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'The Wolverine' is No. 1, but comes in far below expectations

MoviesEntertainmentThe Wolverine (movie)Hugh JackmanServices and ShoppingAubrey PlazaX-Men Origins: Wolverine

Though "The Wolverine" slashed away box office rivals this weekend, the superhero's biggest foe turned out to be himself.

The 3-D superhero sequel starring Hugh Jackman debuted with $55 million, according to an estimate from distributor 20th Century Fox -- $30 million less than the original "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" started off with in 2009. Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience surveys suggested the new "Wolverine" had the potential to gross as much as $80 million. Even Fox projected its movie would debut with around $60 million.

Instead, the film got off to a far slower start than expected, coming in well behind the $85 million debut of "Origins," which went on to gross $373 million worldwide. In fact, "The Wolverine" had the lowest opening of any movie in the "X-Men" universe since the 2000 original, which has since spawned four sequels based on the Marvel Comic. Another, "X-Men: Days of Future Past," is planned for release next summer, and Jackman's character plays a prominent role in it.

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If Fox's executives were disappointed by the weekend result for "The Wolverine," they were doing a good job of hiding it Sunday morning.

“This is a great result and we couldn’t be happier,” said Chris Aronson, the studio’s president of domestic distribution. As to why the sequel is trailing the original, he said only that “it was a different time” when the first “Wolverine” came out. Furthermore, he added, industry tracking “has been sketchy all summer.”

It's possible, however, that "The Wolverine" was hurt by the bad impression the 2009 entry left with moviegoers. While its predecessor was not well-liked by critics or fans, the sequel earned strong reviews. Those who saw the film this weekend assigned it an average grade of A-, according to market research firm CinemaScore. About 58% of the weekend crowd was male, while the same percent of the audience was age 25 or over.

Though "The Wolverine" failed to amaze at the box office this weekend, its launch is hardly disastrous for a $120-million production. The movie will likely do solid business overseas, where the film opened with $86.1 million -- the biggest international launch for any "X-Men" film.

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Meanwhile, the weekend's runner-up was the low-budget horror flick "The Conjuring." The film, a surprise No. 1 upon its debut, saw its ticket sales drop just 47% to $22.1 million during its second weekend in release. The $20-million production has now collected $83.9 million and could soon become the top-grossing horror film of the year.

In more limited release, CBS Films opened its R-rated comedy "The To Do List" to so-so results. Playing in roughly 600 theaters, the movie grossed $1.5 million -- the same amount as it cost to produce the film starring Aubrey Plaza as a virgin eager to have her first sexual experience. While that's a respectable start for a movie with such a low budget, the picture will have to generate strong word-of-mouth in the coming weeks if it is to become more of a commercial hit. Those who saw the movie this weekend -- a 60% female audience -- did appear to like it, giving the film an average grade of A.

ALSO:

Aubrey Plaza has rom-com on her 'To Do List'

Hugh Jackman gets to the heart of ‘The Wolverine’

'The Wolverine' to break big-budget box office dry spell

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amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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MoviesEntertainmentThe Wolverine (movie)Hugh JackmanServices and ShoppingAubrey PlazaX-Men Origins: Wolverine
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