By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES, March 12 (Variety.com) - "Kong: Skull Island" emerged victorious after a battle of the beasts that pitted the giant ape movie against Wolverine's last stand. Cresting a wave of good reviews, "Kong" topped the domestic box office, racking up a mighty $61 million. That handily beat estimates, which had "Kong: Skull Island" debuting to between $45 million to $50 million.
King Kong's roar didn't totally drown out Wolverine's berserker rage. In its second weekend, Fox's "Logan" dropped 58% to $37.8 million, pushing its stateside total to $152.6 million. The R-rated comic book adventure is Hugh Jackman's swan song as Wolverine after nearly two decades playing the X-Men team member.
"Skull Island" gets bragging rights for topping expectations, but the film isn't out of the woods yet. It cost a hefty $185 million to produce, which means that it will need to be a hit overseas if Legendary and Warner Bros., the studios behind the film, want to make a profit.
On the domestic front, "Kong: Skull Island" is also staring down Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," a live action fairy tale that is expected to premiere to as much as $120 million next weekend. That will likely suck up most of the oxygen in the multiplexes, making it difficult for other films to keep drawing in big crowds.
Legendary and Warner Bros. have grand ambitions for King Kong. The film is the second installment in a planned monster franchise. The first chapter, 2014's "Godzilla," opened to $93.2 million in the states before topping out at $529.1 million globally. The plan is for King Kong and Godzilla to meet in an epic showdown of primordial creatures in 2020.
"The movie is pure fun and that's translating into the box office," said Jeff Goldstein, domestic distribution chief at Warner Bros. He went on to predict that the film would benefit from rolling spring breaks that will see more than 20 percent of the nation's schoolchildren on vacation and looking for something to occupy their time. The opening weekend crowd for the film was 56% male and 35% under the age of 25. Imax showings accounted for $7.5 million worth of ticket sales.
Because of its massive production and marketing costs, "Kong: Skull Island" will need to do roughly $500 million worldwide to be considered a success. To that end, the film debuted to $81.6 million in 65 foreign markets. A lot is riding on how the film performs in China, the world's second-largest film market. "Kong: Skull Island" opens in the Middle Kingdom in two weeks.
Set in the waning days of the Vietnam War, "Skull Island" exchanges embassy helicopter rescues for oversized primates looming large against a fog-encrusted jungle setting. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who made a splash with the Sundance favorite "Kings of Summer," directs, with Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, and Brie Larson heading up the ensemble cast. Critics embraced the decision to give an "Apocalypse Now" sheen to the oft-filmed story of King Kong, with Variety's Owen Gleiberman hailing it as "a rousing and smartly crafted primordial-beastie spectacular."
With Wolvie and Kong duking it out for the top slot, Blumhouse and Universal's "Get Out" snagged third place. The low-budget thriller about a black man whose visit to his white girlfriend's hometown takes a sinister turn, picked up $21.1 million. It has earned $111 million in three weeks of release -- a fantastic return on its $4.5 million budget.
The top five was rounded out by Lionsgate's "The Shack" and Warner Bros.' "The LEGO Batman Movie," which earned $10.1 million and $7.8 million, respectively. "The Shack," a faith-based drama, has grossed $32.3 million in two weeks of release. The latest LEGO movie has earned $159 million after five weeks in theaters.
Among limited releases, CBS Films' "The Sense of an Ending," an adaptation of Julian Barnes's prize-winning novel, opened to $42,000 from four locations, while Focus World's "Raw," a horror film about a vegetarian student who turns to cannibalism, debuted to $25,230 from two theaters.
Ticket sales were up nearly 25% from the same weekend in 2016 -- a period that overlapped with the second weekend of "Zootopia" and the debut of "10 Cloverfield Lane." Revenues are up roughly 2% year-to-date, as the combination of "Logan," "Get Out" and now "Kong: Skull Island" are translating into a busy time at the box office. Next weekend brings the release of "Beast," which should expand 2017's lead.
"This could be the biggest March on record," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. "You don't have to wait until May to release blockbusters any more."