Defying bad buzz and low expectations, 'The Incredible Hulk' was No. 1 at the box office, while M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Happening' also fared well in third place
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Credit: Rhythm & Hues

On what wound up being one of the more unpredictable weekends of this summer box office season, The Incredible Hulk smashed the competition to earn $54.5 million and finish No. 1, while The Happening scared up a $30.5 mil gross that exceeded expectations.

Considering all the obstacles that this version of The Incredible Hulk had to overcome — bad buzz, an apparent lack of consumer interest in another Hulk movie, bad buzz, uh, bad buzz — this is a perfectly respectable, if not impressive, opening. (It’s also pretty much in line with my prognostication!) Yes, that $54.5 mil total represents a moderate decline from the $62.1 mil debut of Ang Lee’s much-maligned 2003 version of the Marvel comics saga. But, playing in 3,505 locations, the film scored a strong $15,560 per-theater average (better than both Kung Fu Panda and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian garnered on their first weekends, it’s worth noting). It earned more than the last major comics-franchise reboot, 2005’s Batman Begins, grossed on its opening weekend ($48.7 mil). It achieved the best debut ever for star Edward Norton (surpassing the $36.5 mil premiere of another franchise reprise, 2002’s Red Dragon). And Hulk ’08 also banked an additional $31 mil overseas.

Still, the film’s biggest surprises came from its sweet polling data: It earned an A- CinemaScore grade and drew a (male-dominated) audience that was evenly divided between young people and old. More incredibly, Universal reports that 82 percent of the crowd for this film had seen Hulk ’03, meaning that they weren’t deterred from giving the franchise another shot. No wonder the studio is already suggesting there could be a sequel.

As I also foresaw, Kung Fu Panda was the weekend’s No. 2 finisher, with $34.3 mil. That was the result of a decent 43 percent drop from the animated film’s big win last time around, and it brings the movie’s 10-day domestic total to $118 mil.

Next at No. 3 was The Happening, which certainly fared much better than most pundits predicted. Its $30.5 mil opening was the biggest premiere for director M. Night Shyamalan since 2004’s The Village bowed with $50.7 mil, and Monday’s final figures could give it enough of a boost to make it the third-best debut of the director’s distinguished career (also after Signs‘ $60.1 mil first-weekend take). Unfortunately, the movie also got a dreaded D CinemaScore grade from ticket buyers — and at the box office , ”D” stands for ”deadly,” and ”don’t expect it the movie to hang on for long.”

Rounding out the top five were You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (No. 4 with $16.4 mil) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (No. 5 with $13.5 mil; its total domestic take is now $275.3 mil).

Overall, the cumulative box office was up a whopping 24 percent from the same frame a year ago, making this third consecutive weekend with a year-to-year increase of more than 20 percent. Moreover, the total Summer 2008 domestic box office gross is now running 4.6 percent better than that of the sequel-heavy Summer 2007. What a better way to celebrate Father’s Day — hope you’re having a great one, Dad!

The Happening
  • Movie
  • 99 minutes