Here’s a sentence I didn’t expect to write: A film starring Megan Fox opened at No. 1 this weekend with an estimated $65.0 million and dethroned a Marvel movie after just one week atop the chart.
I wasn’t alone; no one expected the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot to enjoy such a huge debut. Pundits did expect “Guardians of the Galaxy” to fall to about $40 million in its second weekend (in fact, it earned an estimated $41.5 million), but they still thought it would beat “Turtles” in a close contest. Some pundits predicted a “Turtles” tally as low as $34 million, or about half what it actually earned.
After all, it was a competitive weekend, with four new wide releases. “Guardians” had just opened well above expectations, so even with a 56 percent drop in week two, it was still expected to win. And no one thought much of “Turtles” — not critics, who panned it; not early audiences, who gave it a mediocre B grade at word-of-mouth tracker CinemaScore; and not box office experts, who remembered the last “Turtles” reboot just seven years ago, which opened with just $24.3 million on the way to a $54.1 million total.
So, what’s behind the surprising renaissance for Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo? Here are some possible answers:
Michael Bay. Bay’s movies are like porn; everyone claims to hate them, and yet someone is spending a lot of money to see them. The “Transformers” filmmaker didn’t direct this one; he just produced it, but it still bears his auteurist fingerprints. Critics may cringe at his formula of fireballs, frenetic cutting, and full-blast sound effects, but it does sell tickets.
Megan Fox. Sure, she’s been box office poison lately, hitless since “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” five years ago. It’s as if no one wants to see her do anything except play second fiddle to oversized versions of ’80s toy figurines in Michael Bay movies. Oh, wait…
Weak competition. Three new movies that might have stolen away potential “Turtles” ticketbuyers failed to do so. “Into the Storm” might have grabbed action fans, but it opened at just an estimated $18.0 million, good for third place. Prestige pic “The Hundred-Foot Journey” might have grabbed older moviegoers, but it opened in fourth with an estimated $11.1 million. And “Sep Up All In” could have drawn teens and young adults to the umpteenth installment of the “Step Up” dance-movie franchise, but it barely mustered a sixth-place debut with an estimated $6.6 million.
Nostalgia. According to studio polling, 55 percent of “Turtles” ticketbuyers were over 25. Maybe they have fond memories of the old Saturday morning cartoon series or the three live-action movies from the early ’90s. Maybe they’re parents now who took their kids to see the traditionally family-friendly franchise; after all, the children probably watch the currently popular “Turtles” series on Nickelodeon. (Besides, they took the kids to see “Guardians” last week, so there were no other family-fare options except the self-styled “heroes on the half-shell.”)
Tone. Given the clearly absurd and parodic source material, “Turtles” is surprisingly dark and serious, taking the whole origin-story mythology at face value. Some viewers may have missed the tongue-in-cheek humor of the old-school “Turtles,” but maybe the more violent, grown-up tone helped draw older viewers, including those who weren’t “Turtles” fans before.
It’s worth noting, then, just how important older moviegoers have been to the success, of “Turtles,” just as they were to “Guardians” and “Get On Up” last week and have been to other films throughout the summer. Then again, “Turtles”‘ triumph among the aged may be short-lived, since next weekend brings the all-geezer all-stars of “The Expendables 3.” The older audience giveth; the older audience taketh away.