Sep. 29, 2013 at 12:42 PM ET
A crowded weekend at the North American box office saw Sony's "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" opening to a strong $35 million from 4,001 theaters, while the three other new offerings -- Ron Howard's "Rush," "Baggage Claim" and "Don Jon" -- turned in mixed performances.
Families fueled "Cloudy 2's" debut, which marks the fourth biggest September opening of all time after fellow Sony title "Hotel Transylvania," which rolled out on the same weekend a year ago, raking in $42.5 million; "Insidious: Chapter 2," which opened to $40.3 million two weeks ago; and "Sweet Home Alabama" ($35.6 million).
"Cloudy 2" is a needed boost for Sony after a dismal summer, and opens just days after Sony showed its global head of marketing Marc Weinstock the door. Digital marketing president Dwight Caines is replacing Weinstock, although Caines will only spearhead domestic campaigns.
The $78 million sequel, earning an A- CinemaScore, opens four years after the first "Cloudy" turned into a surprise hit for Sony Pictures Animation, debuting to $30.3 million in late September on its way to grossing $245.8 million worldwide. "Cloudy 2" is benefiting from being the only fresh family offering in the marketplace (some had thought the 3D animated pic would cross $40 million, although Sony had always given a lower number).
"People love this franchise. As good as it will be here, it will even be bigger internationally," said Sony worldwide president of distribution Rory Bruer. "The film is a big hit for us and has something for the huge family."
Alcon Entertainment's holdover "Prisoners" fell to No. 2 in its second weekend, grossing $11.3 million from 3,290 theaters to edge out "Rush," the Formula One drama starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl. Prisoners has earned $39 million in its first 10 days.
Playing in far fewer locations than "Prisoners" (2,297 versus 3,290), "Rush" grossed $10.3 million as it expanded nationwide after debuting in New York and Los Angeles last weekend. Some box office observers are predicting that "Prisoners" and "Rush" will finish even closer to each other when official weekend numbers come in Monday morning.
"Rush," independently financed by Cross Creek Pictures and Exclusive Media for $45 million after tax rebates, faces a tremendous challenge in the U.S., where Formula One has never caught on. Universal is distributing the film in the U.S., while Entertainment One is releasing Rush in Canada.
In "Rush's" favor are strong reviews and an A- CinemaScore. Universal and the producers say the film is playing both to sport fans and to adults seeking more sophisticated fare, and believe it will have strong legs (nearly 50 percent of those seeing the film were over the age of 40).
According to exit polling, 41 percent of "Rush's" audience identified themselves as fans of F1. Males made up 52 percent of the audience, but plenty of females turned out as well (48 percent).
"Women aren't going because of the racing. The advertising campaign showed them a very unique film about two guys that were very competitive," said Universal president of domestic marketing Nikki Rocco.
From an original script by British writer Peter Morgan, "Rush" recounts the real-life battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda for the 1976 F1 championship. It is only the second independent film Howard has made after his first film, "Grand Theft Auto" (1977), and is expected to do substantial business overseas (going into the weekend, it had already earned $14 million).
Fox Searchlight's comedy "Baggage Claim," targeted toward African-Americans, grossed a solid $9.3 million from 2,027 theaters to come in No. 4.
Directed by David E. Talbert, "Baggage Claim" stars Paula Patton as a woman who embarks on a 30,000-mile expedition to convince a suitor to marry her so that she isn't the only single person in her family. Taye Diggs and Derek Luke also star in the comedy, which nabbed an A- CinemaScore.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's debut directorial effort "Don Jon" debuted to $9 million from 2,422 locations (rival studios have it opening slightly lower with $8.8 million). Gordon-Levitt stars opposite Scarlett Johansson in the porn addiction pic, which earned a problematic C+ CinemaScore despite generally strong reviews.
"Don Jon" made its world premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where Relativity acquired U.S. rights for $4 million, as well as committing to a $27 million marketing spend. The film, which had to be toned down in order to receive an R-rating, was financed and produced by Voltage Pictures for $5 million to $6 million.
"We're really pleased. It's a strong gross and we want to be in the Joseph Gordon-Levitt business," Relativity distribution chief Kyle Davies. "We think the picture will play well. You can't have reviews this strong without there being a connection to an audience."
Opening exclusively in select Imax theaters is "Metallica: Through the Never," a thriller-concert hybrid that heralds the return of Bob Berney's Picturehouse label. The movie grossed a solid $1.7 million from 308 theaters to place No. 13. In "Through the Never," Dane DeHaan is a roadie whose surreal mission to retrieve an item for the heavy metal band is set against concert footage from the band's August 2012 tour.