So far, LEGO Batman has been no match for LEGO Chris Pratt. Still, even though "The LEGO Batman Movie" didn't open as big as it should have, and isn't raking it in like "The LEGO Movie" did, it was still far and away the box office winner for a second straight weekend.
Like the brick-built Bruce Wayne, "The LEGO Batman Movie" has been fortunate in its choice of rivals. The three movies that opened wide this weekend didn't really stand a chance of beating "LEGO Batman," with its estimated $34.2 million. Nor were they likely to outsell "Fifty Shades Darker" (which whipped up an estimated $21.0 million), even with the sadomasochistic sequel's loss of 55 percent of the business it earned during last weekend's premiere. "The Great Wall" and "Fist Fight" didn't do great, either, while "A Cure for Wellness" did a little worse.
Why wasn't the star power of such reliable box office draws as "Great Wall's" Matt Damon enough to challenge the two star-free top box office draws? It could have to do with the audiences each movie is chasing. For instance, there's...
1. The Discerning Audience
Reviews may not matter much, unless they're uniformly excellent or horrible. Right now, according to Rotten Tomatoes, "LEGO Batman" has the best reviews (91 percent "Fresh") of any movie in saturation release (more than 3,000 screens). Then again, "Fifty Shades" has some of the worst reviews (9 percent "Rotten"), which may help explain its steep second-weekend drop.
Reviews for the three new wide releases are all poor, ranging from 32 to 38 percent fresh. Word-of-mouth is no better, judging by their CinemaScore grades: lackluster B grades for "Great Wall" and "Fist Fight" and a dismal C+ for "Wellness." No wonder that horror film opened in 10th place with an estimated $4.2 million, even falling short of the low $6 million bar analysts had predicted.
You'd have thought "Fist Fight" would have been able to muster better than a fifth-place opening, with an estimated $12.0 million. Not only has Cube been a solid draw in recent comedies like the "Ride Along" movies, but "Fist Fight" also had the comedy marketplace all to itself. So it seems clear that the weak reviews and word-of-mouth must have hurt.
2. The Minority Audience
There have been a lot of grumblings about whitewashing regarding "The Great Wall" -- why does a Chinese-made movie set in ancient China need a white American star? None of these complaints seem to have stopped Asian-American audiences from going to see the historical fantasy adventure, which debuted in third place with an estimated $18.1 million.
According to exit polls, the "Great Wall" audience was 15 percent Asian, or nearly three times the percentage of Asians among the American populace.
Interestingly, "Great Wall" also drew an audience that was 23 percent Hispanic, also a higher fraction than the Hispanic percentage among the populace (nearly 18 percent). Is Hollywood underestimating potential sales among Hispanic viewers? Almost certainly.
After all, this weekend also saw the release of "Everybody Loves Somebody," a bilingual romantic comedy set largely in Mexico, distributed by Pantelion, the Lionsgate division that's had several hits in recent years with similar films. "Everybody" debuted at No. 14 with an estimated $1.0 million, even though it played on only 333 screens.
3. The Young Adult Audience
"Great Wall" did a better job than "Fist Fight" in cultivating young adult viewers. Some 50 percent of "Great Wall" viewers were under 30. Just 39 percent of "Fist Fight" viewers were under 25, in part because of the film's R rating.
4. The Female Audience
Neither Matt Damon's monster-slaying adventure nor Ice Cube's schoolyard brawl proved much of a draw for women, who made up just 41 percent of the "Great Wall" audience and 46 percent of the "Fist Fight" crowd. Most women at the multiplex were probably still lining up to see "Fifty Shades." That may, in turn, have kept them away from "Wellness," which, as a horror film, was the new release that should have capitalized the most on the female audience.
Then again, there have been an awful lot of horror movies over the last two months, so even if "Wellness" had earned positive buzz, a female audience that had had its fill of horror might still have stayed away.
5. The Foreign Audience
Maybe the other reason few cared about the casting of "Great Wall" is that they just weren't interested in a movie that -- Damon aside -- wasn't really made with American viewers in mind. In fact, the movie has already earned a stunning $245 million abroad, including $171 million in China alone. No movie since last summer's "Warcraft" -- another effects-driven fantasy adventure that did extremely well everywhere but here -- illustrates how little consideration is given to the American audience anymore.
The film cost a reported $150 million to make, but it's sold so many tickets overseas that its profitability is assured, no matter how little it sells here.
"Great Wall" is one of several movies already in 2017 whose foreign earnings make their domestic earnings look like sofa-cushion change, including "Fifty Shades Darker," "xXx: The Return of Xander Cage," and "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter." Even "La La Land" has made more than $200 million abroad, about 1 1/2 times what it's earned domestically.
Maybe "Fist Fight" and "Wellness" would have done better if they'd had more Chinese appeal. Or at least no one would care about their lackluster domestic debuts.