The No. 1 film was still "The Expendables 2," which claimed the top spot for the second consecutive weekend. The movie starring aging action heroes saw its ticket sales fall 53% to $13.5 million, raising its overall total to $52.3 million, according to an estimate from distributor Lionsgate. The original "Expendables" had collected $65.4 million during the same time period in 2010.
But the real story at the box office this weekend was "2016: Obama's America," a documentary from conservative author Dinesh D'Souza that far exceeded industry expectations. The movie grossed $6.2 million — just a tad less than the bike-riding action flick "Premium Rush," which played in about 1,100 more theaters than "Obama's America" and grossed $6.3 million. The weekend's other new releases trailed behind. "Hit & Run," Dax Shepard's road trip comedy, collected a lackluster $4.7 million, while the horror film "The Apparition" flopped with $3 million.
Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience surveys suggested "Obama's America" would gross about $4 million -- but by mid-day Friday, ticket sales were so brisk that estimates were lifted to $6 million. The movie, which is being released by the independent distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures, debuted seven weeks ago in Houston and had raked in $2.4 million as it expanded from 169 theaters to 1,091 locations this weekend.
In the past weeks, the film has quietly been promoted on talk radio, Fox News and cable networks like the Discovery Channel, according to its producer John Sullivan. As D'Souza narrates in a trailer for the film, the documentary argues Obama's dream is that "the sins of colonialism be set right and America be downsized."
"Premium Rush" received largely favorable critical reviews, and those who saw it this weekend assigned it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore. However, word of mouth will need to be strong in the coming weeks to make the film a hit, especially considering Sony Pictures spent $35 million to produce the film.
The film, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a New York City bicycle messenger on the run from a corrupt cop, appealed to a surprisingly older contingent of moviegoers — 67% of the crowd was over the age of 25. "Premium Rush" marks Gordon-Levitt's first major attempt to carry a studio film after starring in a handful of well-received independent films. The the 31-year-old should hope to see better box office sales on the upcoming Rian Johnson-directed time travel film "Looper."
"Hit & Run" opened Wednesday in an attempt to spread positive buzz about the film, but those who saw the movie during its first days in theaters gave it only a C+ CinemaScore. In its first five days of release, the picture has sold $5.9 million worth of tickets -- a disappointing sum even though Open Road Pictures acquired the $1.3 million production. The distributor, owned by theater chains AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment, spent at least $20 million to market the film. Open Road will take a loss on its fifth release, which stars Shepard and his fiancee Kristen Bell as a couple trying to escape to Los Angeles.
"The Apparition," which stars "Twilight" supporting player Ashley Greene, was financed by producer Joel Silver's Dark Castle Entertainment for $17 million. But Warner Bros. released the film only in roughly 800 theaters and may have been reluctant to promote the movie heavily because Silver's 25-year-long deal with the studio is coming to a close in late 2012.
As Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.' executive vice president of domestic distribution put it: “It’s those last days of summer where everyone takes what’s been hanging around in their closet out and tries to make it as profitable as they possibly can.”
[Updated, 11:32 a.m. Aug. 26: In limited release, a film from comedian Mike Birbiglia and "This American Life" host Ira Glass did impressively well. Playing only in New York City's IFC Center, the comedy collected $65,000 -- an opening weekend house record for the theater. The movie, which was written and directed by its star Birbiglia and produced by Glass, debuted to positive reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film is loosely based on Birbiglia's struggles with sleepwalking as he traveled on the road trying to make it as a stand-up comedian.
Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:
1. "The Expendables 2" (Lionsgate/Millennium): $13.5 million on its second weekend, down 53%. Domestic total: $52.3 million.
2. "The Bourne Legacy" (Universal/Relativity): $9.3 million on its third weekend, down 46%. Domestic total: $85.5 million. $9.4 million overseas in 24 foreign markets. International total: $43.9 million.
3. "ParaNorman" (Focus/Laika): $8.5 million on its second weekend, down 39%. Domestic total: $28.3 million. $3.9 million overseas in 17 foreign markets. International total: $12.5 million.
5. "The Dark Knight Rises" (Warner Bros./Legendary): $7.2 million on its sixth weekend, down 35%. Domestic total: $422.2 million. $15.3 million overseas from 62 foreign markets. International total: $519 million.6. "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" (Disney): $7.1 million on its second weekend, down 34%. Domestic total: $27.1 million.
7. "Premium Rush" (Sony): Opened with $6.3 million. $1.3 million overseas in five foreign markets.
8. "2016: Obama's America" (Rocky Mountain Pictures): Opened with $6.2 million. Domestic total, including limited release ticket sales: $9.1 million.
9. "Hope Springs" (Sony/MGM/Mandate): $6 million on its third weekend, down 34%. Domestic total: $45 million.
10. "Hit & Run" (Open Road): Opened with $4.7 million. Domestic total since debut on Wednesday: $5.9 million.
Follow Amy Kaufman on Twitter @AmyKinLA