If you've been feeling ignored by Hollywood lately -- if you haven't found a movie at the theater that feels targeted toward you and your demographic -- then this should have been the weekend for you.
Sure, on the surface, this looked like a typical summer weekend, with one high-profile new release from one of the season's usual heavy-hitters (in this case, Pixar, whose "Cars 3" premiered at No. 1 with an estimated $53.5 million) and a superhero holdover continuing to rake it in (that'd be "Wonder Woman," which earned a healthy estimated $40.7 million in its third weekend).
But what you were really seeing, if you looked beyond the top two movies, was a weekend where underserved audiences finally had a reason to go to the theater. That explains the over-performances of "All Eyez on Me," the Tupac Shakur biopic that surprised in third place with an estimated $27.1 million, and "47 Meters Down," a low-budget shark-attack thriller from a newbie distributor which managed to debut in fifth place with a better-than-expected estimated of $11.5 million. It may even explain the failure of Scarlett Johansson's all-female ensemble comedy "Rough Night," which underwhelmed in its seventh-place debut with just an estimated $8.0 million opening.
Here's who made a rare visit to the popcorn counter this weekend, and here's what they saw.
You wouldn't think of them as an underserved demographic, but really, there's been nothing for them all summer; even the decidedly juvenile cartoon "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" has a PG-rated sense of humor that plays to older preteens and even adults. But "Cars 3" is G-rated, playing to an audience that was 75 percent families and 35 percent kids 12 and under.
If anything, critics have grumbled that "Cars 3" may be too kid-oriented. The "Cars" franchise is the Pixar series that has the least to offer adults and is the most geared toward selling toys (more than $10 billion in merchandise over the past decade). As a possible sign that the "Cars" franchise is running out of gas creatively, "Cars 3" has the lowest opening among the trilogy and, adjusted for inflation, among all Pixar movies except "The Good Dinosaur."
None of this matters to the young target audience, who gave the movie an A grade at CinemaScore. Meanwhile, Disney should consider itself fortunate that it released the movie in mid-June; a couple weeks later, and "Cars 3" would have been run over by "Despicable Me 3."
True, it's not just girls and women who are responsible for the remarkable run so far of "Wonder Woman," but it's clear that the movie speaks to them in ways that few other recent films have. So it's no surprise that the DC heroine's saga has held up better than most superhero movies. Instead of the steep drops we usually see in comic-book films after the first weekend, "Wonder Woman" dipped just 43 percent last weekend and just 30 percent this weekend. Having lassoed nearly $275 million in 17 days, "Wonder Woman" is poised to overtake "Man of Steel" ($291 million) and possibly "Suicide Squad" ($325 million) and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" ($330 million) as the top domestic earner in the DC Extended Universe so far.
Women were also the power behind the sleeper success of "47 Meters Down." No one expected much from the sisters-vs.-sharks tale, from new independent distributor Entertainment Studios. Neither critics nor customers thought much of the film. But women do make up the core of the horror audience, they did help make a hit of the similar "The Shallows" last year, and they like Mandy Moore, at least when she's starring on TV's "This Is Us." Scary trailers and posters helped overcome weak reviews and word-of-mouth, but the movie's strongest selling point may have been the months-long absence from the multiplex of other horror movies with strong appeal to genre's female fanbase.
Indeed, for once, this weekend may have seen women over-served at the multiplex. Which could explain why "Rough Night," which had been widely expected to crack the top 5 and $20 million, did neither. The bachelorette-night-gone-horribly-wrong comedy had a lot of other problems -- neither critics nor audiences liked the premise; Johansson isn't much of a box office draw outside her Marvel movies; and raunchy R-rated comedies haven't done well lately. Still, reviews, word-of-mouth, and modest star power didn't hinder "47 Meters Down." More likely, "Rough Night"'s biggest problem was timing; as its target audience was all buying tickets for "Wonder Woman, "47 Meters Down," and even "Cars 3." Yep, the usually testosterone-heavy series has a girl-power message this time, one that may have helped drive women and girls toward making up 49 percent of the movie's audience.
Early tracking suggested "All Eyez on Me" would earn just $15 to $22 million. After all, the movie had a troubled production history, it had no star power, and it got slammed by both critics and Jada Pinkett Smith, who was a lifelong friend of Tupac's. Nonetheless, audiences loved the movie, judging by its A- grade at CinemaScore. It's not going to be the kind of smash that the similar "Straight Outta Compton" was two years ago, but as a smaller sleeper hit, it still seems to be surprising the experts the same way.
But it's also notable that there hasn't been a movie this clearly targeted toward African-Americans since "Get Out" four months ago," or "Hidden Figures" a few weeks before that. And it's also notable that, like those films, "Eyez" clearly crossed over beyond that target demographic to attract general audiences, as is apparent from the movie's success in pre-opening sales at Fandango. After all, Tupac was immensely popular among listeners and movie audiences of all colors, so it shouldn't have been a shock that his biopic would be as well.
Given what an afterthought the domestic market has seemed to be all year, with movies like "The Mummy" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" becoming blockbusters overseas while stumbling at home, it's refreshing to see a weekend of movies that, if not clearly aimed at the home crowd, at least took American viewers into account. "Cars 3" returns the franchise to an American setting. "Eyez" got made despite Hollywood conventional wisdom that African-American-cast movies don't do well abroad. Despite its metric-system title, "47 Meters Down" is still about American tourists. And even "Rough Night" is the sort of comedy that's said to translate poorly to foreign audiences.
No wonder this weekend's total domestic box office was up 30 percent from last week, making this the sixth biggest weekend of the year to date. (Maybe the fourth-biggest, once final numbers come in on Monday; it's just a hair behind the weekends marked by the debuts of "Logan" and "The LEGO Batman Movie.") It's weird to think of Americans as a whole being an underserved demographic, but that's how it's been. As a corrective, this weekend's films may not have been your idea of cheeseburgers and apple pie, but they were to a lot of American moviegoers who might otherwise have stayed home.