Mel Gibson in 'Edge of Darkness': Can we call it a comeback? (updated)
The not-so-good news: His audience was aging, with relatively few young people still interested. The movie's opening is the lowest for a film starring Gibson since "Braveheart" started with $9.9 million in 1995, when ticket prices were 42% lower.
"Edge of Darkness," for which Warner Bros. bought domestic distribution rights from financier GK Films for $27 million, opened to a fine but far from fantastic $17.1 million from Friday through Sunday, according to a studio estimate.
Despite a seven-year absence from starring in a movie, during which his most prominent public moment was an alcohol-fueled anti-Semitic rant, Gibson held onto at least some of his core fan base: adults who grew up on movies like "Mad Max," "Lethal Weapon" and "The Patriot." Ninety percent of those who saw "Edge of Darkness" were older than 21, and 56% were over 35, according to exit polls. However, despite expectations that the crowd would be heavily male, 47% of ticket buyers were women.
Interest in "Edge of Darkness" was more geographically diverse than usual. Despite higher ticket prices in the biggest cities, theaters in midsize markets, such as San Antonio and Plano, Texas, and Fresno, were among the top 15 for the film, a rarity.
Audiences gave "Edge of Darkness" an average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore, a portent of solid buzz and a potentially mild drop next weekend, when the tearjerker "Dear John" and action movie "From Paris With Love" open before Super Bowl Sunday.
Despite expectations based on pre-release surveys that two new movies would be in tight competition, "Darkness" easily beat the $12.1-million opening of "When in Rome." a sign that Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel aren't yet major romantic-comedy stars.
"Avatar" added $95 million overseas to its $30-million domestic take this weekend, bringing the worldwide total for the 3-D phenomenon to $2.04 billion. James Cameron's science-fiction spectacle dropped just 12% in foreign countries and 14% domestically. If it continues those declines and gets a boost from Academy Awards attention in the coming weeks, it will easily surpass $2.5 billion and could possibly top $3 billion.
Also overseas, Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" had a strong $9.6-million debut in France, taking the No. 1 spot in that country after it was held by "Avatar" for the last six weekends. The studio's first hand-drawn animated feature in six years has reached $78.3 million internationally, with several major markets including the United Kingdom debuting next weekend. In the U.S. and Canada, it has tapped out at just over $100 million, a relatively disappointing performance compared to other previous releases from Disney Animation Studios, such as 2008's "Bolt."
Although "Legion" easily beat "The Tooth Fairy" last weekend, it now appears that 20th Century Fox and Walden Media's family comedy "Fairy" could end up with the higher gross. It dropped only 29% this weekend, bringing its total gross to $26.1 million. "Legion," meanwhile, plummeted 61% and has total ticket sales of $28.6 million. However, "Legion" cost Sony Pictures only about $25 million, while "Tooth Fairy" cost $48 million.
Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:
2. "Edge of Darkness" (Warner Bros./GK Films): $17.1-million opening.
3. "When in Rome" (Disney): $12.1-million opening.
4. "The Tooth Fairy" (Fox/Walden): $10 million, down 29% on its second weekend. $5.6 million overseas in 20 markets. Domestic total: $26.1 million. International total: $25.2 million.
5. "The Book of Eli" (Warner Bros./Alcon): $8.8 million, down 44% on its third weekend. Domestic total: $74.4 million.
6. "Legion" (Sony Screen Gems): $6.8 million, down 61% on its second weekend. Domestic total: $28.6 million.
7. "The Lovely Bones" (Paramount): $4.7 million, down 44% on its third weekend in wide release. Domestic total: $38 million.
8. "Sherlock Holmes" (Warner Bros./Village Roadshow): $4.5 million, down 32% on its sixth weekend. $15.6 million overseas in 57 territories. Domestic total: $197.6 million. International total: $219 million.
9. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel": $4 million, down 38% on its sixth weekend. $10.8 million overseas in 45 territories. Domestic total: $209.3 million. International total: $190 million.
10. "It's Complicated" (Universal/Relativity): $3.7 million, down 36% on its sixth weekend. $8.1 million overseas in 37 territories. Domestic total: $104 million. International total: $63.7 million.
-- Ben Fritz
(Update, 10:52 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that "Dear John" is the only new film opening this coming Friday.)
Photo: Mel Gibson at a question-and-answer session for "Edge of Darkness" at the Landmark Theatre in Los Angeles on Jan. 28, 2010. Credit: Toby Canham / Getty Images