Will Smith's 'After Earth' suffers surprising defeat at box office

Image: "After Earth"

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By Pamela McClintock

Marking a sizeable blow for one of the world's top stars, Will Smith's sci-fi adventure "After Earth" narrowly lost to magician heist pic "Now You See Me" in one of the most surprising box office upsets in recent memory.

Sony's "After Earth," starring Smith opposite his son, Jaden, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, took in $27 million in its North American debut, compared to $28.1 million for "Now You See Me," from Summit Entertainment.

Universal's "Fast & Furious 6" beat both films to stay at No. 1 in its second weekend, declining 65 percent to $34.5 million for a stellar domestic cume of $170.3 million. The action pic earned another $75 million overseas for a dazzling worldwide total of $480.6 million.

Heading into the weekend, "After Earth" was expected to easily outpace "Now You See Me" with a $35 million to $40 million opening, still one of the lowest numbers for a summer film starring Smith, but in line with Tom Cruise's sci-fi adventure "Oblivion."

STORY: 'After Earth' as Scientology Propaganda: What Critics Are Saying

Hindered by dismal reviews and a B CinemaScore, "After Earth" vastly underperformed. The pic will now need to make a strong showing overseas if it has any chance of making up its $130 million budget, plus a major marketing spend. Smith is beloved internationally, although sci-fi can be a tough sell in some major markets.

"After Earth" opened in South Korea over the weekend, placing No. 2 behind "The Hangover Part III" with $2.7 million, 10 percent ahead of "Prometheus."

The father-son adventure is a passion project for Smith, who came up with the idea for the story and helped tap Shyamalan to direct the film for Sony. The actor's character sits out much of the action in the film, with the younger Smith taking top billing. Numerous reviewers raised parallels between the film and Scientology.

"Would we have liked to do more? Certainly. But the film has always been a world play. It's going to to be opening in 60 countries It's a movie everyone worked very hard on and everyone is proud of the film. But its always ben a world play, and will open in 60 countries next weekend," said Sony worldwide president of distribution Rory Bruer.

One Sony insider added that the parallels being drawn between the storyline and Scientology couldn't be "further from the truth."

"Now You See Me," designed to serve as counterprogramming to summer studio fare, wasn't expected to open much past $20 million. Directed by Louis Leterrier, the movie's ensemble cast includesJesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco.

The film, receiving an A- CinemaScore, cost just north of $75 million to produce, with much of the budget offset by foreign presales.

Elsewhere, Paramount's "Star Trek Into Darkness" and 20th Century Fox's 3D animated pic "Epic" tied for fourth place with $16.4 million each. The final order will be determined when official weekend numbers are released on Monday.

J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek"sequel ended the weekend with a domestic total of $181.2 million. Overseas, "Into Darkness" took in $37.6 million as it opened in China and South Korea for an international total of $147.4 million and worldwide cume of $328.6 million. The sci-fi adventure opened in China to a strong $25 million.

"Epic," produced by Fox Animation Studios and Blue Sky, the team behind the "Ice Age" franchise and "Rio," took in $28.8 million overseas from 56 countries for an international cume of $86.3 million and worldwide haul of $151.5 million.

Warner Bros. and Legendary's "The Hangover Part III" tumbled 62 percent in its second weekend to place No. 6, grossing $15.9 million for a disappointing domestic total of $88.1 million. The final title in Todd Phillips' R-rated comedy franchise received good news internationally, where it's expected to come in No. 1 for the weekend.

At the specialty box office, Zal Batmanglij's thriller "The East" opened to $75,628 from four theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a location average of $18,907. From Fox Searchlight, the film stars Brit Marling, Ellen Page, Alexander Skaarsgard and Patricia Clarkson.

CBS' "The Kings of Summer" likewise opened in four theaters, grossing $58,000 for a location average of $14,500. The film, from first-time director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, received an A- CinemaScore.

Indie drama "Mud," from Roadside Attractions, stayed in the top 10 in it sixth weekend, grossing $1.2 million from 580 theaters for a total $16.9 million.