'Kingsman' hits target, 'Lego Ninjago' disappoints as franchises hit and miss at box office

R-rated thrill rides continue to rule the box office with 20th Century Fox's profane spy sequel "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" and New Line Cinema's horror "It" dominating the top spots.

A sequel to the 2015 hit "Kingsman: The Secret Service," the $104-million film debuted just below analysts' predictions of $40 million to $45 million, with $39 million in earnings in the U.S. and Canada.

Unseating "It" after two weekends of dominance, "Kingsman" enjoyed a bigger opening than “The Secret Service,” which had a $36-million opening before grossing $414 million worldwide and establishing itself as a major hit on the home video market.

"We're looking forward to a really strong run," said Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox. "Every single territory that opened opened bigger than 'The Secret Service,' so that's pretty exciting."

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, the series is based on a comic book about a secret organization of British super-spies. The new film follows the action as the British agents team up with their lasso-wielding American counterparts to fight a common enemy.

"First and foremost, Matthew has always looked at the ‘Kingsman’ universe as a 'proper' spy movie as he likes to call it," Aronson said. "I think he's created a universe that's filled with characters that people just really like spending time with."

The film earned a B+ rating on CinemaScore and a 51% "rotten" rating on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, indicating the picture is scoring better with audiences than critics. Taron Edgerton, Julianne Moore, Colin Firth and Channing Tatum star.

"It" continues to maintain a hold on audiences, coming in at second place in its third week after becoming the highest-grossing September movie, not adjusting for inflation. Despite a 50% drop in earnings this week, the Stephen King adaptation, about a group of kids terrorized by an evil clown, brought in $30 million for a cumulative total of $266 million.

Directed by Andy Muschietti and starring Bill Skarsgard (“Hemlock Grove”), "It" boasts a B+ rating on CinemaScore and an 84% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Debuting in the third spot, Warner Bros.' "The Lego Ninjago Movie" grossed $21.2 million in its opening weekend, below analysts' projections of $27 million to $32 million.

The computer-animated film, which focuses on a crew of young ninjas under the tutelage of a wise master (Jackie Chan), earned a B+ rating on CinemaScore and a 53% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Justin Theroux, Olivia Munn and Dave Franco also lend their voices.

With "Ninjago," Warner Bros. hoped to continue and capitalize on the surprise success of its 2014 smash hit "The Lego Movie" with another character-based spinoff. Before "Ninjago," "The Lego Batman Movie" opened in February to $53 million and is on its way to a strong $311 million globally.

The original "Lego Movie," directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, raked in $469 million worldwide after opening with $69 million. The spinoffs, though popular among families, have not had as wide of an appeal. The first movie’s sequel, "The Lego Movie 2," is expected to be released in 2019.

In fourth place, Lionsgate and CBS Films' "American Assassin," now in its second week, saw a 58% drop, bringing in $6.2 million this weekend for a 10-day total of $26 million. Directed by Michael Cuesta, the R-rated action film, about a man (Dylan O'Brien) who becomes a special operative after his girlfriend is killed in a terrorist attack, earned mixed reviews on CinemaScore (B+) and a poor score on Rotten Tomatoes (34% "rotten"). Michael Keaton and Sanaa Lathan also star.

Rounding out the top five, the Reese Witherspoon-led "Home Again," distributed by Open Road Films, added $3.3 million in its third weekend, for a cumulative $22.3 million. The romantic comedy, which stars Witherspoon as a single mom in Los Angeles who lets three young guys move in with her, earned a B-rating on CinemaScore and a 33% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Also new this week, Byron Allen’s distribution company Entertainment Studios released the Facebook-themed supernatural horror movie "Friend Request" to the tune of $2.4 million, under analysts' projections of $5 million.

The film, which debuted at No. 7 and follows a female college student whose social media decisions turn out to have deadly consequences, earned a C+ rating on CinemaScore and a 20% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

On the limited-release front, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions released "Stronger" in just 574 theaters, grossing $1.7 million (a per-theater average of $3,045) and debuting at No. 9. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, the film is based on the true story of Jeff Bauman, a man who lost both of his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. "Stronger" earned a 95% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Annapurna Pictures' social media-themed "Brad's Status," now in its second week, expanded into 453 locations from last week's four and earned $1 million domestically, a per-screen average of $2,210 and a 1,013% increase in earnings. Starring Ben Stiller as a neurotic dad whose old friends make him feel inferior about his life choices, the R-rated comedy earned an 81% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has grossed $1.1 million to date. The film also stars Michael Sheen and Luke Wilson and was directed by Mike White ("School of Rock" and "Nacho Libre").

Fox Searchlight premiered "Battle of the Sexes" in 21 locations, earning $525,000 for a per- theater average of $25,000. The film, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, follows the events leading up to the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and ex-champ Bobby Riggs. The film earned an 86% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Focus Features released "Victoria and Abdul" in four theaters, bringing in $152,000 for a per-theater average of $37,933. The film, based on the real, controversial relationship between Queen Victoria and her Indian attendant, Abdul Karim, earned a 65% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Good Deed Entertainment launched "Loving Vincent" in one theater in New York City, and earned $24,304. "Vincent" boasts a 75% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Next week, Universal debuts crime thriller "American Made," Sony Screen Gems releases the sci-fi horror film "Flatliners," Pure Flix opens the drama "A Question of Faith" and Novus premieres the thriller "Til Death Do Us Part."

sonaiya.kelley@latimes.com

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