LOS ANGELES — Will “R.I.P.D.” go down as the biggest flop of the summer?
It’s hard to make the distinction, given the number of big-budget misfires that have landed in theaters this season. But according to distributor Universal Pictures, the $130-million action comedy grossed just $12.8 million, good enough for only a seventh-place finish this past weekend, when there were four new films in the national marketplace.
Is that worse than the recent $29.2-million launch for the $225-million “The Lone Ranger”? Depends on how you slice it. But either way, the opening for “R.I.P.D.” is bad — especially when you consider that the 3-D film starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges lost out to “The Conjuring,” a horror film that cost $20 million to produce.
The low-budget flick, directed by James Wan, was easily the weekend’s No. 1 movie, grossing $41.5 million in its debut. On Thursday, pre-release audience surveys had suggested the picture would start off with no more than $30 million.
“The Conjuring” is the latest in a string of lower-budget films that have beaten out pricier competitors at the box office this summer. “The Lone Ranger” lost out to the $76-million “Despicable Me 2” earlier this month, while the $58-million “The Internship” failed to beat the $3.5-million “The Purge” in June.
“Audiences are less concerned with what you spend to make the movie and more concerned with whether or not the subject is compelling,” said Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., which saw its $190-million “Pacific Rim” open with a disappointing $37.3 million last weekend.
“The Conjuring,” which stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, earned strong reviews from critics and filmgoers — a rarity for a scary movie. Those who saw the picture this past weekend — 59 percent of whom were older than 25 — assigned the film an average grade of A-minus, according to market research business CinemaScore. Goldstein said “The Conjuring” was one of three horror films in the last 10 years to earn that high a grade from audiences.
“The Conjuring” also beat out “Turbo,” the $135-million 3-D animated film about a garden snail who wants to compete in the Indianapolis 500. The DreamWorks Animation production launched in third place with a lackluster $21.5 million — the lowest debut for a film from Jeffrey Katzenberg’s studio since 2006’s “Flushed Away,” not adjusting for inflation.
The fourth new film to launch nationwide this weekend, the adult-aimed, action-filled “Red 2,” had a decent opening of $18.5 million — roughly $3.3 million behind the launch of the 2010 original.
So what of “R.I.P.D.”? What went wrong? Is Reynolds not an alluring box-office draw? Was the movie just plain bad, as its 11 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and C-plus CinemaScore suggest? Did its premise — about two men who rise from the dead to enforce law on Earth — remind moviegoers too much of “Men in Black”?
Nikki Rocco, Universal Pictures’ president of domestic distribution, declined to entertain these questions Sunday. She pointed to the fact that the studio has otherwise had a good year and would say only that she was “disappointed” with the performance of “R.I.P.D.”
“Turbo” was released by 20th Century Fox on Wednesday in an effort to gain traction before the crowded weekend. But the ploy didn’t work as well as the studio hoped, given that the film collected only an estimated $31.2 million through Sunday evening.
“Launching an animated film with an original concept when there have been a lot of animated films out there this summer was a little more difficult than we would have liked,” admitted Fox distribution President Chris Aronson. “But the die has not been cast yet on this film.”
While the film is certainly not off to a good start, it did earn an average grade of A from moviegoers and has a shot at making up some ground overseas, where animated films are typically more popular than in the United States and Canada. DreamWorks Animation’s last release, March’s “The Croods,” grossed 68 percent of its $582.3-million global tally abroad.
This weekend, “Turbo” launched in 28 foreign markets and sold $22.6 million worth of tickets. The film performed best in Russia, where it grossed $8.4 million. It will continue to open in additional international locations through the fall.
As for “Red 2,” though the $84-million sequel did not surpass the original’s take, Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment said it was still hopeful about the film’s box-office prospects because the first picture did not debut in the summer.
“Our midweek grosses are going to be stronger than the first ‘Red,’ which opened in October,” said Richie Fay, the studio’s president of domestic distribution.
Because the picture — which features a number of actors over 50 including Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis and John Malkovich — targets an older audience, Fay believes it will be able to withstand competition in the coming weeks. Indeed, 67 percent of those who saw the movie this weekend were older than 35, and the crowd gave it a B-plus.