By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "Straight Outta Compton" dominated a trio of underwhelming new releases this weekend, providing a little proof of life in an otherwise moribund box office.
The rap drama topped charts for the second weekend in a row, picking up $26.8 million from 3,025 locations and propelling its domestic haul to $111.5 million. That's a tidy return on the $29 million that Universal and Legendary spent making the film about the early days of N.W.A. "Straight Outta Compton" that hasn't been without controversy. The film has been slammed for glossing over its members treatment of women and the blowback forced Dr. Dre to apologize for his actions. Negative headlines do not appear to be taking a toll on its ticket sales.
Of the new films hitting multiplexes, "Sinister 2" performed the best of an inert bunch. The low-budget horror sequel nabbed $10.6 million from 2,766 locations for a third place finish. That's less than the $14 million to $16 million that Focus Features, the studio behind the film, had been expecting to pull in, and it also trails the first "Sinister's" $18 million opening. The good news is that "Sinister 2" cost less than $10 million to make, limiting the studio's financial exposure.
Fox's "Hitman: Agent 47," a second attempt to transform a popular video game series into a successful film one, hit a speed bump, earning a meager $8.2 million across 3,261 locations. It had been expected to generate $11 million in receipts. Swapping "Justified's" Timothy Olyphant for "Homeland's" Rupert Friend as the titular assassin didn't provide much sizzle, as the latest "Hitman" failed to match the $13.1 million opening of its 2007 predecessor. "Hitman: Agent 47" cost $35 to bring to the screen.
That left Lionsgate's "American Ultra" as the lowest performing of the newbies. The marijuana-encrusted secret agent film went up in smoke, grabbing $5.5 million from 2,778 locations, and securing sixth place. The film centers on a stoner (Jesse Eisenberg) who discovers he is really a slightly crisped version of Jason Bourne. It reunites Eisenberg with Kristen Stewart, his co-star from 2009's "Adventureland."
All three films carried R-ratings and catered to adult crowds, something that may have depressed their results.
"At the end of the day, they cannibalized each other," said Chris Aronson, Fox's distribution chief. "It's an unfortunate confluence of events. All three of those films combined would have made a decent opening for any one of them."
Among holdovers, Paramount's "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" had a second place finish with $11.7 million. The fifth film in the spy series has earned $157.8 million stateside.
"The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," an attempt to revive a television show few remembered, earned $7.4 million in its second weekend, edging out "American Ultra" for fifth place. The action film has earned $26.6 million domestically thus far, signaling it will have trouble recouping its $75 million production budget barring a surge in pop culture nostalgia among foreign crowds.
In the art house world, Sony Pictures Classics scored a solid debut for "Grandma." The comedy about a grandmother helping her granddaughter find the money to pay for an abortion, has earned rave reviews for its star Lily Tomlin, and picked up $120,856 on four screens, for per screen average of $30,214.
The Orchard fielded Joe Swanberg's off-beat mystery "Digging for Fire" on-demand and on three screens where it earned an estimated $24,544.
Broad Green, the newly created distribution company from brothers Gabriel Hammond and Daniel Hammond, launched its first in-house production with "Learning to Drive." The comedy is pitched at older crowds and stars Sir Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson. It grossed $67,417 from four locations for a per-screen average of $16,854.
The company was particularly pleased that the film picked up steam as the weekend rolled on, indicating that word-of-mouth is strong. It will expand to four additional markets next weekend.
"We always saw the first three weeks as basically a series of previews," said Travis Reid, Broad Green's president of distribution. "We knew the movie needed to get established, because it's a film that audiences really, really respond to."
And "Trainwreck" checked an important milestone off its list, as its $2.5 million weekend gross pushed the comedy past the $100 million mark after six weeks in theaters.
Overall ticket sales were down roughly 7 percent from the year-ago period when "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" were still drawing healthy crowds.