LOS ANGELES — After a record number of movie tickets were sold over the Memorial Day holiday, it appears audiences are back in the moviegoing habit.
Ticket sales were up 27 percent this weekend compared with the same period last year, driven largely by the No. 1 film at the box office, “X-Men: First Class.”
The fifth installment in the superhero franchise was the only new film in wide release this weekend, and it grossed $56 million, according to an estimate from studio Twentieth Century Fox. That’s a decent start, considering that Fox and co-financers Dune Capital Management and Ingenious Media spent about $160 million, before tax credits, to produce the movie.
Still, “First Class” had the lowest opening of any “X-Men” film since the original debuted in 2000. That movie, “X-Men,” collected $54.5 million when it opened more than a decade ago. Since then, the “X-Men” films have seen far higher opening weekends, the biggest coming in 2006 with the third film, “X-Men: The Last Stand,” having a Memorial Day weekend haul of $105.8 million. And even though the fourth film, 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” tumbled to $85.1 million upon its debut, that was still far more than the fifth film was able to rake in this weekend.
Chris Aronson, Fox’s senior vice president of distribution, said the decline in ticket sales for “First Class” would likely be of little importance to the film’s ultimate success.
“I don’t think it’s significant,” Aronson said. “It exceeded the first ‘X-Men,’ and this movie has an ensemble of actors who are not known. They are all incredibly talented, and they will now be known after this movie.”
Indeed, unlike all four previous “X-Men” films, “First Class” does not star recognizable A-lister Hugh Jackman — although the actor has a brief cameo. Instead, it features an ensemble cast of lesser-known but still critically acclaimed actors such as independent film star Michael Fassbender, British actor James McAvoy and recent Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence.
The movie, which has received overwhelmingly positive critical reviews, also does not pick up where the fourth film left off. “First Class” is a prequel that attempts to reboot the series, explaining the origins of the superhero team in the 1960s. And unlike previous installments, which were directed by bigger names such as Bryan Singer and Brett Ratner, “First Class” was helmed by Matthew Vaughn. While Vaughn has garnered acclaim for independent films such as last year’s “Kick-Ass,” the fifth “X-Men” film (which was produced by Singer) is by far the most expensive production he has ever worked on.
But Fox’s Aronson said the studio had “embraced” all of these issues.
“There were huge challenges with this movie but we’ve met them and exceeded our expectations,” he said. “The critics loved this movie. And once word of mouth really starts to get out, people are going to see how stylish and witty it is.”
Those who went to the movie did seem to like it, giving it an average grade of “B-plus,” according to market research firm CinemaScore. A little more than half of the audience who saw “First Class” was over 25, and the crowd was 58 percent male.
“First Class” opened in 74 foreign markets this weekend and collected $64 million. The film also has a good shot of making up much of its production cost overseas, as all of the previous four “X-Men” movies have made about as much abroad as they have domestically.
Meanwhile, ticket sales for “The Hangover Part II” dropped 62 percent in the film’s second week of release. The comedy about three guys who have a wild night out in Bangkok grossed an additional $32.4 million this weekend, bringing the film’s domestic tally to $186.9 million. The first “Hangover” film dropped just 27 percent on its second weekend, benefitting from phenomenal buzz reflected by an “A” CinemaScore. While the sequel received an average grade of “A-minus,” the film opened on a holiday weekend when far more people were anticipating it and rushed out to see it.
“Kung Fu Panda 2,” which also opened over Memorial Day, did not have as big a drop in ticket sales. Receipts for the 3-D picture fell 49 percent this weekend — not a fantastic hold for an animated family film — as the movie grossed an additional $24.3 million. The film crossed the $100 million mark at the domestic box office this weekend and its total now stands at $100.4 million. Overseas, the film played in 28 foreign markets and sold $40 million worth of tickets this weekend, bringing its international total to $125 million.