It's weird to think of King Kong as an underdog, but that's what he was, going into this weekend's box office brawl.
It was supposed to be a close fight between the mighty ape and another hairy hero, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. Given the strong word-of-mouth from last weekend's smash opening, "Logan" was expected to lose just half of last week's business and finish in the mid-$40M range, giving newcomer "Kong: Skull Island" a run for its money. It would also be competing against "Get Out," another genre movie that's shown strong staying power.
No one expected "Kong," yet another in a long line of attempts to reboot the 1933 classic original version of "King Kong," to open much higher than that, either. (Peter Jackson's "King Kong," opened with $50.1 million back in 2005.)
When the fog finally cleared from the mysterious isle on Sunday, "Skull Island" had grossed an estimated $61 million. It earned a clear victory over "Logan," which fell 57 percent to an estimated $37.9 million. Meanwhile, in its third weekend, "Get Out" dropped an amazing 25 percent of the previous weekend's business and came in third with an estimated $21.1 million.
How did "Kong" beat the odds? Here are six ways.
1. Kong Is a Box Office Draw
"You will have the tallest leading man in Hollywood," is what "King Kong" creator Merian C. Cooper reportedly promised Fay Wray. More than eight decades later, Kong is still a towering star, one so iconic he continues to loom large in the public imagination no matter how many years pass between screen appearances. Not to slight Marvel regulars Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson, but the real star of "Kong: Skull Island," and the movie's biggest box office draw, is the simian special effect with his name in the title.
2. March Is the New Place for Summer Blockbusters
As this column noted last week, March is the new May, with summer-worthy blockbusters coming out all month long.
From "Logan" to the upcoming "Beauty and the Beast," "Power Rangers," and "Ghost in the Shell," Hollywood is poised to earn nearly ten percent of its 2017 revenue during a month when cold weather is usually still discouraging people from leaving their living rooms for the multiplex. Then again, there's still spring break, which, for many students, coincided with the weekend of the new Kong movie's release.
3. Lack of Competition
You'd think all these March mega-movies would cannibalize each other; indeed, that was the logic behind the lowball predictions for the "Kong" premiere. But as we saw last week, the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats effect was in play, and the successful debut of "Logan" seemed to put moviegoers in the mood to hang out at the multiplex, where they also bought tickets for fellow new releases "The Shack" (above) and "Before I Fall."
This weekend, "Kong" was fortunate not to have to compete against any other new wide releases, but genre movie fans still had a banquet of choices, thanks to holdovers "Logan" (which, despite its steep-ish slide, still made a ton of money this weekend, pushing its 10-day total to $152.7 million) and "Get Out" (whose strong third weekend came in part because it actually added another 205 screens, for a total of 3,143).
4. Male Audiences Love Monster Movies
Casting "Room" Oscar-winner Brie Larson as the film's heroine may have been an attempt to bring female audiences on board, but it didn't quite work. Exit polling shows the movie drew an audience that was 56 percent male. (Some pundits think women are holding out on spending their ticket money until "Beauty" opens next weekend.)
Then again, that makes "Kong" smart counter-programming to the young-women-targeting "Before I Fall" (still No. 6 on the chart) and to "Get Out," since horror tends to draw a predominantly female audience. And it's a more even ratio than "Logan," whose ticketbuyers have been 63 percent male.
5. Good Buzz
"Kong" earned surprisingly strong reviews, scoring a 78 percent "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes. To the extent that reviews still matter to older moviegoers, they helped a lot.
Indeed, even though "Kong" is rated PG-13, only 18 percent of its viewers were under the age of 18. Nearly half (48 percent) were over 35. Paying customers gave the film strong word-of-mouth, as measured by an overall B+ CinemaScore, but viewers over 25 liked it more than most, giving it an A grade.
6. The MonsterVerse
Maybe not everybody knew, but "Skull Island" is set in the same kaiju-infested universe as Warner Bros.' 2014 reboot of "Godzilla." The studio calls this "The MonsterVerse." It's very likely that some fans stuck around through the closing credits, knowing that there would be a teaser for upcoming installments, including new battles featuring Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah, not to mention the ultimate showdown, "Godzilla vs. Kong," due in 2020.
It's not all rosy for the big gorilla. The movie cost a reported $185 million to make and (if the recent "Godzilla" is any guide) more than $100 million to market. A $75 million opening would have been a stronger sign that "Skull Island" can earn back its costs. (The radioactive lizard enjoyed a $93.2 million debut three years ago.)
Still, "Kong" did earn an estimated $81.6 million overseas, for a global total of $142.6 million. And it's still two weeks away from opening in China, which could make all the difference. With any luck, world domination is at hand for the massive monkey and his fellow mega-monsters.