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'Elysium' launches to No. 1; 'We're the Millers' is surprise runner-up

Matt Damon rose above the competition at the box office this weekend, where his sci-fi film "Elysium" was No. 1 as four new films hit theaters.

The pricey movie about a man desperate to get to a plush man-made space station hovering above Earth opened with a decent $30.5 million, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures.

The weekend's runner-up was expected to be the 3-D animated family film "Planes," but second place instead went to "We're the Millers." The inexpensive R-rated comedy starring Jason Sudeikis took in a robust $26.6 million between Friday and Sunday. "Planes" flew off with $22.5 million -- still a good start for a movie with a $50 million budget -- far lower than the typical animated release costs to make.

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The biggest disappointment of the weekend was "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," which opened with a tepid three-day total of $14.5 million. Three years ago, the original "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief" launched with more than two times that much.

Distributed and marketed by Sony, "Elysium" was financed by Media Rights Capital for $115 million, meaning the movie will need to generate good word-of-mouth if it is to become a financial success. The movie has earned positive reviews from critics, and those moviegoers who saw it this weekend assigned the film an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore. The picture attracted more men than women, as 61% of the crowd was male; roughly 52% of the audience was under the age of 30.

"Elysium" is off to a slower start than "District 9," the 2009 sci-fi film that put director Neill Blomkamp on the map. The South African native's first film -- made for just $30 million -- opened with $37.4 million and went on to become a sleeper hit, collecting $210.8 million worldwide. It's unclear if "Elysium," which Blomkamp wrote and directed, will hit that same benchmark.

This weekend, “Elysium” debuted in 17 foreign markets and collected $10.9 million. The biggest result came from Russia, where the film grossed $6.8 million -- 46% more than the opening for “District 9” in the country. The picture will launch next weekend in 18 additional locations, including Australia and France.

As for "We're the Millers," the film is on its way to becoming a hit. The movie was financed for just $37 million by Warner Bros. and its New Line Cinema label.

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Disliked by critics, the movie is about a drug dealer (Sudeikis) who hires a stripper (Aniston) and two teenagers to play his family as they head to Mexico on a road trip to smuggle weed from the country. Still, fans embraced the comedy, giving it an average grade of A-.

“Reviews aren’t really the driving force when it comes to comedies these days. Look at the success of ‘Grown Ups 2’ and our movie and then draw your own conclusions,” Warner Bros.’ president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said, referring to Sony’s recent hit that notched just a 7% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The picture attracted both genders in nearly equal measure but appealed to a slightly older crowd, as 61% of the audience was over the age of 25.

The film's strong start bodes well for Sudeikis, who is trying his hand at movie stardom after his 10-year stint on "Saturday Night Live" concluded in May. The star's first major role came opposite Owen Wilson in 2011's "Hall Pass," a box office disappointment with just $45 million in domestic ticket sales. Although it was an ensemble comedy, he had a sizable part later that year in "Horrible Bosses," which was a global hit with more than $200 million in worldwide sales.

"Planes," meanwhile, was made for just $50 million because it was originally meant to go straight to video. Though it was conceived as a spinoff of the Pixar hit franchise "Cars," "Planes" was created by DisneyToon, whose movies typically do not reach the multiplex. After seeing early footage for "Planes," Disney executives decided the movie warranted a theatrical release and even greenlit a sequel, set to hit cinemas next summer.

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Though it was the worst-reviewed new movie out this weekend, "Planes" was still given an A- CinemaScore by moviegoers. As expected, families comprised 85% of the movie's business. The cartoon follows the story of a cropduster (voiced by Dane Cook) with dreams of becoming a high-flying racer.

"Planes" is the latest in a glut of animated films to hit theaters this summer, where "Despicable Me 2" has proven to be the big winner with a $745.8 million global tally. While its opening weekend result is far from jaw-dropping, "Planes" still fared better than "Turbo" and "The Smurfs 2" -- each of which cost more than $100 million to produce.  

The domestic prospects for "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" don't look promising. While the original racked up $88.8 million in the U.S. and Canada, it ultimately did 60% of its business abroad. (Early international results for the sequel were not yet available Sunday morning.) Stateside, moviegoers seemed to like the sequel as much as the original: Both received average grades of B+.

Financed by Fox and the Seelig Group for $90 million, "Percy" is based on a popular young adult novel by Rick Riordan. The movie stars 21-year-old Logan Lerman as its hero, the young son of a Greek god who heads on a mission to protect his home camp. 

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Follow @AmyKinLA

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

 

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