He turned 60 this year, but Godzilla tramples like a giant lizard half his age.
Godzilla stomped the box office and the record books this weekend, wreaking havoc to the tune of $93.2 million, according to studio estimates from Rentrak.
The debut was “expectation-busting,” says Rentrak’s Paul Dergarabedian. The opening smashed analysts’ projections of $70 million and marked the largest opening of all time for a monster movie. The previous champ, 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park, bowed to $72 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
But Godzilla was halfway to the record by Friday night, earning $38.5 million, the year’s biggest single day in ticket sales. The debut fell just short of the biggest single weekend of 2014. The title remains with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which opened to $95 million. Godzilla also earned $22 million globally on IMAX screens, the second-largest May debut since last year’s Iron Man 3 took in $28.7 million.
Like The Lego Movie, Godzilla flourished by hitting the generational sweet spot: a brand beloved by adults but modernized for kids.
And adults seemed pleased by the mayhem. The Bryan Cranston film earned recommendations from 72% of critics, according to survey site Rotten Tomatoes — a strong score for a monster movie, particularly this one.
“Chalk this up to being one of the few blockbusters where reviews seemed to matter,” says Reagen Sulewski, analyst for Box Office Prophets. “There’s little doubt that the Godzilla name is not one associated with high-quality films, especially with the memory of Godzilla ’98 still fresh in a lot of people’s minds.” That version, starring Matthew Broderick, earned $136 million but was excoriated by critics and fans.
And there’s no denying the resilience of the atomically radiated reptile, who has become one of film’s most enduring characters since he hit screens in a rubber suit in 1954. Since then, Godzilla has starred in 28 Japanese films and four Hollywood pictures.
Sulewski credited Legendary Pictures and distributor Warner Bros. with elevating traditionally camp material.
“Taking the material seriously and producing a thoughtful monster movie that still had plenty of eye candy has proven to be a masterstroke,” says Sulewski, hailing director Gareth Edwards for creating “something that’s being mentioned in the same breath as films like Jaws, Aliens and Jurassic Park.”
That may be premature, given that the movie scored a B-plus among moviegoers, according to CinemaScore, leaving its word-of-mouth future to be determined. But at a budget of $160 million, Godzilla will be profitable by next weekend.
The only other major newcomer, baseball drama Million Dollar Arm, didn’t have its best stuff, taking fourth place with $10.5 million. Analysts expected about $14 million for the Jon Hamm movie.
“Disney has a way of keeping these budgets low and with only $25 million as an outlay, they should ultimately be fine,” Sulewski says. “However, call this one a bit of a missed opportunity.”
The Seth Rogen comedy Neighbors took second with $26 million, followed by The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with $16.8 million.
Revenge comedy The Other Woman was fifth with $6.3 million. Final figures are expected Monday.
By Scott Bowles