Box Office: ‘Focus’ Tops Weak Crop of Competitors With $19.1 Million

Focus” topped the weekend box office charts with $19.1 million, but the heist film didn’t make off with as much loot as many analysts expected.

The film had been projected to earn between $21 million and $23 million, so cue breathless stories about whether or not Will Smith’s fastball has lost some heat. The debate may be excessive. “Focus” shows the limits of star power generally, not Smith’s particularly.

Charisma lacks the punch it did 10 years ago, particularly given that advances in digital technology and the growth of fanboy culture mean films can’t just be films anymore to succeed at a high level. They must be events. Would “Focus” have performed better had George Clooney starred in it or Brad Pitt?

“With all big stars, it depends on the movie they’re framed in,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “If you put Will Smith in a ‘Men in Black’-type movie and have it debut in the summer, you’ll have a big opening weekend. It’s an overreach to say his star has diminished.”

“Focus,” released by Warner Bros., cost $50.1 million to produce and debuted in 3,323 locations. It ranks as Smith’s second-weakest debut in ten years, behind “Seven Pounds” and its $14.8 million opening. The picture will need to do well overseas, where Smith remains a big draw, to make money.

“He’s terrific in this film,” said Jeff Goldstein, distribution executive vice president at Warner Bros. “But to compare a film like this to one of [Smith’s] tentpole films is unfair. He picked a project that was always slated to be a mid-range to low-range budget, and the results are consistent with that.”

“Focus” skewed older and female, with women making up 53% of the opening crowd and 88% of the audience over 25 years old. Premium large-format screens accounted for $2.3 million of the “Focus” take, while Imax screens added $2.1 million to its gross. Extreme winter weather in parts of the South and Midwest may be partly to blame for the film missing expectations, Warner Bros. argued.

“It’s all about the snow and the freezing cold,” said Goldstein. “If we had not been beat up by inclement weather, we would have hit $20 million-plus.”

The weekend’s other new release, Relativity’s “The Lazarus Effect,” also fell short of estimates. The micro-budget horror film pulled in $10.6 million from 2,500 theaters, but it had been expected to earn between $12 million and $14 million. The Blumhouse production stars Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde as researchers who figure out a way to bring the dead back to life. That was good enough for a fifth-place finish.

The studio’s financial exposure is minimal, given that it bought the film for $3.3 million, but it still ranks as a disappointment for both Relativity and Blumhouse. Horror films like “The Lazarus Effect” don’t tend to show much endurance at the box office, so future revenues could be hard to come by.

In second place, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” pushed ahead of last weekend’s champ, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” picking up $11.7 million and driving its total to $85.7 million after three weeks. “Fifty Shades” had to settle for a fourth-place finish, dropping 51% from last weekend to earn $10.9 million. The erotic romance has earned $147.8 million domestically.

Third place went to “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” which earned $11.2 million, bringing its Stateside haul to $140.3 million.

Many major Oscar winners got a nice bump at the box office after last weekend’s awards ceremony. Newly minted best picture victor “Birdman” nabbed $1.9 million, representing more than a 120% jump over the previous weekend and pushing its domestic box office take to $40.3 million.

“Still Alice” got a big lift from Julianne Moore’s best actress win, with earnings climbing more than 20% from the previous weekend. The drama about a woman struggling with Alzheimer’s disease picked up $2.7 million, after nearly doubling its screen count to 1,318, bringing its total to just shy of $12 million. “Whiplash” exploited J.K. Simmons’ best supporting actor victory, pulling in $677,249 after adding roughly 100 screens. It has made $12.3 million since opening. Best actor winner “Theory of Everything” added $649,000 to its $35 million take on the strength of Eddie Redmayne’s triumph.

“Maybe the Oscar bump exists after all for smaller films that have a little room to grow like this,” said Dergarabedian.

In the holdover department, racing drama “McFarland, USA” fell a slender 29% to $7.8 million, and has made $22 million in two weeks, while high school comedy “The Duff” dipped 34% to $7.1 million, pushing its total to $20 million after two weeks.

And “American Sniper” aims for another box office milestone. The biopic about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle earned $7.7 million and has made a massive $331 million domestically. In the coming days, it should cross “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” and its $336.7 million gross to become the top-earning domestic release of 2014.

Yann Demange’s thriller “’71,” starring Jack O’Connell as a British soldier on the run in Belfast during the height of the Troubles, bowed on four screens in New York and Los Angeles. It earned $60,050 and enjoyed a per-screen average of $15,013 for the weekend. Roadside Attractions and Black Label Media will expand the well-reviewed film to the top 50 markets over the next few weeks.

Final numbers are still rolling in, but it looks as though the overall box office will be down more than 14% from the year-ago period when “Non-Stop,” “Son of God” and “The Lego Movie” all did more than $20 million worth of business. Most studios will take the dip in stride. The first quarter box office has surged by more than 8% thanks to big hits such as “American Sniper” and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” easily outpacing last year’s numbers. With films such as “Cinderella” and “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” on the horizon, ticket sales should pick up again in the coming weeks, analysts say.

“This is the calm before the storm,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “People were worried about the first quarter, but for it to shatter expectations like it has means we’re in for good numbers this year.”

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