LOS ANGELES » The cops busted the Force.
The seemingly unstoppable box office power of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” finally met a more powerful adversary — Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, the stars of Universal Pictures’ “Ride Along 2”, which knocked the latest chapter in the space saga from the top spot it’s held for four weeks.
The sequel to the 2014 buddy cop comedy hit grossed an estimated $34 million in the U.S. and Canada through Sunday. This sets up the film to retain the first place spot through the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend and to meet, if not exceed, its $40 million to $45 million in expected ticket sales through Monday.
“I think it starts with the filmmakers and the cast,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s president of domestic distribution. “In sequels, audiences always play off of how much people like the characters the first time. As we’re trending to be No. 1 for the four-day holiday, our audience is wide and diverse.”
The first “Ride Along” was a surprise hit over the same holiday weekend two years ago, collecting an impressive $48.6 million domestically thanks to an especially strong turnout of black moviegoers. The follow-up continued to benefit from the box-office draw of Hart and Cube as the duo pulled in a diverse audience playing equally (34 percent each) to blacks and Latinos.
Critics, however, didn’t go along for the ride. The film, directed by Tim Story, however, received only a 14 percent positive rating by critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences gave it a lukewarm B-plus grade, according to polling firm CinemaScore.
Also topping “Star Wars” was 20th Century Fox’s “The Revenant,” which got a boost from multiple wins at last week’s Golden Globe Awards (best motion picture drama, best director Alejandro G. Inarritu and lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio) plus a host of Oscar nominations announced Thursday. The revenge drama garnered $29.5 million in its fourth week after an initial limited release. It has grossed $87.7 million to date.
Disney’s “The Force Awakens” placed third with $25.1 million. It continues its record-setting run, crossing $1.9 billion globally. The J.J. Abrams-directed seventh installation of the franchise also nabbed five Oscar nominations, including for visual effects and editing.
Newcomer “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” from Paramount Pictures, landed in fourth place with a comfortable $16 million in ticket sales, on its way to besting expectations of $20 million during the four-day weekend.
The Michael Bay action-thriller tells the story of six elite security contractors who fought back against the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The filmmakers had hoped to tap into the same patriotic audience that turned out for other recent military hits such as “American Sniper” and “Lone Survivor,” but the film fell short, perhaps due to the broader political conversation during this election year.
Some Republicans, who have long criticized presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her handling of the crisis in Benghazi while she was secretary of State, have tried to capitalize on the release of the movie. The studio insists that the movie, however, is not political nor about Clinton. Still, its political topicality did have an effect on its performance.
“It’s hard to not get caught up in the swirl of politics,” said Megan Colligan, Paramount’s president of domestic marketing and distribution. “But the movie doesn’t have a big political agenda. It’s just trying to focus on what these guys went through and how incredible their sacrifice was. I think when word of mouth is allowed to percolate, that’s the thing that can help break through the swirl of everything else.”
Audiences gave the $50 million film an A CinemaScore grade while Rotten Tomatoes critics were split, rating “13 Hours” 59 percent positively. The film played best in the South.
Rounding out the top five was Paramount’s “Daddy’s Home,” adding $9.3 million in its fourth week.
The only other new release of the week was Lionsgate’s animated adventure “Norm of the North,” about a displaced Arctic polar bear in New York City. It landed in sixth place, meeting expectations, with an estimated $6.7 million.
The film received an A-minus CinemaScore from the under 18 segment of the survey (48 percent) and an overall score of B-minus.
On the limited release front, a number of holdovers experienced upticks in sales following Oscar nominations, a response not uncommon.
“That’s no accident,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for the entertainment data firm Rentrak. “That’s a direct reflection of studios riding that wave of awards attention. Nominations breathe new life into your movie’s prospects. You can literally see it in the numbers.
Fox Searchlight’s “Brooklyn” and Open Road’s “Spotlight” saw double-digit increases after receiving three and six Oscar nominations, respectively. “Brooklyn” grossed $1.7 million, a 57 percent week-to-week increase, while “Spotlight” pulled in $1.6 million, a 67 percent increase.
The greatest increase came with A24’s “Room.” Following four Oscar nominations, the film took in its biggest box-office weekend yet, in its 14th week, with a 504 percent increase.
As award season continues, Dergarabedian said, these films will continue to pull in money. “There’s a lot more gas in the tank for these movies.”
©2016 Los Angeles Times