LOS ANGELES • The events of Straight Outta Compton may have taken place more than two decades ago, but its themes of racial tension, poverty and police brutality still speak to moviegoers living in a post-Ferguson world.
The biopic, about rap group N.W.A., debuted to a blistering US$56.1 million (S$79 million) this weekend in 2,757 theatres in North America, surpassing American Pie 2 (2001) to become the biggest- ever August debut for an R-rated movie.
It is the kind of opening usually reserved for so-called "tentpole movies" that trade in costumed heroes and special effects, not urban violence.
"The movie tapped into something in our culture and that made it more of a must-see," said Mr Phil Contrino, vice-president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.
Straight Outta Compton's debut nearly doubles the film's budget of US$29 million in a single weekend, meaning it could be among the most profitable releases of the summer.
N.W.A members Ice Cube and Dr Dre helped to produce the film, directed by F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator, 1998), about the early days of gangsta rap and were integral to its marketing campaign.
Universal's success with Straight Outta Compton was a humiliation for Warner Bros, which passed on the opportunity to make the biopic. It was considered risky in part because of its racially charged subject matter.
Warner's stylish spy adventure The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a remake of the 1960s TV series, came in third after bringing in an etiolated US$13.5 million from 3,638 theatres - a particularly rough start, considering that the well-reviewed film cost US$75 million to produce.
It struggled to attract younger crowds unfamiliar with the original show, as 86 per cent of the opening weekend audience was over the age of 25. The movie, directed by Guy Ritchie, took in US$12 million more overseas.
At No. 2 was Paramount's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.
Universal, the studio behind Straight Outta Compton, has been having a year for the ages, as a steady stream of hits such as Jurassic World, Fifty Shades Of Grey, Pitch Perfect 2, Furious 7 and Minions, have pushed its grosses to record heights. Legendary Pictures co-financed Straight Outta Compton.
Meanwhile, Dr Dre's album Compton: A Soundtrack, a loose tie-in to Straight Outta Compton, had 25 million streams on Apple's new streaming service Apple Music in its first week. It also sold nearly half a million downloads through Apple's iTunes store, the company's executives said on Sunday.
Compton was expected to open at No. 2 on Billboard's latest album chart yesterday, after Kill The Lights from country star Luke Bryan.
According to industry estimates, Compton - which is being offered only through Apple for its first two weeks - had about 11 million streams in the United States. The album, Dr Dre's first in 16 years, came out on Aug 7.
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES