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LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – “Bullet Train,” a John Wick-ian romp with Brad Pitt in the aisle seat, arrived in theaters with a $30.1 million opening weekend. That’s enough to top the domestic box office chart, but it’s only a so-so result given “Bullet Train’s” $90 million price tag and Pitt’s star power. The Sony (NYSE:SONY) Pictures release will need to maintain its momentum in the coming weeks as it tries to break even or turn a profit.
“Bullet Train” is trying to prove that an action flick that isn’t based on a comic book or a toy-line can defy the odds and resonate with audiences. But part of the issue for the film is that critics weren’t on board. “Bullet Train” landed a mediocre 41% approval rating on review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, with many reviewers faulting the movie for being overly derivative of the work of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino. Variety chief film critic Peter Debruge was mixed on “Bullet Train,” writing that “neither the characters nor the film they inhabit are particularly deep.”
“Bullet Train” was directed by David Leitch, who once served as a stunt double for Pitt before moving on to oversee the likes of “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2.” It centers on a hapless hitman whose mission to nab a suitcase full of cash on high-speed train in Japan, devolves into double crosses and brutal fights with an army of competing killers, thieves and social deviants.
Universal and Amblin’s “Easter Sunday,” the weekend’s other major release, stumbled in its opening frame, earning a meagre $5.3 million for an eighth place finish on domestic charts. “Easter Sunday” stars stand-up comic Jo Koy as an actor who attends his dysfunctional Filipino American family’s Easter Sunday celebration. The good news for Universal and Amblin is “Easter Sunday” was a modest bet, carrying a price tag of $17 million.
“DC League of Super-Pets,” an animated offering from Warner Bros., nabbed second place with $11.2 million. After two weeks, “Super-Pets” boasts a domestic gross of $45.1 million, a disappointing result given its $90 million production budget. Under its new corporate owner, Warner Bros. Discovery (NASDAQ:WBD) is looking to shake up its cinematic universe of DC Comics characters, a change of course that resulted in the company’s controversial decision this week to scrap “Batgirl” after the movie had been completed. Instead of debuting on HBO Max as originally planned or being retro-fitted for a theatrical run, the film will now become a tax write-down.
Universal’s “Nope” came in third with $8.5 million. That brings the twisty UFO thriller from Jordan Peele to $97.9 million at the domestic box office, an impressive result for a movie that, like “Bullet Train,” wasn’t derived from some preexisting piece of IP. Disney and Marvel’s “Thor: Love and Thunder” and Universal and Illumination’s “Minions: Rise of Gru” rounded out the top five, earning $7.6 million and $7.1 million, respectively. That brings the Thor sequel’s stateside total to $316.1 million, while the “Despicable Me” spinoff has now earned $334.6 million domestically.
In limited release, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” grossed $226,526 on 6 screens in New York and Los Angeles, which came out to a $37,754 per-screen average. The A24 horror film follows a group of rich 20-somethings at a hurricane party at a remote family mansion that becomes the locus of a lot of blood-letting. The ensemble cast features former “SNL” star Pete Davidson, “The Hate U Give’s” Amandla Stenberg and “Borat 2” breakout Maria Bakalova.
On the milestone front, Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick” supplanted “Titanic” as the seventh-biggest film ever at the domestic box office, earning $662 million in ticket sales. The sequel, now in its eleventh week of release, added $7 million to its total.
The domestic box office has experienced an impressive rebound in recent months; it’s a resurgence fueled by hits such as “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World: Dominion.” The bad news for theaters is that “Bullet Train” is the last big-budget, major studio film this summer and there’s about the be a veritable desert when it comes to populist fare. Studio executives and theater owners privately say that there won’t be another blockbuster until “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” opens on Nov. 11. That’s a long time to wait, particularly for an exhibition industry that’s still trying to shake off the lingering impact of COVID closures and diminished attendance.