'Hitchhiker' Beams, 'XXX' Reamed
Hollywood tried to start the summer movie season early with two big budget spectacles, to no avail. Instead, the industry came up with a solid weekend in a time frame which is usually used as a dumping ground. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy blasted off as expected, but XXX: State of the Union stalled well below industry forecasts.

Opening in third place behind the second weekend of The Interpreter, XXX: State of the Union imploded with a flabby $12.7 million at 3,480 theaters, by far the weakest debut of any movie at over 3,400 venues. According to distributor Sony's exit polling, 64 percent of the audience was male and 53 percent was under 25.

The action thriller, which cost in the neighborhood of $100 million to make, will have the weakest retention for a major sequel in the genre in decades, likely making less than one quarter of XXX's $142.1 million by the end of its run.

The first XXX was pitched as "a new breed of secret agent" and as a star vehicle for The Fast and Furious-pumped Vin Diesel. Advertisements declaring Diesel as XXX started a year before the movie opened, before the movie began filming. Diesel was an extreme sports version of James Bond, playing with spy toys, snowboarding away from an avalanche and getting the girl in a young male fantasy.

Breaking with the formula, XXX: State of the Union tried to shoehorn a stodgy political plotline befitting a Tom Clancy story into a movie meant for youths. In essence, it went from James Bond to a hip-hop variation on Jack Ryan, forgoing not just the star but the appeal of the first movie in the process.

Diesel replacement Ice Cube barely registered in the marketing campaign—the movie's main poster featured no faces and no names above the title, just a shot of the Capitol under siege—nor was his character lionized as the ultimate audience surrogate like Diesel was. What's more, the sequel banked on the XXX name, but it takes more than one movie to establish a strong franchise.

Ice Cube is not an action star, despite the tough image he cultivated as a hard core rapper. All of his previous lead roles in the genre have disappointed at the box office, including Torque in 2004, All About the Benjamins in 2002, Ghosts of Mars in 2001 and Dangerous Ground in 1997. Cube, though, has proven his mettle in comedy with the Friday and Barbershop franchises as well as his career high Are We There Yet? earlier this year.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, an adaptation of the books by Douglas Adams that fans have been waiting more than 20 years for, thumbed a ride to the top with $21.1 million at 3,133 locations. The opening was in line with such spring sci-fi releases as The Fifth Element, Lost in Space, Mission to Mars and The Time Machine in terms of raw grosses, but sold fewer tickets.

Sci-fi comedy can be a tough sell–The Adventures of Pluto Nash and Evolution rank among the genre's casualties—as the humor, by its nature, often doesn't connect with a mainstream audience. In addition to the brand recognition, distributor Buena Vista countered by selling The Hitchhiker's Guide to a Galaxy as a quirky adventure a la Galaxy Quest or Men in Black (even using the music from the latter in the trailer). The teaser featured Louis Armstrong's famous crooning of "What a Wonderful World," ending with Earth exploding and the tagline, "The most astonishing adventure in the universe begins when the world ends," and the trailer emphasized the earthbound set-up of an ordinary chap learning his best friend is an alien before the Earth is destroyed. The marketing kept the picture's absurdism at a minimum.


• 1/24/05 - 'Are We There Yet?' Rolls in at No. 1

• 8/12/02 - Extreme Weekend for 'XXX'

• Review - 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'

• Review - 'The Interpreter'

Weekend Box Office Chart

NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, May 1 and was updated on Monday, May 2 with actual grosses.