Jackie Chan and Jet Li may be getting old, but they packed a lot of punch into the box office this weekend. The Forbidden Kingdom, the first movie to pair the martial arts legends, fought its way to a victory, while the R-rated romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall finished a strong second in a hotly contested race that helped boost the cumulative box office to its best result in several weeks.
The Asian action fantasy grossed a better-than-expected $20.9 mil, according to Sunday’s estimates. That’s Jackie Chan‘s best debut ever for a non-Rush Hour movie, and it’s Jet Li’s top premiere after 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4, in which he had a supporting role. What’s more, it’s among the biggest openings ever for any martial-arts flick, and the highest one since Kill Bill Vol. 2 bowed with $25.1 mil in early 2004. With a kid-friendly plot and PG-13 rating (it was directed by Rob Minkoff, who also helmed movies like The Lion King and Stuart Little), The Forbidden Kingdom was able to draw in a young crowd, which accounted for fully half of its business and no doubt boosted box office. That audience gave the movie a strong A- CinemaScore grade, the best among all new releases, which suggests that the film should have more financial kick in the weeks to come.
Close behind at No. 2 was Forgetting Sarah Marshall, with $17.3 mil, a total that exceeded most predictions (but, I hate to say it, not mine, which was, ugh, way off). Although the movie didn’t win the weekend, that’s a total that most involved should be proud of, considering the film was rated R, featured a bunch of lesser-known TV stars, and opened in the spring against tough competition. Additionally, the well-reviewed movie didn’t cost much to make and it should have a long life on home video. Still, its debut trailed those of producer Judd Apatow’s biggest R-rated hits, The 40-Year-Old Virgin ($21.4 mil), Knocked Up ($30.7 mil), and Superbad ($33.1 mil). And while Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘s audience was evenly divided between men and women, they awarded it a merely okay B CinemaScore review — meaning that word of mouth may not be as strong as one might hope going into next weekend, which will feature the freshmen funny films Baby Mama and Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. Will audiences fast forget Sarah Marshall? We’ll see.
Last week’s champion, Prom Night (No. 3), was next, with $9.1 mil on a 56 percent decline. It was followed by the critically reviled 88 Minutes (No. 4), which earned just $6.8 mil and drew a poor B- CinemaScore. And Nim’s Island rounded out the top five with a $5.7 mil take.
Also of note, Ben Stein’s political/science documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (No. 9) earned $3.2 mil. That’s a very respectable total for a documentary, although non-fiction fare rarely opens in 1,052 theaters, as this right-leaning movie did. It’s also, as you’ll no doubt read elsewhere, substantially smaller than the $23.9 mil that the left-leaning Fahrenheit 9/11 debuted with in 2004 — but I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison given how Michael Moore’s film was about a much more resonant topic, had broad mainstream buzz, and opened during the summer.
Nevertheless, Expelled performed much better than the weekend’s other new current-affairs documentary, Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? That movie, the second feature from Super Size Me‘s Morgan Spurlock, banked a mere $143,299 in 102 locations, for a terrible $1,405 average.
Overall, the cumulative box office was on the rise for the first time in a while, surpassing the same frame a year ago by more than 9 percent. That makes this the first ”up” weekend in more than a month. Hooray! Well, okay, maybe it’s a bit early to start cheering — we’ve still had eight ”down” weekends out of the past 10, and year-to-year revenue (off 3.4 percent) and attendance (off 6.5 percent) remain in pretty sharp decline. But this could be a start.