Despicable Me 3 is No. 1, but Baby Driver has the box office buzz

The third film in Universal's franchise featuring the lovable Minions tops the US box office over the Independence Day weekend with over US$75 million (S$103 million) in estimated ticket sales.
Gru and the Minions return in Despicable Me 3.
Gru and the Minions return in Despicable Me 3. PHOTO: ILLUMINATION-UNIVERSAL PICTURES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Despicable Me 3 was the No. 1 movie in North America over the weekend, collecting roughly US$75.4 million (S$103.78 million). Shrug: Those Minions cannot be stopped.

Two other new wide-release movies - one a hit, one a flop - were quite interesting, however, as box office indicators.

Consider Baby Driver, which took in about US$21 million over the weekend, for a total of US$30 million since its Wednesday opening. Directed and written by Edgar Wright and starring Ansel Elgort in the oh-so-cool title role, Baby Driver (Sony) had been expected by analysts to sell roughly US$20 million in tickets over its first five days in theatres.

Why did it overperform?

In a sea of rote sequels, Baby Driver, about a kindhearted getaway driver with tinnitus and an ever-present iPod, gave ticket buyers something novel. Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at comScore, noted that critics gave Baby Driver near-universal raves, with many citing Wright's unique cinematic voice.

Still, the Baby Driver results are modest by summer standards. Why should studios invest in originality when sequels like Despicable Me 3 (Illumination/Universal) usually make more money?

"It keeps our business vital," said Josh Greenstein, Sony's president of worldwide marketing and distribution. "When something original, surprising and new comes out of nowhere, it's a big win for everyone." Modi Wiczyk, a co-founder of the TV and film studio Media Rights Capital, added: "When very special artists come together to make something like this and a studio like Sony fully embraces it, our currency with global audiences is refreshed. All of today's great franchises were yesterday's great originals." Sony and Media Rights Capital spent US$34 million to make Baby Driver, after factoring in rebates. The soundtrack was the No. 3 album on iTunes on Sunday.

A new comedy called The House, co-starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, also offered insight into what ticket buyers want - or don't want: The House (New Line/Warner Bros.) flopped with about US$9 million in ticket sales, joining Baywatch, Snatched, Rough Night, CHIPS and Fist Fight in a parade of studio comedy misfires.

Some studio executives are blaming Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregation site that has become an indispensable tool for many ticket buyers. According to Rotten Tomatoes, The House, which cost about US$40 million to make, received reviews that were only 17 percent positive. No live-action studio comedy has received a score above 50 percent this year.

All of these comedies have been rated R. Perhaps people have had all the crude humour they can take? Some analysts wonder whether younger audiences are getting more of their comedy online; Netflix has notably been scoring with Adam Sandler films.

Among the other theories: Studios are relying too heavily on ageing stars (Ferrell, Ice Cube, Goldie Hawn); the comedic setups have gotten too outlandish (The House finds a couple opening a casino in their basement); or perhaps the comedic marketing of Warner, where most of these failed comedies have come from, is not strong.

Whatever the reason, there are two more studio comedies arriving this summer, Girls Trip and Logan Lucky, that will either add to concerns or vanquish them. Until then, Hollywood can take some comfort from the indie comedy The Big Sick (Lionsgate/Amazon), which took in US$1.7 million in 71 locations, for a new total of $2.2 million.