‘Aladdin’ soars, but ‘Booksmart’ barely passes at box office

LOS ANGELES — Moviegoers voted with their dollars and chose the familiar over the new this Memorial Day weekend. The Walt Disney Co.’s live-action remake of Aladdin crushed the competition at the box office, which included two new original R-rated films that opened as counterprogramming to the family pic: The critically acclaimed teen comedy Booksmart and the horror movie Brightburn.

But the strategy didn’t quite work. “Aladdin” did better than expected, grossing an estimated $86.1 million to take the top spot at the North American box office, according to studio estimates on Sunday. It’ll likely pass $100 million by Monday. The others didn’t even break $10 million.

Aladdin, a musical-adventure directed by Guy Ritchie, stars Will Smith, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott and draws heavily on the music and story of the 1992 animated film (the top earner of that year) that it’s based on.

“We’re delighted,” said Cathleen Taff, Disney’s president of theatrical distribution. “Between the fun action-adventure and spectacular music combined with the cast, which is so charming and has such great chemistry together, we’ve hit something that fans are embracing and walking out of wanting to share with others.”

Audiences, who were 54 per cent women and 51 per cent families, gave the remake an A CinemaScore, which is much more promising for its continued success than the tepid critical reviews. The studio also got another metric with the newly launched verified Rotten Tomatoes audience rating. Over 7,000 people rated the film to give it a 93%.

“I’m so pleased that Rotten Tomatoes launched this, it means people bought the ticket. You can trust that people giving you the score actually sat through the movie,” Taff said. “We couldn’t ask for a better barometer of fan reception.”

With an international gross of $121 million, Aladdin has already earned over $207 million globally. It cost a reported $183 million to produce.

The top few spots at the holiday box office were populated by known brands and sequels. John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, now in its second weekend, placed second with $24.4 million. Avengers: Endgame took third with $16.8 million, and Pokémon Detective Pikachu landed in fourth with $13.3 million.

Original films are struggling to attract significant audiences at the moment. Sony’s modestly budgeted horror movie Brightburn opened in fifth with $7.5 million. The James Gunn-produced film starring Elizabeth Banks puts a sinister spin on the Superman myth and has received mediocre reviews from critics.

A surprise for many, however, was Booksmart, an Annapurna film distributed by United Artists Releasing, which debuted in sixth with only $6.5 million, despite excellent reviews and steady buzz from its SXSW film festival debut. Although in line with studio expectations going into the weekend, some had thought that this would be a summer breakout hit.

Olivia Wilde directed the film that stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as two teenage overachievers and rule-followers who decide to go to a party on their last night of high school. Many compared it to “Superbad,” which opened in August 2007 to $33 million.

But despite all the hype, including a lot of celebrity endorsements on social media from the likes of Natalie Portman and Ryan Reynolds, audiences just didn’t turn out for Booksmart in noteworthy numbers.

Wilde saw the writing on the wall Saturday and tried to change the course with a Twitter plea.

“Anyone out there saving @Booksmart for another day, consider making that day TODAY,” Wilde wrote. “We are getting creamed by the big dogs out there and need your support. Don’t give studios an excuse not to green-light movies made by and about women.”

Those who did make it to Booksmart were mostly women (61 and under the age of 35 (74%). And the target 17-34 age group gave a more favourable exit score (an A) than audiences overall, who gave it a B+.

“People are in a popcorn mood,” Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian said. “Films trying to be more introspective and fresh are having a tougher time getting their head above water.”

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