The dystopian science fiction thriller "Elysium" topped the weekend box office with $30.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday, enough to beat three newcomers, including the Jennifer Aniston comedy "We're the Millers."
Sony's "Elysium," directed by Neill Blomkamp and starring Matt Damon, opened in line with expectations, but still debuted somewhat modestly for a $115 million action film. It couldn't match Blomkamp's previous film, the $30 million "District 9," which opened with $37.4 million in August 2009.
But "Elysium" was able to come out on top in a crowded weekend, with three other new wide releases: the R-rated Warner Bros. comedy "We're the Millers," starring Jason Sudeikis and Aniston ($26.6 million over the weekend, a strong $38 million since opening Tuesday night); Disney's "Cars" spinoff "Planes" ($22.5 million) and Fox's fantasy sequel "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" ($14.6 million over the weekend, $23.5 million since Wednesday).
"District 9" was something of a phenomenon: a relatively low-budget science-fiction film from a first-time, South African director that made over $210 million worldwide and landed four Academy Awards nominations, including best picture. Like "District 9," ''Elysium" is rife with allegory, a futuristic tale heavy with contemporary themes of wealth discrepancy, health care and immigration. But it was also made with more than three times the budget of "District 9" and added stars Damon and Jodie Foster.
Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony said the studio was proud to release an ambitious film like "Elysium" and said that it would be "very profitable" for Sony. The film launched internationally in a handful of markets, including Russia, taking in $10.9 million overseas. With the added star power of Damon and Foster, "Elysium" should be a bigger draw than "District 9" was abroad.
"International is going to be the big, big win on this film for us," said Bruer.
The weekend was enough to push the box office just past the pace of last year, which means that despite several spectacular flops this summer, Hollywood's 2013 is currently equal to its 2012. The year-to-date gross of $7 billion is even with last year, although attendance is down 2.9 percent.
"Yes, there's been some high-profile failures," said Chris Aronson, head of distribution for Fox. "But the summer's been fantastic despite the gloom and doom some in the media have portrayed."
The market was crowded with family films, including new releases "Percy Jackson" and "Planes," as well as holdovers like Sony's "Smurfs 2" ($9.5 million in its second week) and Fox's "Turbo" ($2.3 million in its fourth week). With the box office led by two R-rated films, it made for a diverse weekend of movie-going.
"It used to be called the dog days of August — and you still get some junk thrown in to August," said Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "But it can also be the land of opportunity for films that aren't cookie-cutter for audiences that are burned out by blockbusters."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released on Monday.
1. "Elysium," $30.5 million ($10.9 million international).
2. "We're the Millers," $26.6 million.
3. "Planes," $22.5 million.
4. "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," $14.6 million.
5. "2 Guns," $11.1 million.
6. "Smurfs 2," $9.5 million ($34.6 million international).
7. "The Wolverine," $8 million.
8. "The Conjuring," $6.7 million.
9. "Despicable Me 2," $5.7 million.
10. "Grown Ups 2," $3.7 million.