Neill Blomkamp’s dystopian robot film Chappie came in lower than expected Friday, earning $4.5 million from 3,201 theaters for a projected $13 million-plus debut, enough to top the North American box office but pacing notably behind the South African director’s previous two films, District 9 and Elysium.
The sci-fi title, which is also getting a berth in Imax runs, hopes to make up ground overseas, where it opens this weekend in 53 markets. Sony and MRC spent $49 million to make the movie, starring Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel — his second new film of the weekend after The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — and Sigourney Weaver.
Set in Johannesburg, Chappie revolves around a police robot, voiced by Sharlto Copley, who learns to think and feel. In a rare turn, Jackman, whose screen time is relatively short, plays the bad guy. Most box office observers believed the sci-fi title would do at least $15 million, although Sony insiders suggested $14 million.
In August 2009, District 9 put Blomkamp on the map with a $37.4 million debut for Sony. The sleeper hit went on to gross $210.8 million worldwide. His second Hollywood film, Elysium, starring Matt Damon, opened to $29.8 million in August 2013 before topping out at $286.1 million worldwide.
Chappie faces a glut of R-rated product, including two films also going after males, holdover Kingsman: The Secret Service and new entry Unfinished Business, starring Vince Vaughn.
Unfinished Business may only debut to $5 million from 2,777 theaters for an eighth-place finish, marking Vaughn’s worst opening ever for a major release, and certainly the worst for a comedy, his bread and butter. In 1998, drama Return to Paradise opened to $2.5 million, but it only went out in 965 theaters.
New Regency financed director Ken Scott’s $35 million film, with Fox handling distribution duties. Unfinished Business, earning a dismal $1.8 million Friday, stars Vaughn as a small-business owner who travels to Europe with his two associates (Tom Wilkinson and Dave Franco) to seal the biggest deal of their careers, but nothing goes as planned. Sienna Miller, Nick Frost and James Marsden also star.
Vaughn has struggled in recent times, with Delivery Man — also directed by Scott — The Internship and The Watch all stumbling at the box office (the actor’s career could see a boost from his turn in HBO’s upcoming True Detective).
In terms of new offerings this weekend, the one bright spot is Fox Searchlight’s The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Despite playing in far fewer theaters than its rivals, the sequel is on course to place No. 3 with $9 million from 1,573 locations after grossing $2.7 million Friday.
That would put the dramedy at No. 3 behind Chappie and Will Smith holdover Focus.
Once again directed by John Madden, Marigold Hotel 2 returns original castmembers Patel, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy. New names include Richard Gere and David Strathairn. The first film, released in 2012, was a sleeper hit, earning $136.8 million worldwide.
Box-office revenue is going to be down a whopping 40 percent from last year, when 300: Rise of an Empire debuted to $45 million and Mr. Peabody & Sherman took in $32.2 million.
Elsewhere, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is poised to become the top-grossing release of 2014 (it opened in select markets Dec. 25). Sometime on Sunday or Monday, it will surpass the $336.8 million earned by The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1.