Will Smith's first romantic comedy went off without a hitch at the box office.
Hitch, starring Smith as a date doctor with love issues of his own, courted $43.1 million at 3,575 venues over the weekend, beating industry tracking and distributor Sony's expectations that it would do around $35 million. It stands as the biggest romantic comedy opening ever, topping the $39.9 million Sony's own 50 First Dates posted last February. For further perspective, it's nearly as much as Oscar front runner Million Dollar Baby has made in its entire run thus far, and Hitch still has the busy Valentine's Day holiday on Monday that effectively gives it a four-day weekend.
According to studio exit polling, 92 percent of moviegoers rated Hitch either "excellent" or "very good." The picture played across all demographics, with females making up 55 percent of the audience and an even split between those over and under the age of 25.
Hitch propelled Smith's career opening weekend average in a starring role to $34.2 million—the highest of any actor. The actor has achieved such heights mostly through expensive event pictures like Men in Black and I, Robot, but Hitch, where he is the primary selling point, is the truest test of his star power.
The $70 million production also marks Smith's first attempt to headline a straight comedy, one based on human interaction and not involving aliens or robots or action buddies, like Martin Lawrence. The genre is a natural fit for Smith who has cultivated a wise-cracking, cocky persona since his rapper days, when he went by the Fresh Prince moniker. With Hitch, Smith served as a full-fledged producer for the first time on a movie he appeared in, through his Sony-based Overbook Entertainment banner.
The marketing campaign sent a clear, strong message that Hitch was a star vehicle and romantic comedy for everyone. The poster simply featured Smith leaning on the title, wearing a suit with an untucked, unbuttoned shirt, and the tagline "The Cure of the Common Man." Though movies about love are often (mistakenly) deemed the domain of women, guys identified with the plight of wooing that Hitch's trailer and ads comically emphasized. There was also plenty of interest for those not into romance—the marketing highlighted Smith's allergic reaction and his interactions with the overzealous Kevin James (TV's King of Queens) more than it did love interest Eva Mendes.
A spokesman for Sony had high praise for Smith. "Having the romantic comedy and the buddy comedy elements—along with Will Smith's infectious charm—gave us a one-two punch that our marketing took full advantage of," Sony's senior vice president of media relations Steve Elzer told Box Office Mojo. "Will is just a man we all bow to."
A staple of Smith's most successful movies is how he reacts to absurd or menacing situations through one-liners and facial movements—it's what has made people relate to him ever since his star-making turn in the over-the-top Independence Day in 1996. Instead of reacting to aliens or robots in Hitch, he reacts to a goofy, out-of-shape white guy who can't dance.
Counting Hitch, Sony claimed the top three movies in the country over the weekend—the first time since Sept. 15-17, 1989 that any studio has managed such a feat. At No. 2, Boogeyman maintained a better grip on its grosses than expected, dropping 46 percent to $10.2 million for $32.8 million in 10 days. In third place, Ice Cube's family comedy hit Are We There Yet? eased 22 percent to $8.2 million for $61.3 million in 24 days.
Pooh's Heffalump Movie, a traditionally animated feature made by Disney's home video department, gathered $5.8 million at 2,529 theaters. The start was on par with the last Winnie the Pooh spin-off Piglet's Big Movie's $6.1 million in 2003 but well below The Tigger Movie's $9.4 million in 2000.
In limited release, Magnolia bowed martial arts import Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior at 387 theaters and grabbed $1.3 million for a modest $3,449 per site. Miramax's Bollywood-steeped romantic comedy Bride and Prejudice garnered $385,848 at 32 venues, averaging a solid $12,057.
Universal unleashed the NC-17-rated Inside Deep Throat at 12 locations, whipping up $88,709 for an un-arousing $7,392 per site. The $2 million documentary about the 1972 pornographic picture Deep Throat played mostly to patrons over 30 years old (63 percent), men (60 percent) and whites (79 percent), according to studio exit polling, and will widen to 27 theaters next weekend.
• Studio Trifectas: How many times have the Top Three at the weekend box office been from the same studio?
• REVIEW: 'Hitch'
• Top Romantic Comedy Opening Weekends
• Weekend Box Office Chart
NOTE: This story was updated on Feb. 14 with actual grosses.