Steven Spielberg pulls off risky box-office gamble with Ready Player One

Director Steven Spielberg waves during the premiere of Ready Player One in Los Angeles, California, on March 26, 2018.
Director Steven Spielberg waves during the premiere of Ready Player One in Los Angeles, California, on March 26, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (NYTimes) - Steven Spielberg aced his test.

Ready Player One, a nostalgia-soaked science-fiction adventure that marked a high-wire attempt by Spielberg, 71, to return to his crowd-pleasing roots, arrived to US$53.2 million (S$70 million) in ticket sales over the four-day Easter weekend in North America.

Overseas audiences chipped in an additional US$128 million, with Chinese ticket buyers turning out in particular force.

Those results, boosted by Imax and other premium-priced, large-format screenings, easily make Ready Player One the No. 1 movie in the world.

Going into the weekend, box office analysts had feared that it might arrive to as little as US$38 million in ticket sales in the United States and Canada. Its stars, Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke, are not household names.

Its storyline - teenagers in a dystopian future search for treasure inside a virtual-reality world called the Oasis - was exceedingly difficult to explain in marketing materials, especially without resorting to spoilers.

And, not a sequel or remake, Ready Player One did not have a built-in fan base beyond readers of the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline from which it was adapted.

That essentially left Ready Player One resting on Spielberg's shoulders, a risky proposition even for a film-maker of his stature.

The original blockbuster king had not delivered a true blockbuster in a decade, not since Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull roared into domestic theatres in the summer of 2008 with US$118 million in opening-weekend ticket sales, after adjusting for inflation.

For the weekend in North America, Tyler Perry's Acrimony was second, collecting US$17 million, a sturdy total for one of Perry's movies that does not feature Madea, his gunslinging granny. Acrimony, a thriller, stars Taraji P. Henson.

Third place went to Black Panther, which took in about US$11.3 million, for a seven-week domestic total of US$650.7 million.