ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT MOVIES

‘Hancock’ scores a superhero-sized debut

"Hancock," a film about a petulant, perpetually drunken superhero, proved to be review-proof as well as bulletproof this weekend, overwhelming competitors and giving star Will Smith his fifth top-selling film on a Fourth of July weekend.

Audiences came in droves to see Smith play crime fighter John Hancock in the Sony Pictures production, which pulled in an estimated $66 million over the three days beginning Independence Day, distributor Columbia Pictures said Sunday.

The strong performance of the PG-13 film continues the prospects for a healthy summer in Hollywood, which has now seen ticket sales grow for six straight weekends.

"Hancock" drew $107.3 million over the 5 1/2 days since it began previewing Tuesday and officially opened Wednesday in 3,965 theaters, exceeding expectations of an $80-million haul, the studio said.

But it wasn't as strong as last year's holiday opening for the robot thriller "Transformers," which picked up $155.4 million during a similar 5 1/2 -day run.

"Hancock" marked Smith's eighth straight No. 1 opening and his eighth film to gross more than $100 million. His 2006 tearjerker, "The Pursuit of Happyness," grossed $307 million globally, and December's zombie movie, "I Am Legend," took in $584 million.

Long regarded as a box office behemoth, the actor has led ticket sales 12 times in his career, the studio said.

"The Will Smith business is a great business to be in," said Rory Bruer, president of domestic distribution for Sony Pictures. "The film was different, fresh and unique, and it had Will Smith. We knew we were golden."

Overseas, the film has amassed an additional $78 million, opening at No. 1 in 47 of its 50 international territories, Bruer said.

Even negative reviews lambasting the film as a confusing jumble that reneged on its promising premise could not keep "Hancock" from besting last weekend's box office leader -- and critical darling -- "Wall-E." The animated Disney-Pixar film about a love-struck robot slipped to second place and took in $33.4 million in its second weekend, boosting its domestic total to $128.1 million.

Smith has shrugged off critics' sniping before. His 1999 sci-fi cowboy comedy "Wild Wild West" also was a critical bust but commercial smash on a Fourth of July weekend. "Independence Day" and the "Men in Black" series were Smith's other major holiday successes.

"Hancock" had some aces up its sleeve, including Jason Bateman as a do-gooder publicist and a plot twist involving Charlize Theron. The surprise appearance of the Oscar-winning actress, whose presence was kept quiet in advertisements for the film, helped fan word of mouth.

The "Hancock" audience skewed young, with 52% of viewers under age 25, but was nearly evenly split between men and women, though many of the women left less than enthralled.

After a "Hancock" screening Saturday night at ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, Heather Flores, 33, of Sherman Oaks turned to her husband and gave the movie a thumbs down. Despite being a Will Smith fan, Flores said she was disappointed because the film was too predictable.

"I saw everything coming. All the good scenes were in the previews," she said.

Her husband Steven Flores, 35, a financial consultant who loved "Independence Day," said he was shocked by the twist and pleasantly surprised to see Theron. But the clincher was the lead actor.

"I would watch Will Smith's movies no matter what time of year they came out," he said.

Smith's on-screen appeal and his help on an aggressive marketing campaign should help "Hancock" easily recoup its $150 million production cost and probably surpass the $200 million mark, Bruer said.

So far this year, Paramount Pictures' "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and "Iron Man" have busted into the $300-million range, and Marvel Entertainment Inc.'s "The Incredible Hulk" is poised to hurtle past $200 million.

Weekend sales fell sharply for several movies out for more than a week.

"Wall-E" dropped 47%, and another major "Hancock" competitor, Universal Pictures' R-rated "Wanted," starring Angelina Jolie as a member of an assassins guild, plunged 60% to $20.6 million from $50.9 million at its opening last weekend. Both missed expectations.

The lower-profile "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl," a G-rated Depression-era drama from Picturehouse featuring Abigail Breslin, went to a wider market after two weeks in limited release. The film came in eighth with $3.6 million, behind Time Warner Inc.'s fourth-ranked "Get Smart" and "Kung Fu Panda," from DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc.

Starting Friday, "Hancock" goes up against a trio of highly anticipated films. Action flicks "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army" from Universal and the 3-D "Journey to the Center of the Earth" from Warner Bros., will debut, along with the Eddie Murphy sci-fi comedy "Meet Dave."

tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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