Wise-cracking turtles went head-to-head with a talking raccoon and a sentient tree at the multiplexes, and, in the end, the turtles came out on top. Paramount's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" beat expectations with a strong $65 million in the U.S. and Canada at the weekend box office, claiming the top spot previously held by Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" and notching the fourth-highest August opening ever.
Heading into the weekend, most box office prognosticators predicted that the big-screen reboot of the 1980s crime-fighting-turtle franchise would earn between $40 million and $50 million. But "Turtles" drew a broader and more diverse crowd than expected, with exit data showing that 55% of the audience was at least 25 years old.
"The X factor was that families turned out in a really big way," Megan Colligan, Paramount's president of domestic marketing and distribution, said Sunday. "Certainly with the hit [animated] TV show and a very popular property, kids were enthusiastic. The key for us was getting parents to be as enthusiastic. And they were."
Though critics shelled "Turtles" -- with a mere 19% positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website -- audiences were more upbeat, giving the film an average grade of B, according to polling firm CinemaScore. Even before the weekend was over, Paramount announced it was moving ahead with a sequel, which is slated for June 2016.
"I think the 'Turtles' movie was sort of marginalized from the beginning, and people didn't understand how powerful that brand is, particularly with older audiences," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at the entertainment data firm Rentrak. "Families and kids have been underserved this entire summer, and this movie offered a fun action-adventure romp."
After making history with the all-time biggest August opening ($94 million), "Guardians" dropped 56% in its second weekend, a stronger hold than many studio tent-pole films have shown this summer. The critically praised space opera took in $41.5 million, bringing its total haul in the U.S. and Canada to nearly $176 million. That figure matches what the first "Captain America" film made in its entire domestic run, an impressive feat for a comic-book property that was far less well known.
In third place, Warner Bros.' tornado thriller "Into the Storm" grossed a solid but unspectacular $18 million. That's nowhere close to the debut of Hollywood's most successful tornado film, 1996's "Twister," which took in $41 million its first weekend. But "Into the Storm" cost just $50 million, giving it a fair shot at profitability.
The Helen Mirren-starring feel-good foodie drama "The Hundred-Foot Journey" bowed with $11 million. Although that may be a modest number, the film earned largely positive reviews, and, given that older moviegoers don't always turn out in force for a film's opening weekend, DreamWorks will hope for the Lasse Hallstrom-directed film to show decent legs as it continues its run.
The weekend's other wide release, Summit’s “Step Up All In," pulled in just $6.6 million, coming in behind Universal's action film "Lucy," which took in $9.3 million in its third weekend. Five films in, the dance-competition franchise has clearly lost the spring in its step, though it still tends to perform well internationally.
Led by the unexpectedly big turnout for "Turtles" and the continued strength of "Guardians," the overall box office for the weekend was up 16.9% over the same weekend last year, when the sci-fi film "Elysium" and the comedy "We're the Millers" opened. Given that revenues have been down sharply the entire summer, the recent uptick over the past few weekends has given the industry an encouraging sign, suggesting that perhaps Hollywood's prolonged slump may be coming to an end.
"When people go to the movies, they go to more movies, so it’s important that a lot of movies work," Colligan said. "It’s a good thing for the business."
Follow Josh Rottenberg on Twitter: @joshrottenberg