By Seth Kelley
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "The Fate of the Furious" is racing to defend its title at the top of the box office, while a number of new releases including "The Promise" and "Unforgettable" are being left in the dust.
Universal's eighth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise proved to be a global box office titan when it opened last weekend to a record-shattering $532.5 million. This time around looks to tell mostly the same story -- while domestic grosses slipped 61% from its first to second weekend, the movie is still easily topping the box office with $38.7 million from 4,329 locations.
But slipping domestic earnings (and lower U.S. grosses than "Furious 7," which pulled over $250 million in its first two weekends versus "Fate's" current sum of $163.6 million) are majorly overshadowed by the movie's international appeal. A bankable, diverse cast including Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel and Charlize Theron is leading the film, directed by F. Gary Gray, to a two-frame global total of $744.8 million and worldwide sum of $908.4 million.
While studios wait for summer season to commence, there are no surprise hits to come of this weekend's releases. Warner Bros.' "Unforgettable" seems to have slipped audiences' minds, earning $4.8 million in its first weekend from 2,417 theaters.
"It just didn't resonate with the intended audience," said Jeff Goldstein, the president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. Goldstein stressed that the movie was made for a moderate price, and the marketing was "targeted and appropriate" for the audience.
The directorial debut of Denise Di Novi stars Katherine Heigl as a scorned ex-wife, and Rosario Dawson as a woman who is newly engaged to the same man. In his review for Variety, critic Peter Debruge lauded Heigl's "terrific" performance, and wrote that her casting "savvily exploits the actress's prickly reputation within the industry."
"Unforgettable" joins a string of so-so to disappointing releases from Warner Bros. so far this year, including "Chips" and "Fist Fight." At least the Heigl movie had a low production budget ( about $12 million) to minimize losses.
"The Promise," too, couldn't follow through, despite a social media push from stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, the Kardashian sisters and Cher. The movie, from Open Road Films on behalf of Survival Pictures, looks to round out the weekend with about $4.1 million from 2,251 locations -- barely cracking the top ten for the weekend.
While "The Promise" could be considered a massive disappointment for its $90 million price tag, the film's backers hoped it would raise awareness more than earn money. Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale make up the central love triangle in the movie directed by Terry George ("Hotel Rwanda"). The film is set during the Armenian Genocide, and bankrolled by the late businessman Kirk Kerkorian who wanted to bring visibility to the systematic extermination to 1.5 million Armenians at the order of the Ottoman empire in 1915 -- a politically fraught subject that Turkey continues to deny happened. All proceeds made from the movie will be donated to charity.
"We certainly hoped for a better box office result," said Open Road's president of marketing Jonathan Helfgot, adding that the film's mission was not purely box office-related. "It was about bring the world's attention to this issue," he said. "And looking at the amount of conversation ... it's undeniable that there's been more focus and attention in the past two weeks than the past hundred years since the atrocity took place."
Disney's latest animal documentary "Born in China," a co-production between Disneynature and Shanghai Media Group, is making $5.1 million from 1,508 theaters. Narrated by John Krasinski, the docu earned more than previous films "Monkey Kingdom" ($4.6 Million) and "Bears" ($4.8 Million), and is the highest grossing Disneynature opening since 2012's Chimpanzee ($10.7 million).
Cinelou's "Phoenix Forgotten" opened at 1,592 theaters to an estimated $2 million this weekend. A24's "Free Fire" raked in only $1 million from 1,070 spots in its first weekend.
In its fourth frame, Fox's "The Boss Baby" will bottle up $12.8 million from 3,697 locations, putting it in second place behind "Fate." Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" should hold onto third with $10 million from 3,315 theaters.
Warner Bros.' "Going in Style" should slide into fourth with $5 million from 3,038 spots. The heist comedy starring Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin is targeting an older demo, and saw only a 20% decline in ticket sales from its second to third weekend. "Born in China" looks to round out the top five.