Box Office: A Muted Start for X-Men's Baby Mutants

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Murray Close / 20th Century Fox

X-Men: First Class

The raw figures say X-Men: First Class, Marvel's latest extension of its mutant-superhero franchise, won the weekend with $56 million at the North American box office, according to early studio estimates. The film-long flashback — in which young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) opens his school for the gift-abled and first locks wills with his turbulent future rival Magneto (Michael Fassbender) — launches what Marvel hopes will be a series as profitable as the first three X-Men films, from 2000 to 2006, and their 2009 prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman.

So is First Class a hit or a flop?

Like a mother scanning her child's report card, a movie company knows that grades are a balancing act: achievement vs. expectations. X-Men's parent studio, 20th Century Fox, had to be ecstatic that First Class received a Harvard-worthy 88 grade from the Rotten Tomatoes survey of critics' reviews and mildly pleased with the B-plus rating from the CinemaScore survey of people who saw the film opening day. And indeed, First Class exceeded the numbers Fox had publicly predicted: that the movie's opening-weekend gross would be somewhere between $45 million and $55 million. So good work, lad, for acing your assignment — where can we take you for a celebratory snack?

Or should First Class be sent to bed without supper? The movie's $56 million was the puniest winning total of any of the year's late-spring blockbusters (Fast Five, Thor, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Hangover Part II). True, it suffered the smallest Friday-to-Saturday dip, 5%, of any of the five films in the X-Men series — but it had the smallest opening day and thus a lower perch to fall from. First Class started afresh with a cast of attractive young actors, so it lacked the star quality (i.e., Jackman) of the previous pictures. But surely the star of the franchise is its title?

The movie's revenue haul was also well below other industry predictions, most of which started at $60 million and bid higher. In his Friday forecast, for example, Box Office Mojo's Brandon Gray pegged the weekend grosses of Hang II, Kung Fu 2 and Pirates 4 within a few hundred thousand dollars each of today's figures, but he guessed that First Class's take would be $69 million, or about 23% above today's announced gross. In a recently robust movie season, when the domestic box office has rebounded from a five-month slump, $56 million for a $150 million film that cost an additional $80 million to publicize isn't so hot. Overseas, First Class opened to $64 million in 76 territories; superhero movies generally make their big stash overseas. Returns from abroad may be the determining factor in whether X-Men: First Class gets promoted to the next grade: a sequel to the prequel.

Elsewhere in mainstream movieland, no equivocation was needed. This weekend's total beat the same frame last year by about 30%, as most of the May hits kept coasting to dreamy grosses. Hang II picked up an additional $32.4 million and should hit $200 million midweek, by the time it concludes its first fortnight in theaters. Fast Five, the year's first runaway hit, has already hurdled $200 million in domestic theaters, and Pirates 4 is nearly there. Worldwide, the Johnny Depp adventure is mammoth: it will clear $800 million worldwide this week. Kung Fu Panda 2 is softer, but a $226.5 million global take after 11 days is still a nice ball of fur. And Bridesmaids, May's one girlie-girlie breakout comedy, again displayed its great legs by dropping only 27% (the weekend's other top-10 holdovers fell 50% or more) to pass $100 million domestically — a big milestone for a movie that cost only $32 million to make.

Down in the Lilliput of indie films, the giant was Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, which expanded from 58 to 147 theaters and grossed $2.9 million, for a 17-day total of $6.9 million, plus $11.5 million in foreign climes. (Allen's films often make their big boodle abroad: his 2008 Vicky Cristina Barcelona earned $23.2 million here, $73.2 million there.) Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, going from four venues to 20, pulled in a cosmic $621,000 for a weekend-best $31,050 per theater. Of the new releases, the oh-jeez-my-old-dad's-gay comedy Beginners began well, with $135,000 in five houses, while the Brit teen comedy Submarine came close to tanking, with $40,800 in eight theaters. By any parent's rationalization, that's a failing grade for a classy comedy.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. X-Men: First Class, $56 million, first weekend
2. The Hangover Part II, $32.4 million; $186.9 million, second week
3. Kung Fu Panda 2, $24.3 million; $100.4 million, second week
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, $18 million; $190.3 million, third week
5. Bridesmaids, $12.1 million; $107.2 million, fourth week
6. Thor, 4.2 million; $169.1 million, fifth week
7. Fast Five, $3.2 million; $202.1 million, sixth week
8. Midnight in Paris, $2.9 million; $6.9 million, third week
9. Jumping the Broom, $865,000; $35.9 million, fifth week
10. Something Borrowed, $835,000; $36.6 million, fifth week