If second place is the first loser — then this week, that’s a pretty great place to be. Warner Bros.’ literary adaptation The Great Gatsby stunned the industry today with a magnificent $51.1 million debut. Of course, that number wasn’t large enough to take down Disney’s superhero sequel, Iron Man 3, which topped the box office for a second weekend with $72.5 million, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Ah, the summer movie season: when films actually make money! (Provided that they’re not called Peeples.)
Iron Man 3, which had the second best opening of all time last weekend with $174.1 million, fell 58 percent in its second frame — a slimmer drop than Iron Man 2 managed (59 percent), but a heftier one than The Avengers scored (50 percent). Iron Man 3‘s gargantuan $72.5 million weekend gave it a sizzling $17,400 per theater average from 4,253 locations and lifted its domestic box office total to $284.9 million after just 10 days. Internationally, the film is proving even more invincible. The $200 million Marvel title has now earned $664.1 million overseas, led by massive business in Asia. Iron Man 3′s top two international markets are currently China ($95.3 million) and Korea ($54.1 million), and it has become the highest grossing film of all time in both Indonesia and Malaysia. Worldwide, Iron Man 3 has grossed a truly jaw-dropping $949 million, guaranteeing it will surpass $1 billion sometime this week.
In second place, Baz Luhrmann’s roaring ’20s drama The Great Gatsby took in $51.1 million — the third best opening weekend ever for a film that didn’t hit No. 1. (In 2004, The Day After Tomorrow debuted with $68.7 million but trailed Shrek 2. In 2009, Sherlock Holmes started with $62.3 million but couldn’t overtake Avatar.) The glossy F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, and Joel Edgerton, broke out at the box office despite middling reviews and a “B” CinemaScore grade.
“This exceeded all our expectations,” says Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.’ head of domestic distribution, who claims that scheduling the adult-oriented literary drama between blockbusters like Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness helped it stand out. Indeed, Gatsby appealed to a different audience than most May action-spectacles. Whereas Iron Man 3 was dominated by male viewers last weekend, Gatsby played to a core demographic of adult women. According to Warner Bros., ticket-buyers were 59 percent female and 69 percent were above the age of 25. When asked what drew those ticket buyers, Fellman says the film’s Jay-Z-curated soundtrack definitely built buzz, but ultimately it came down to someone else: “Three little letters: L-E-O.”
The Great Gatsby‘s marketing has relied heavily on Leonardo DiCaprio’s mug — and with good reason. DiCaprio has become one of the most exciting movie stars working today without ever signing up for a major franchise or donning superhero spandex. Gatsby‘s healthy debut marks his second best opening weekend ever, behind only 2010′s Inception, which started with $62.8 million. Hot on the heels of Django Unchained, which wrangled $162.8 million total, DiCaprio is riding high at the box office.
But Gatsby‘s debut also marks a career high point for Australian director Baz Luhrmann. Before this weekend, the polarizing filmmaker’s best opening weekend belonged to his sweeping romance Australia, which bowed to $14.8 million in 2008. The Great Gatsby easily clobbered that figure, and it will quickly become his highest grossing film ever, surpassing Moulin Rouge, which danced its way to $57 million total in 2001. Of course, Gatsby was undoubtedly Luhrmann’s most expensive project, too. The film, which was shot in 3D, cost about $105 million to produce (and reportedly would have cost about $190 million without Australian rebates), though audiences weren’t overly excited about the 3D effects. Only 33 percent of ticket sales were for 3D showtimes.
Michael Bay’s directorial effort Pain & Gain wound up in third place in its third weekend with $5 million, marking a slim 33 percent drop. The Paramount film, which stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, has now earned $41.6 million against a slim $26 million budget.
Tyler Perry’s latest producing effort, Peeples, bombed in fourth place with a terrible $4.9 million from 2,041 theaters, making it the first true misfire associated with the Tyler Perry brand. The filmmaker only produced the movie (he typically writes and/or directs and/or stars in his films), but distributor Lionsgate marketed the film on his name, preceding its title with “Tyler Perry Presents.” Fortunately, Peeples, which stars Scandal‘s Kerry Washington alongside Craig Robinson and David Alan Grier, only cost the studio about $15 million. Audiences issued the film an unimpressive “B-” CinemaScore grade.
42 , now in its fifth weekend, almost surpassed Peeples (and it still could once final figures are released tomorrow). The $40 million Jackie Robinson biopic earned $4.7 million, bringing its total to $84.7 million so far. Along with Gatsby, 42 has been an encouraging performer for Warner Bros., which suffered misfires like Beautiful Creatures, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and Jack the Giant Slayer in early 2013.
1. Iron Man 3 – $72.5 million
2. The Great Gatsby – $51.1 million
3. Pain & Gain – $5 million
4. Peeples – $4.9 million
5. 42 – $4.7 million
Check back next weekend for full box office coverage of Star Trek Into Darkness, which earned an impressive $31 million from just seven international territories this weekend and will easily beam itself atop the domestic chart come Friday. Sadly, I won’t be here for the next two weekends — I’m headed to Switzerland and Italy — so be nice to whoever fills in. But feel free to follow me on Twitter for occasional box office thoughts from across the pond!