‘Thunder’ bolts ahead of Batman into top spot

Times Staff Writer

It took a trio of prima donna actors to finally topple the Caped Crusader.

After more than a month atop the box office, “The Dark Knight” dropped to No. 2 this weekend, falling behind a spoof about a group of self-obsessed actors on location in Southeast Asia that gets caught up in real combat.

DreamWorks’ “Tropic Thunder,” featuring Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr., took in $26 million, according to studio estimates. The R-rated action comedy was directed by Ben Stiller and has a cameo appearance by Tom Cruise.


The expected haul was enough to knock off Time Warner Inc.’s Batman saga, which made $16.8 million. In third was “The Clone Wars,” an animated installment in the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas, which pulled in $15.5 million.

Some industry watchers had worried that moviegoers might stay away from “Tropic Thunder” because of several controversial elements. Downey Jr. wears makeup for his portrayal of a black man, and the script includes the repeated use of the word “retard” about Stiller’s character.

The Special Olympics chairman and disability groups upset by the movie called for a boycott this week. Even with the added competition of the Olympic Games, the boycott appeared to have little effect.

“It took a lot of star power to knock ‘Batman’ off his perch, but ‘Tropic Thunder’ did well,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media by Numbers. “As the summer is winding down, people seem to be in the mood to have fun and laugh at the box office.”

The Kiefer Sutherland horror film “Mirrors” from 20th Century Fox did slightly better than projected with $11.1 million for fourth place. Sony Pictures’ stoner movie “Pineapple Express” fell to fifth with $10 million.

Among other newcomers, Woody Allen’s sun-splashed romantic comedy adventure “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. and Weinstein Co., was 10th with $3.7 million and the animated “Fly Me to the Moon” did $2 million, for 12th place.

Ticket sales were up 5% from the same weekend last year. Final figures are due today. Even with its second-place showing, “The Dark Knight” surpassed the original “Star Wars” to become the second- highest-grossing domestic film of all time with $471.5 million.

“Star Wars” earned $461 million for News Corp.’s 20th Century Fox studio in the U.S. and Canadian market after its May 1977 release, according to Media by Numbers. “The Dark Knight” took only a month to surpass that figure.

“Tropic Thunder” might be one of the last releases from the DreamWorks and Paramount family before an anticipated divorce announcement. When asked last week how the company should be credited on the film, Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore said: “This may be the last time you have to worry about it.”