Will Smith movie 'Focus' tops the box office

“Focus” topped the weekend box office charts with $19.1 million, but the heist film didn’t make off with as much loot as many analysts expected.

The film had been expected to earn between $21 million to $23 million. Cue breathless stories about whether or not Will Smith’s fastball has lost some heat. The debate may be excessive. “Focus” shows the limits of star power generally, not Smith’s particularly.

Charisma lacks the punch it did ten years, particularly given that advances in digital technology and the growth of fanboy culture mean that films can’t just be films any more to succeed at a high level. They must be events. Would “Focus” have performed better had George Clooney starred in it or Brad Pitt?

“Focus,” released by Warner Bros., cost $50.1 million to produce and debuted in 3,323 locations. It ranks as Smith’s second weakest debut in ten years, behind “Seven Pounds” and its $14.8 million opening. The picture will need to do well overseas, where Smith remains a big draw, to make money.

“He’s terrific in this film,” said Jeff Goldstein, distribution executive vice president at Warner Bros. “But to compare a film like this to one of [Smith’s] tentpole films is unfair. He picked a project that was always slated to be a mid-range to low-range budget and the results are consistent with that.”

“Focus” skewed older and female, with women making up 53% of the opening crowd and 88% of the audience clocking in over 25 years old. Snow in parts of the south and mid-west may be partly to blame for the film missing expectations, Warner Bros. argued.

“It’s all about the snow and the freezing cold,” said Goldstein. “If we had not been beat up by inclement weather, we would have hit $20 million-plus.”

The weekend’s other new release, Relativity’s “The Lazarus Effect,” also fell short of estimates. The micro-budget horror film pulled in $10.6 million from 2,500 theaters, but it had been expected to earn between $12 million and $14 million. The Blumhouse production stars Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde as researchers who figure out a way to bring the dead back to life. That was good enough for a fifth place finish.

Relativity’s financial exposure is minimal, given that it bought the film for $3.3 million, but it still ranks as a disappointment for the company. Moreover, a C minus CinemaScore for the film does not bode well for its future performance.

In second place, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” pushed ahead of last weekend’s champ, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” picking up $11.7 million and driving its total to $85.7 million after three weeks. “Fifty Shades” had to settle for a fourth place finish, dropping 51% from last weekend to earn $10.9 million. The erotic romance has earned $147.8 million domestically.

Third place went to “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” which earned $11.2 million, bringing its stateside haul to $140.3 million.

Among Oscar winners, newly minted best picture victor “Birdman” nabbed $1.9 million, pushing its domestic box office take to $40.3 million. “Still Alice” got a big lift from Julianne Moore’s best actress win. The drama about a woman struggling with Alzheimer’s disease picked up $2.7 million, after nearly doubling its screen count to 1,318.

In the holdover department, racing drama “McFarland USA” fell a slender 29% to $7.8 million, and has made $22 million in two weeks, while high school comedy “The Duff” dipped 34% to $7.1 million, pushing its total to $20 million after two weeks.

Yann Demange’s thriller “’71,” starring Jack O’Connell as a British soldier on the run in Belfast during the height of the troubles, bowed on four screens in New York and Los Angeles. It earned $60,050 and enjoyed a per screen average of $15,013 for the weekend. Roadside Attractions and Black Label Media will expand the well-reviewed film to the top fifty markets over the next few weeks.

Final numbers are still rolling in, but it looks as though the weekend top ten will be down more than 10% from the year-ago period when “Non-Stop,” “Son of God” and “The Lego Movie” all did more than $20 million worth of business. Still, the first quarter box office has surged on the strength of big hits such as “American Sniper” and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” easily outpacing last year’s numbers. With films such as “Cinderella” and “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” on the horizon, ticket sales should pick up again in the coming weeks, analysts say.

“This is the calm before the storm,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “People were worried about the first quarter, but for it to shatter expectations like it has means we’re in for good numbers this year.”

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