By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – “Sausage Party” scored at the box office this weekend, debuting to a meaty $33.6 million and providing a much-needed win for struggling Sony Pictures.
In a summer dominated by spinoffs and reboots, the story of a gang of grocery items grappling with the dangers of the kitchen was an antidote to sequelitis and a reminder of the power of original ideas.
“It was the something different that adult audiences have been craving,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “When comedy pushes the envelope, that’s when it works best.”
In the case of “Sausage Party,” which liberally deploys sex jokes and four-letter words, it’s a foul-mouthed affair that more than earns its R rating. The $19 million animated comedy was also backed by Annapurna Pictures, the maker of “The Master” and “American Hustle.” Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Edward Norton, Jonah Hill and Bill Hader are among the vocal cast members. The studio released “Sausage Party” in 3,103 locations, and it now holds the record for the largest August opening ever for an animated film.
“When you have something so fresh, it just stands out to audiences,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution chief. “People were blown away by the movie. It’s outrageous, off-the-wall fun.”
It’s good news for Sony, which has had a bruising period at the multiplexes. Flops such as “Ghostbusters,” “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and “The 5th Wave” have outweighed hits such as “The Shallows” and “The Angry Birds Movie.” It gives Sony momentum as it tries to put its recent bad run behind it and prepares for a fall and winter that will bring the debuts of “The Magnificent Seven” with Denzel Washington and “Passengers” with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.
And then there are victories that feel more like defeats. “Suicide Squad” topped domestic charts with $43.8 million, bringing its stateside total to a hefty $222.9 million. However, that represented a punishing 67 percent slide in the superhero movie’s second week business, nearly equaling “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s” 69 percent sophomore plunge.
It’s a signal that the deplorable reviews are catching up with the film and is unwelcome news for Warner Bros., which is trying to launch an inter-connected series of cinematic adventures based on DC Comics characters, but is still struggling to make movies that people like, as well as attend.
The weekend’s other major new release, Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon,” faltered, mustering roughly $21.6 million from 3,702 locations, despite scoring glowing reviews. The remake of the 1977 family film about a boy who befriends a dragon stars Robert Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard. “Pete’s Dragon” snagged third place on the charts. It cost $65 million to make, making its opening a disappointment. Still, Disney believes that it could ultimately make a profit when its foreign grosses are factored into the picture.
“We’re going to come out of this having made money,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s distribution chief. “People who are coming out of the theater are just loving it and their advocacy is going to help us put together a nice, solid run.”
Coming in fourth, Universal’s “Jason Bourne” added $13.6 million to its haul, pushing its domestic total to $126.8 million. STX Entertainment’s “Bad Moms” rounded out the top five with $11.4 million. The raunchy comedy has been a breakout hit for the new studio, earning $71.5 million to date on a $20 million production budget, and holding well on a week-to-week basis despite the presence of several summer tentpoles.
Paramount debuted “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a comedy about an off-key opera singer and heiress (Meryl Streep) who rents out Carnegie Hall for a public performance, in 1,528 locations. The film did a muted $6.6 million worth of business, and appealed primarily to older audiences, with 97 percent of its opening weekend crowd clocking in over the age of 25.
“Word-of-mouth is definitely going to be our friend,” said Megan Colligan, Paramount’s president of worldwide distribution and marketing. She added that the studio is confident that Streep and possibly her co-star Hugh Grant could end up in the hunt for awards, something which could goose revenues.
“This is very much in line with the Academy’s sensibilities,” said Colligan.
In limited release, Bleecker Street launched the World War II thriller “Anthropoid” in 452 theaters, earning $1.2 million.
CBS Films scored with “Hell or High Water,” a bank heist picture that earned critical raves at the Cannes Film Festival. The thriller picked up an impressive $592,000 from 32 locations for a per screen average of $18,500. The studio partnered with Lionsgate on the distribution. It expects to keep expanding the film, which stars Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges, in the coming weeks.
Total receipts were up nearly 15 percent from the year-ago period – a weekend that saw the release of “Straight Outta Compton” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Analysts said that August has now become a hospitable launching ground for films such as “Sausage Party” that deviate from Hollywood’s current franchise mentality. It has hosted the likes of “Inglourious Basterds,” “Superbad” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” among other off-beat hits.
“August is the time when the studios take off the gloves,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “It’s not a time to play it safe.”