After the worst Memorial Day weekend performance in 18 years, the summer box office needed a hero — or more specifically, a heroine. Thankfully, Warner Bros.' highly anticipated "Wonder Woman" came to the rescue, like only a wondrous woman can.
The DC Comics film adaptation starring Gal Gadot in the title role grossed an estimated $100.5 million in the U.S. and Canada in its debut weekend, well above analyst projections of $80 million to $90 million, as well as the studio's more modest expectations of $65 million to $70 million. Internationally, the picture pulled $122.5 million.
With those numbers, "Wonder Woman" can now claim the official title as the first female-fronted superhero blockbuster.
"Here, you have a property that has really resonated with audiences all around the world," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.' distribution chief. "There is something special about Gal Gadot, but something timely about Wonder Woman. She is a character that just has been embraced worldwide."
Wonder Woman, aka Diana, princess of the Amazons, has spent 75 years saving the world in DC comic books and TV shows. She fought alongside Batman and Superman with her sword and Lasso of Truth last year in the lackluster "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." Until now, her male counterparts have hogged most of the big-screen glory.
"Wonder Woman" changes that dynamic — with her first headline adventure, the character moves into the top pantheon of superheroes. It's a move female fans, who made up 52% of the film's audience, have long anticipated.
"Not only was Wonder Woman my childhood hero — I wore Wonder Woman underoos proudly," said Stacey Colleen Nameth, who saw the film Saturday night in Pasadena with her wife, Kris Nameth,
The film, she added, portrayed the character as a woman with integrity and grit: "Her fierceness and strength came through again and again. More female superheroes!"
Adding to the celebration was the fact that the $150-million film was directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. Her last film, "Monster," for which star Charlize Theron won an Oscar, was made more than a decade ago. "Wonder Woman" now holds the title for the best domestic opening by a female director, replacing "Fifty Shades of Grey's" Sam Taylor-Johnson ($85.1 million).
"This character on its own in any time would have resonated, but [Jenkins'] view of what this story is, her vision, this tone, just really connected," Goldstein said. "She did a spectacular job tonally."
Compared with other superhero flicks, "Wonder Woman's" $100.5 million outranks the domestic openings of "Iron Man" ($98.6 million), "Doctor Strange" ($85 million) and "Thor" ($65.7 million).
Overwhelmingly positive reviews — 93% positive rating on critic site Rotten Tomatoes — convinced Sarah Montoya, 30, a doctoral student in the gender studies program at UCLA, to brave the Saturday crowds at ArcLight Cinemas Hollywood.
"I heard such incredible things across the board about this movie, from people that were into the comics and people that had a totally different relationship and grew up watching the TV shows and things like that," said Montoya. "And it was across the board, consistent praise."
Montoya added that she was "surprised" by how good the film was: "I walked in thinking, 'OK, we're going to see explosions, and there's not going to be a lot of storytelling.'" Considering her background in gender studies, she was particularly attuned to the film's gender politics and diversity.
"I was coming in looking at that and also really interested in the diversity of the cast and [hoped] that they spoke about issues like racism, even if it was just sort of a nod towards it. I was really happy with that."
Audiences appear to agree with critics, giving the picture an A CinemaScore. Fans will get their next glimpse of the heroine in November when she joins forces with her male counterparts in "Justice League."
While most eyes were on "Wonder Woman" this weekend, the other major release, 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Animation's "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie," was also noteworthy.. The film landed in second place, pulling in an estimated $23.5 million in the U.S. and Canada, beating analysts' modest projections of $20 million.
The PG-rated "Captain Underpants" brings the anarchic adventure and unbridled potty humor of author Dav Pilkey's beloved children's book series — which for 20 years has sent countless elementary-school-age kids into fits of giggles and a few easily offended adults into fits of pique — to movie screens for the first time. The formidable voice cast includes Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Ed Helms and Nick Kroll.
Audiences and critics appear equally pleased with the film. It received a B-plus CinemaScore from moviegoers (80% families) and has an 86% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Rounding out the rest of the top five at the box office were holdovers.
Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" landed in third in its second week with $21.6 million, a 66% drop from its opening week. The adventure grossed $114.6 million domestically to date. The film's global tally, however, is much more impressive, at $501.2 million, making it the sixth-best performing release of the year thus far.
Disney's "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" sequel landed in fourth place in its fifth week with $9.7 million. It's pulled $355.4 million domestically since its release for a global gross to date of $816.6 million.
Landing in the fifth spot in its second week was Paramount's "Baywatch" reboot with $8.5 million, a 54% drop week to week. The film, which was panned by critics, has grossed $41.7 million domestically.
Times staffers Meredith Woerner and Mary McNamara contributed to this report.
2:10 p.m.: This story has been updated with more reaction and details.