"San Andreas" proved to be no disaster at the box office over the weekend, according to estimates for the U.S. and Canada, debuting with a higher-than-expected $53.2 million.
Fellow newcomer "Aloha" didn't fare as well. Director Cameron Crowe's romantic comedy fell in line with modest tracking expectations, debuting at No. 6 with an estimated $10 million.
Going into the weekend, “San Andreas” was tracking to make about $40 million. The earthquake movie, co-produced by
Johnson, who has 8.7 million followers on Twitter, was a large draw for moviegoers, who also flocked to see him recently in "Furious 7." Positive word-of-mouth, reflected in a strong grade of A-minus from audience polling firm CinemaScore, also helped "San Andreas." An estimated 51% of moviegoers were female, and 70% were older than 25.
"Whenever you exceed expectations in this world, you have to feel good about it," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution. "This movie is going to have some strong legs."
Disaster movies have varying success rates at the box office. The 2004 film "The Day After Tomorrow" starring Jake Gyllenhaal opened with $68.7 million and went on to pull in $186.7 million in the U.S. and Canada. More recently, however, the tornado thriller "Into the Storm" debuted with $17.3 million last August and logged a total domestic haul of a mere $47.6 million.
"San Andreas" marks Johnson's highest grossing opening as a solo lead. Last week, hundreds of people lined up on Hollywood Boulevard to see the star at the premiere, where he rolled up in a fire truck.
"I think this is certainly Dwayne's time," Fellman said. "He's a larger than life movie star, without question."
Although “Aloha” provided counterprogramming to the disaster flick, the rom-com didn’t draw nearly as many moviegoers. Released by Sony Pictures, the film follows a defense contractor (Bradley Cooper) after he falls in love with an Air Force pilot (Emma Stone). The Hawaii-set film also stars John Krasinski,
Despite the star-studded cast, most critics have not been kind. Indiewire called it "shockingly bad," and Variety said it was "unbalanced, unwieldy, and at times nearly unintelligible." (The Times review found some charms in Crowe's film and blamed the "bummer buzz" on the fact that "Aloha" is "a messy, imperfect movie about messy, imperfect people.")
Sony partnered with 20th Century Fox, New Regency, LStar Capital and RatPac Entertainment for the film, which cost $37 million to make.
Bracing for a soft opening weekend, Sony put the first eight minutes of the film on YouTube to help market it. Moviegoers who did turn out gave "Aloha" a B-minus on CinemaScore. It played particularly well among younger female audiences. An estimated 64% of audiences were female; 57% was older than 30.
"Ultimately the most important review is that of the movie-going audience," said Rory Bruer, Sony's head of domestic distribution, who added that word-of-mouth could help the film in the weeks to come.
Universal Pictures' "Pitch Perfect 2" held the No. 2 spot at the domestic box office, adding $14.8 million in its third weekend. That raises the comedy's domestic haul to $147.5 million and its worldwide total to an estimated $228.2 million.
The sequel, which stars Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and Brittany Snow as members of a college a cappella group, cost just $29 million to make.
Disney's "Tomorrowland" saw ticket sales drop 58% from the previous weekend but still finished third. The futuristic film added $13.8 million to its total domestic haul, now about $63.2 million.
Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" rounded out the top five with $10.9 million. The film has made $427.1 million domestically since its release May 1.
Year-to-date, the box office is up 3.4%. However, a strong debut for "San Andreas" wasn't enough to surpass the robust post-Memorial Day weekend $69.4-million opening of Disney's "Maleficent" last year. The overall weekend was down about 19.5% from the same time last year.