Jared Leto
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Suicide Squad” smashed records, scoring a colossal $135.1 million debut despite suffering some of the worst reviews of the year.

That sets a new high-water mark for an August launch, lapping “Guardians of the Galaxy’s” $94.3 million bow. It also ranks as a new personal best for star Will Smith, trumping “I Am Legend’s” $77.2 million debut in 2007. The action spectacle is resonating with foreign crowds. “Suicide Squad” earned $132 million overseas from 57 territories, bringing its global total to more than $267 million.

“It bested anything that we could have expected,” said Jeff Goldstein,  Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president. “The marketing campaign was brilliant and the performances by the cast, starting with Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto, were just extraordinary. They’re fun and wicked and fans enjoy it.”

“Suicide Squad” has been one of the most hotly anticipated films of the summer. Buzz on the film has built steadily since Warner Bros. released a teaser trailer at last year’s Comic-Con that highlighted Jared Leto’s grill-sporting Joker and Margot Robbie’s demented, highly gymnastic Harley Quinn. However, the studio was caught off guard by the fusillade of withering reviews, prompting widespread concern on the lot that the poor reception would dampen the opening numbers.

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And boy were those reviews awful! The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern called the film “…an all-out attack on the whole idea of entertainment,” New York’s David Edelstein branded it “the worst of the worst” and MTV’s Amy Nicholson dismissed the picture as “two hours of padding.”

“There’s a major disconnect with between what the critics are saying and what audiences are seeing,” said Goldstein.

Indeed, audiences appeared to like “Suicide Squad” better than critics, handing the film a B+ CinemaScore. Younger consumers were more receptive to the film’s charms than older moviegoers, with audiences under the age of 18 giving it an A rating. The question is will “Suicide Squad” show some endurance?

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the previous entry in DC Comics’ series of interconnected superhero films, was also a critical piñata. It managed to overcome the bad notices to debut to $166 million, but the poor word-of-mouth caught up to the film in its second weekend, pushing receipts down by nearly 70%.

There are signs the hostile reviews are already hobbling “Suicide Squad.” The film dropped sharply on Saturday, falling 41% from its Friday numbers — although it should be said that those grosses include Thursday pre-show results.

The studio has a lot riding on “Suicide Squad.” It spent $175 million making the picture, including tens of millions on reshoots. But the high cost isn’t the only concern. DC is struggling to generate the same level of excitement for its stable of Batman, Superman and assorted Justice League heroes that Marvel has managed to stoke for its movies about costumed avengers. It needs more of its films to be beloved, as well as financially successful.

“Suicide Squad” was a difficult birth. Production on the film was reportedly rushed with writer and director David Ayer having less than two months to turn a script around. The film centers on a team of super villains who are recruited for a black ops mission by the U.S. government.

Men accounted for 54% of “Suicide Squad’s” opening weekend audience, with more than half of the audience clocking in under the age of 25. Warner Bros. released the film across 4,255 locations. Imax accounted for 381 of those venues, and the big screen company comprised $11 million of the first weekend gross.

The weekend’s other new release, EuropaCorp’s “Nine Lives,” died a quick death. The story of a ruthless executive (Kevin Spacey) who gets transformed into a cat, coughed up $6.5 million, and managed to score even worse reviews than “Suicide Squad.” Spacey barely promoted the movie, which was the brainchild of former EuropaCorp CEO Christophe Lambert, who originally envisioned the project as a comedy for adults before repositioning it as a family film. Ousted from the company last February, Lambert died of lung cancer in May. He was 51 years old. “Nine Lives” cost just over $30 million to make.

Last weekend’s champ, Universal’s “Jason Bourne,” dropped 62% in its second frame, topping out at $22 million. That was strong enough for a second place finish and brings the spy sequel’s domestic haul to $103.4 million.

STX Entertainment’s “Bad Moms” snagged third place in its second weekend, picking up $14.2 million. The raunchy comedy about a group of mothers who rebel against pressures to be perfect parents has made $51 million since opening, a healthy return on its $20 million budget. Universal’s “The Secret Life of Pets” nabbed fourth place with $11.6 million. The family comedy is one of the year’s biggest hits, having made $319.6 million during its run. Paramount’s “Star Trek Beyond” rounded out the top five, earning $10.2 million to push its stateside gross to $127.9 million after three weeks.

Warner Bros. had something to celebrate besides “Suicide Squad’s” hefty numbers. The studio crossed the $1 billion mark at the domestic box office over the weekend, powered by hits such as “Central Intelligence,” “The Conjuring 2” and even the much-loathed “Batman v Superman.” The studio is now the only Hollywood player to reach that milestone for 16 years in a row.

“Suicide Squad” also helped lift the overall box office. Receipts for the weekend will finish up at roughly $230 million, a nearly 74% jump on the year-ago period when “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” was in its second weekend of release. Once dismissed as a dumping ground for movies, August has become an important platform for more off-beat studio fare such as 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton” and 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

“What was formerly the dog days of summer is now a land of opportunity,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore.

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