LOS ANGELES (AP) — It used to be that if a summer flick starred Will Smith, it was a guaranteed moneymaker: First place at the box office, maybe a franchise in the making.
But the 44-year-old actor's latest film opened with a thud.
"After Earth," a futuristic action-adventure co-starring Smith's 14-year-old son, Jaden, debuted in third place, collecting a disappointing $27.5 million over the weekend.
"It's tough because we're very proud of the film," said Sony's president of worldwide distribution, Rory Bruer.
Box-office analysts had predicted the sci-fi tale that cost an estimated $130 million to make would open just behind the international street-racing romp "Fast & Furious 6," which held onto the top spot with $35.2 million after its huge debut last week. Instead, second place went to Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment's "Now You See Me," which exceeded expectations with $29.25 million. The magic-heist thriller's ensemble cast includes Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson and Mark Ruffalo.
"When you're a Tom Cruise or Will Smith, there are huge expectations placed on a movie that are not placed on an ensemble," said Paul Dergarabedian of box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "It just shows you how competitive the summer marketplace is and star power isn't necessarily what gets you there."
Based on a story by Smith, "After Earth" follows a father and son stranded on an abandoned Earth after a crash landing. Dad is injured, so the son must overcome his fear and brave the planet's dangerous creatures and conditions to get help.
The film was deemed "rotten" by review aggregator RottenTomatoes.com, with only 12 percent of critics offering praise.
"Quite simply, this is one of the worst films of 2013," Richard Roeper wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times.
The poor reception by critics and fans also hurts director M. Night Shyamalan, whose profile has been dinged by the failure of 2006's "Lady in the Water" and poor reviews for his two most recent films. Sony spokesman Jeff Blake called the director "a world-class filmmaker" in a recent statement, but Shyamalan was notably absent from "After Earth" marketing and promotions.
"Shyamalan is clearly a director-for-hire here," Scott Foundas wrote in Variety, "his disinterest palpable from first frame to last."
Sony's president of distribution said the studio still has high hopes for the film internationally as it expands to 60 more countries Friday. Said Bruer: "We're still feeling confident that as the film plays out throughout the world, we're going to be absolutely fine."
Meanwhile, "Fast & Furious 6" continues to speed past its competitors. With settings around the globe and an international cast led by Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson, along with the international language of fast cars, the film has broad appeal for viewers young and old.
"It's playing like what we call a four-quadrant movie, even though on paper it looks like a PG-13, testosterone-driven racing movie," Dergarabedian said. "It's just a wild and fun ride at the movie theater, and that's what people want when they go to the movies in the summer."
"Fast" could enjoy a third week on top as the newest action offering among Friday's openers "The Internship" and "The Purge."
The top 20 movies at U.S. and Canadian theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by Hollywood.com, are:
1. "Fast & Furious 6," Universal, $35,164,440, 3,686 locations, $9,540 average, $171,003,965, two weeks.
2. "Now You See Me," Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment, $29,254,674, 2,925 locations, $10,002 average, $29,254,674, one week.
3. "After Earth," Sony/Columbia, $27,520,040, 3,401 locations, $8,092 average, $27,520,040, one week.
4. "Star Trek: Into Darkness," Paramount, $16,780,895, 3,585 locations, $4,681 average, $181,537,381, three weeks.
5. "Epic," Fox, $16,616,310, 3,894 locations, $4,267 average, $65,377,491, two weeks.
6. "The Hangover Part III," Warner Bros., $16,385,254, 3,565 locations, $4,596 average, $88,540,908, two weeks.
7. "Iron Man 3," Disney, $8,442,451, 2,895 locations, $2,916 average, $385,187,736, five weeks.
8. "The Great Gatsby," Warner Bros., $6,517,317, 2,635 locations, $2,473 average, $128,508,209, four weeks.
9. "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani," Eros Int'l, $1,568,677, 161 locations, $9,743 average, $1,568,677, one week.
10. "Mud," Roadside Attractions, $1,209,355, 581 locations, $2,082 average, $16,849,451, six weeks.
11. "The Croods," Fox, $665,624, 506 locations, $1,315 average, $180,588,685, 11 weeks.
12. "Frances Ha," IFC, $530,493, 132 locations, $4,019 average, $1,556,325, three weeks.
13. "42," Warner Bros., $512,231, 501 locations, $1,022 average, $92,331,685, eight weeks.
14. "Oz the Great and Powerful," Disney, $419,116, 330 locations, $1,270 average, $233,032,311, 13 weeks.
15. "Before Midnight," Sony Pictures Classics, $404,311, 31 locations, $13,042 average, $774,083, two weeks.
16. "Oblivion," Universal, $394,705, 357 locations, $1,106 average, $88,067,670, seven weeks.
17. "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," Paramount, $276,841, 286 locations, $968 average, $121,588,603, 10 weeks.
18. "Escape From Planet Earth," Weinstein Co., $195,323, 268 locations, $729 average, $56,322,427, 16 weeks.
19. "What Maisie Knew," Millennium Entertainment, $191,169, 101 locations, $1,893 average, $528,635, five weeks.
20. "Love Is All You Need," Sony Pictures Classics, $167,820, 71 locations, $2,364 average, $706,332, five weeks.
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APSandy .
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.
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