And a little child shall lead them ... back into the black. The Karate Kid, starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan in a Beijing-located remake of the 1984 hit, earned a knockout $56 million this weekend at North American theaters, according to early studio estimates. Its chief victim: The A-Team, a more bombastic (emphasis on bomb) trip into 1980s nostalgia, which took in $26 million.
Kid's ancillary victim was the box office blahs, which have recently decimated movie earnings. Over the past month, the big new pictures Robin Hood, Shrek Forever After, Sex and the City 2, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Get Him to the Greek, Killers have opened well below the industry's predictions, leading to an acute case of movie malaise. Would ticket revenue, which had boomed while other sectors of the economy languished, ever perk up again? The answer is yes, and now. For the first week in the past five, a new picture actually exceeded expectations. The morning-line savants, who had forecast an opening for The Karate Kid in the $27 million to $35 million range, got a devastating crane-kick to their conventional wisdom. In a way, the success of this shamelessly sentimental sports-inspirational drama hit the know-it-alls on The Blind Side.
Kid registered the highest opening for a nonsequel since the $61.2 million rung up in early April by Clash of the Titans, another remake of a 1980s hit. Kid is Chan's second biggest first weekend, topped only by Rush Hour 2's $67.4 million in 2001. Kid's $56 million is also more than twice the $26.5 million opening weekend of Smith's previous leading role, in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness, for which the other lead was the world's biggest movie star, his dad. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith produced the new film with Jerry Weintraub, producer of the 1984 original, and shot it (in China, with Beijing doubling for Detroit in the early scenes) for a frugal $40 million.
Children and their parents, for whom the PG-rated picture was angled, were neither scared away nor, apparently, bored by its nearly 2½-hr. running time. Kid took in $18.8 million on Friday, then jumped to $21.2 million as the Saturday-matinee crowd joined in. The multitudes gathered both from savvy promotion and urgent word of mouth: the film achieved a golden A in the CinemaScore polling of exiting moviegoers. Given that the original film spawned two sequels (a Next Karate Kid and an animated series), this one has the sweet odor of a franchise.
Of the Kid marketing strategy, The A-Team's Hannibal Smith might have said, "I love it when a plan comes together." Hannibal George Peppard in the '80s TV series, Liam Neeson in the movie version is the leader of a misfit quartet of Army vets who go about performing daredevil do-goodery while trying to find the miscreant who got them court-martialed for a crime they didn't commit. For the movie, which was a decade in development and cost at least $100 million Canadian (it was shot in and around Vancouver), the plan didn't quite gel. The audiences who saw the film liked it well enough a B-plus on CinemaScore but not in sufficient numbers. To break even, and to break into sequel territory, the movie will have to do big business when it opens next week in Europe. Or maybe it just needs ... the A-Team. You know the line from the old show: "If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them ... "
On the indie and foreign-film mini-front, the showbiz doc Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work earned $170,580 at seven theaters and "played to sold-out shows all weekend," writes Peter Knegt of IndieWire; the film expands to the top 15 markets next week and 50 cities by July 4. Ray de Felitta's comedy City Island with the tempting ad line "Truth is stranger than family" is now a genuine indie hit, at $5.7 million in its fourth month. The possibly-not-a-documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, highlighting the work of elusive graffiti artist Banksy, keeps rolling along: $2.4 million in nine weeks. And the Oscar-winning Argentine thriller The Secret in the Eyes is the year's most successful foreign-language entry, with $5.6 million, also after nine weeks.
But those are niche movies for grownups. At the big-time box office this weekend, Kid Power ruled. Look for the little ones to empty their piggy banks again next weekend, when Toy Story 3 opens.
Here are the Sunday estimates of the weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:1. The Karate Kid, $56 million, first weekend
2. The A-Team, $26 million, first weekend
3. Shrek Forever After, $15.8 million; $210.1 million, fourth week
4. Get Him to the Greek, $10.1 million; $36.5 million, second week
5. Killers, $8.2 million; $30.7 million, second week
6. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, $6.6 million; $72.3 million, third week
7. Marmaduke, $6 million; $22.3 million, second week
8. Sex and the City 2, $5.5 million; $84.7 million, third week
9. Iron Man 2, $4.6 million; $299.3 million, sixth week
10. Splice, $2.9 million; $13.1 million, second week