By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Costumed avengers, a billionaire with a kinky side, and a brutally efficient hit man proved to be just the tonic for an ailing domestic box office.
"The Lego Batman Movie" bested "Fifty Shades Darker" at the multiplexes over the weekend, earning a robust $55.6 million to capture first place. "Fifty Shades Darker," the sequel to 2015's "Fifty Shades of Grey," couldn't quite match its predecessor's $85.2 million launch. It had to settle for a still sizable $46.8 million debut and second place on the box office chart.
Not to be outdone, Lionsgate's "John Wick: Chapter 2," a followup to 2015's "John Wick," picked up a smashing $30 million. That's more than double what the first film racked up during its debut. The three new releases succeeded by appealing to different demographics and age groups -- kids went to the new Lego movie, women were titillated by Christian Grey's red room, and men looked on as Keanu Reeve's assassin made quick work of his foes. Heading into the weekend, stateside ticket sales were lagging behind last year's numbers, down nearly 3% from 2016. Studio executives and exhibition industry insiders hope that this weekend will help reinvigorate interest in moviegoing, a comeback that will be aided by the upcoming release of "Logan," a new Wolverine movie, and a live-action version of "Beauty and the Beast."
Warner Bros. backed "The Lego Batman Movie" and sees the animated films built around the line of Danish toys as being key to its corporate future. The studio is leaning heavily on a slate of animated Lego films, DC Comics adventures, and "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," a Harry Potter spinoff, to help it compete with Disney. That studio has popularized the concept of branded movies, with its arsenal of Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar films. "The Lego Batman Movie" cost $80 million to make, which is downright affordable at a time when many animated films carry budgets that are more than $200 million. It pits Batman against the Joker, and boasts a voice cast that includes Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, and Ralph Fiennes.
"The Lego Batman Movie" now as the biggest opening of any 2017 release, but it did fall short of projections. Some analysts had predicted the family film would make more than $60 million.
"Fifty Shades Darker" is a Universal release. The studio didn't give a budget for the film (as is its wont these days), but knowledgeable estimates put its cost in the range of $55 million. The sequel may have lost some of the audience who saw the first film to see just how much riding crop would make its way to screens, but there are other reasons it couldn't equal the reception of "Fifty Shades of Grey." That movie benefited from being released over the President's Day holiday, a period that also coincided with Valentine's Day, making it the date night movie dujour.
Universal's "Split" surrendered the first place it had occupied for three consecutive weekends to the barrage of newcomers. The hit thriller took in $9.3 million to capture fourth place on the chart, while pushing its domestic haul to $112.3 million.
Fox's "Hidden Figures" rounded out the top five, earning $8 million. The Oscar-nominated drama about African-American NASA employees fighting racial prejudice in the early days of the space program has made $131.4 million stateside.
In milestone news, Universal and Illumination's "Sing" topped $500 million globally. The animated film about a talent competition has launched a new animated franchise for the studios.