“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” soaked up a massive $56 million at the weekend box office, leaving little remaining for two other new releases, “Jupiter Ascending” and “Seventh Son,” both of which flopped.
“Jupiter Ascending,” an ambitious science-fiction fantasy from Andy and Lana Wachowski, eked out $19 million from 3,181 screens, making it the “Matrix” siblings’ third consecutive whiff after “Cloud Atlas” and “Speed Racer.” The film stars Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis and cost a staggering $179 million to produce. It was originally scheduled to open in July, but was pushed back to accommodate complex special effects. Village Roadshow co-financed the film with Warner Bros.
“The Wachowkis have an incredible history of making fan favorite films,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president. “This didn’t hit the wide audience their films have in the past, but they’ll do better in the future.”
Males were “Jupiter’s” core audience, comprising 57% of ticket buyers, while the opening crowd was 82% over the age of 25. Like Michael Mann, who just stumbled badly with the cyber thriller “Blackhat,” the embarrassing failure leaves these two cinematic talents at a career crossroads. They need a hit. Stat.
Legendary’s action epic “Seventh Son” made even less of a stir, pulling in a paltry $7.1 million weekend from 2,875 locations. Universal distributed the $95 million production, which stars Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges. It’s shaping up to be a very rough start to the year for Legendary, which was forced to take a $90 million writedown on its January release, “Blackhat.”
Legendary tried to stem some of the bleeding by opening “Seventh Son” overseas weeks in advance of its U.S. debut. It has picked up $86 million from major foreign markets such as China and Russia. The film appeared to have been dented by the similarly themed “Jupiter Ascending.” Its opening audience was 61% male and 47% under the age of 30.
Warner Bros.’ “American Sniper” continued to be a juggernaut, earning $24.2 million in its fourth week of wide release. The biopic about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle has pulled in $282.3 million domestically, making it the third-highest grossing 2014 release Stateside, behind “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1″ and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“The SpongeBob Movie” was released by Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount Animation, and benefited from a lack of compelling family films in the marketplace, as well as a broad range of moviegoers’ familiarity with the adorable protagonist from his decade-plus television career.
“We got the faithful fans to show up, but we also had teenagers and 20-year-olds,” said Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures. “It was able to do so well because it played to a wide age range. It was a combination of people who grew up with ‘SpongeBob’ and had affection for it, along with a campaign that introduced some fresh elements.”
The $74 million production trumped the first “SpongeBob” film’s 2004 debut — that picture kicked off to $32 million en route to an $85.4 million domestic haul. It debuted across 3,641 North American theaters and had been expected to make $35 million.
The latest “SpongeBob’s” triumph also helps justify Paramount’s investment in its inhouse animation division, as well as its emphasis on developing projects with sister companies across Viacom, its corporate parent. The studio previously partnered with Nickelodeon on last summer’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which made $477.2 million worldwide.
“The strength of the Nickelodeon brand propelled both movies to big numbers,” said Moore.
In fifth place, the Weinstein Company’s “Paddington” brought in $5.4 million, pushing its total after four weeks to more than $57 million. In its second weekend, time-travel adventure “Project Almanac” earned $5.3 million, picking up sixth place. It has generated $15.8 million in receipts.
The success of “SpongeBob” helped keep the weekend in striking distance of the year-ago period when “The Lego Movie” premiered to a lordlyblock-busting $69 million.
Next weekend brings the release of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the bestselling phenomenon that’s expected to be the rare sexually charged film to succeed at the box office.
Year-to-date, the box office is outstripping 2014 by roughly 10%. That’s a surprise given that on paper, the first quarter of 2015 looked weak, but films such as “American Sniper,” “Paddington” and now “The SpongeBob Movie” have eclipsed expectations.
“We’re getting this nice boost every weekend from unexpected places,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “We’re on track to have our first $11 billion box office year.”