-comedy, which was skewered by critics and audiences alike (it earned a B- CinemaScore). CHIPS cost a more modest $25 million to produce.