On more positive notes, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opened to a solid $8.5 million, while American Sniper passed The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 to become the highest-grossing movie from 2014.
Playing at 3,201 locations, Chappie opened in first place with $13.3 million. In comparison, director Neill Blomkamp's previous movies—District 9 and Elysium—opened to $37.4 million and $29.8 million. Chappie also opened noticeably lower than last month's Jupiter Ascending ($18.4 million).
It's unfair to suggest that Chappie should have been opening on par with Elysium, which had an A-list star (Matt Damon) in its lead role and was supported by a bigger, more exciting marketing effort. At the same time, $13.3 million is a pretty poor start for a sci-fi flick from a major studio. So what went wrong?
Chappie's marketing campaign leaned heavily on the District 9 connection, with recent advertisements going so far as to include footage from that 2009 hit. Unfortunately, the goodwill from that movie was likely used up by Elysium, which has a so-so reputation today. Another potential issue was the change in strategy that occurred a few months ago: initially positioning it as an odd, original movie about artificial intelligence, marketing eventually pivoted toward portraying it as a more generic robot action movie (basically Robocop in South Africa).
Finally, the movie's poor reviews (30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) surely turned off some potential moviegoers. This also seemed to happen with Jupiter Ascending last month; it's clearly important for original sci-fi movies to maintain a perception of quality heading in to opening weekend.
Chappie received a "B" CinemaScore, which suggests moviegoers liked it only a bit more than critics did. Even if it holds up decently—definitely not a guarantee at this point—it will still struggle to make it past $35 million.
One interesting note: an R-rated movie has now taken the top spot at the domestic box office for seven of the past eight weekends. That's three for American Sniper, two for Fifty Shades of Grey, one for Focus (2015) and one for Chappie.
Speaking of Focus: after leading the box office last weekend, the Will Smith/Margot Robbie con artist flick dropped to second place with $10 million. It was off 46 percent, which is a decent hold for a movie with mixed word-of-mouth. To date, Focus has earned $34.6 million, and remains on track to close in the $55 to $60 million range.
Playing at 1,573 locations, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opened in third place with $8.5 million. In comparison, the first Best Exotic Marigold Hotel earned $6.4 million in its nationwide expansion back in 2012. Of course, that's not apples-to-apples: the first Marigold had a platform release, and never played at this many locations on a single weekend.
Still, this is a very solid start for the sequel. With a "B+" CinemaScore, and an audience that likely skews older (demos weren't available), the movie should wind up earning at least $30 million total.
Kingsman: The Secret Service added $8.3 million, which is off 30 percent from last weekend (its best hold yet). To date, the comic book adaptation has earned $98 million, and is now on track to close with at least $115 million.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water remained in the Top 5 for the fifth weekend in a row, easing 38 percent to $6.7 million. That brings the movie's total to an impressive $148.7 million.
In sixth place, Fifty Shades of Grey fell 48 percent to $5.5 million. Through 24 days in theaters, the movie has earned $156.4 million.
The Lazarus Effect dropped 50 percent to $5.1 million. That's a strong hold for a horror movie; in comparison, last year's Oculus was off 57 percent in its second outing. To date, The Lazarus Effect has earned $17.4 million.
In 10th place, Unfinished Business flopped with $4.77 million. That's well below Vince Vaughn's last movie, 2013's Delivery Man, which opened to a poor $7.9 million. In fact, this is the worst debut ever for a Vince Vaughn movie playing at over 1,000 locations.
The Vaughn brand hit its peak in 2005, when Wedding Crashers earned $209.3 million. Since then, he's starred in nine movies that opened at over 2,500 theaters. Some of those were hits, and some weren't. But one thing has remained consistent—none of them were particularly good. Not a single one of those titles was "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes—the high was 39 percent—and the average rating was an abysmal 24 percent. While the Vaughn brand stayed strong for a time, but eventually that consistently low quality caught up with him.
Of course, Vaughn wasn't the only issue with Unfinished Business: the movie never looked particularly appealing, with previews straining to extract laughs from some not-so-great jokes. It also received horrible reviews heading in to the weekend (13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), which certainly didn't help the cause.
The movie's audience was 55 percent male and 54 percent over the age of 25. Word-of-mouth is mixed ("B-" CinemaScore), and the movie will likely lose most of its theaters heading in to its third weekend; a final total just over $10 million seems likely.
On Sunday, American Sniper is expected to pass The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 to become the highest-grossing movie from 2014. While Sniper didn't open nationwide until 2015, it is technically counted as a 2014 release due to its four-theater debut on Christmas Day. The movie now ranks 29th all-time with $337.1 million, and should ultimately wrap up its run with around $350 million.
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• 'Chappie' to Lead Quiet First Weekend of March
• 'Focus' Pulls Off Minor Heist at the Box Office
This Timeframe in Past Years:
• 2014 - '300' Sequel Conquers Box Office
• 2013 - 'Jack' Not Very 'Giant'
• 2012 - Little 'Lorax' Is Box Office Giant
• 2011 - 'Rango' Moseys Into Top Spot
• 2010 - Moviegoers Mad About 'Alice'
• 2009 - 'Watchmen' Rages in the Top Spot
• 2008 - '10,000 B.C.' Dominates Weak Period
• 2007 - 'Wild Hogs' Easily Ride to the Top
• 2006 - '16 Blocks' Gets Clocked by 'Madea'
• 2005 - 'Pacifier' Packs Them In
• Weekend Box Office Results
• 2015 Domestic Box Office