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Lucy, Hercules beat expectations at weekend box office

Scarlett Johansson in a scene from Luc Besson’s Lucy.

LOS ANGELES — Luc Besson’s Lucy proved mind can overpower muscle, topping a remake of Hercules by director Brett Ratner at the box office on the weekend.

The Universal Pictures-released movie starring Scarlett Johansson as an accidental psychokinetic took in US$44 million in North American movie theatres over the weekend, according to studio estimates yesterday. Lucy, directed by French action film specialist Luc Besson, stars Johansson as a woman who can stop traffic and move objects with her mind after a drug planted in her body causes her brain to operate at abnormally high levels. The special effects-laden film was made for a relatively inexpensive US$40 million, according to the movie site Box Office Mojo.

Hercules, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and produced by Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, brought down an estimated US$29 million.

Universal’s president of domestic distribution, Nikki Rocco, said audiences were attracted to the original story about the main character gaining superhuman powers by using more and more of her brain.

People also wanted to see Johansson in an action role, something she’s done more frequently in movies like The Island (2005), Iron Man 2 (2010), The Avengers (2012) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).

“The main reasons for coming to see the film were the story, and then Scarlett,” Rocco said. “She’s very diversified in what she does. Luc brought out the best of her in this movie.”

Meanwhile, Johnson’s draw with men, women and children helped PG-13-rated Hercules power into the No. 2 spot. In addition to its domestic haul, the film brought in US$28.7 million from Russia, Australia, Britain, Malaysia and other countries in Asia. Hercules is the year’s second film featuring the legendary muscle man. The Legend of Hercules opened in January and generated a paltry US$18.8 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

Made for a brawny US$100 million, Hercules got mixed reviews, though nearly two-thirds of critics on the site Rotten Tomatoes gave it a “fresh” rating.

Megan Colligan, Paramount’s head of domestic marketing and distribution, said Johnson once again proved his appeal as a global action star who fights bad guys with a “a wink and a smile.” “He can be very serious and menacing and imposing, and he has this ability to melt it all away, which is why women show up for a movie like this,” Colligan said. “He has a lot of appeal for kids.”

Despite the two films’ solid performances, the summer box office is still down by 20 percent behind last year with US$2.93 billion in ticket sales, versus $3.67 billion in 2013, which ended as a record summer according to Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Rentrak. That’s partly because one would-be huge performer, Fast & Furious 7 was postponed from its July 11 release due to the death of actor Paul Walker, he said. That puts a lot of pressure on Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel superhero film being released this week, to outperform, he said.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which topped the box office the past two weekends, finished third with US$16.4 million. Universal Pictures’ low-budget horror film The Purge: Anarchy was fourth with US$9.9 million in sales and has totalled an impressive US$51.3 million through its first two weekends.

Even though it features lesser-known characters, including Chris Pratt as Peter Quill and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, it could still break out, Dergarabedian said. “Any time you have a Marvel movie in the summer, it’s still a factor,” he said.

Another film that opened in wide release over the weekend was the Rob Reiner-directed romantic comedy And So It Goes, starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton, which collected an estimated US$4.6 million, according to distributor Clarius Entertainment.

Boyhood, a Richard Linklater film that tracks the life of a boy from age five to 18, gained traction in its third week of release by distributor IFC Films with US$1.7 million from just 107 locations.

Herald with AP, Reuters

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