The 3D earthquake epic "San Andreas" rumbled to a $53.2 million debut at the box office this weekend, knocking Disney's "Tomorrowland" out of the top spot and making a strong case for Dwayne "The Rock' Johnson as today's preeminent action star.
The big opening by Warner Bros.' "San Andreas" was more than $10 million over analysts' projections and the biggest-ever for The Rock in a lead role. It blew away the competition, including the weekend's only other wide opener, the romantic comedy "Aloha" starring Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, which debuted to $10 million for Sony.
"Pitch Perfect 2" was a distant second with $14.8 million, and the musical comedy lifted its global box office haul to $228 million for Universal — not bad for a movie that cost $29 million. Last weekend's No. 1 movie "Tomorrowland" followed with $13.8 million but the pricey Brad Bird-directed sci-fi saga starring George Clooney is at $63 million domestically after two weeks.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" was just behind that with $13.4 million, and the R-rated road rage romp starring Tom Hardy is up to $115 million in two weeks for Warner Bros. Disney's blockbuster Marvel superhero seuel "Avengers: The Age of Ultron" lifted its domestic total past $425 million and took fifth place with $11 million.
Writer-director Cameron Crowe's "Aloha" came in with $10 million, in line with modest expectations for the film from the director of "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous," but less than its starry cast that included Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Danny McBride and Jay Baruchel might suggest.
Fox's "Poltergeist" was seventh with $7.8 million in its second week. That's a steep 66 percent tumble from its debut, but that's not unusual a horror movie, even sequels that come 33 years after the original like this one. Its domestic haul is $34 million.
Is there a bigger action star than the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Johnson, a former pro wrestling star? Literally, probably not, and it may be true figuratively, too.
"Before this weekend he was an undisputed giant at the box office," said Rentrak media analyst Paul Dergarabedian, "and, as self-proclaimed 'franchise Viagra,' he has proven to be peerless in adding his considerable box office muscle to such franchises as 'G.I. Joe,' 'Fast and Furious,' 'The Mummy' and 'Journey to the Center of the Earth.'
"Now he proves he can open a movie to stellar results based on his name alone and that will be money in the bank for the star himself and the studios that will rush to work with him going forward," he added.
There's no denying The Rock is on as roll. He was part of the cars-and-criminals crew that drove Universal's "Furious 7" to a huge $1.4 billion earlier this year, making it the third-highest grossing movie ever globally. And the impressive "San Andreas" opening comes just weeks before his HBO TV series "Ballers" debuts.
He did two things with "San Andreas" that the best action stars must do to break out at the box office: overcome so-so reviews and attract a broad swath of moviegoers. The audience for the earthquake saga was more female than male, albeit just barely at 51 percent. And it gave the movie an "A-" CinemaScore, despite middling reviews from critics that have it at 49 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes.
"No doubt about it, he's the man," Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., told TheWrap. The fact that Johnson is shooting his next film, "Central Intelligence," for the studio might have something to do with that.
"He's real deal and he works so hard," he said. "He took two weeks off shooting 'Central Intelligence' to promote 'San Andreas,' then left the premiere at 11 p.m. to fly to China and now's back and will be on the set Monday." He wouldn't way if a sequel was in the works. Fellman would't say if sequel is planned.
The special effects-laden "San Andreas" didn't come cheaply, with a production budget of $110 million. But it benefited greatly from the upcharges tied to giant screen and 3D showings. A whopping 44 percent of its weekend haul came from 3D, of which RealD accounted for $19.1 million.
The third teaming of Johnson and producer Beau Flynn was charmed indeed, and the debut of the Brad Peyton-directed "San Andreas" was nearly as big as that of their "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" ($27 million) — also directed by Peyton — and last summer's "Hercules"($29 million) combined.
Any studio concerns that quake jitters might keep crowds away were allayed, and in fact 19 of the top 20 locations for "San Andreas" were on the West Coast.
"I guess they wanted to see if Burbank (where Warner Bros. is based) gets washed into the sea," Fellman said.