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Box office report: ‘After Earth’ crashes, marks Will Smith’s worst summer opening in 20 years

Ever since Independence Day‘s $50.2 million debut on July 4th weekend in 1996, Will Smith has been the undisputed king of the summer box office. He’s led films like Men In Black; Bad Boys II; I, Robot; and Hancock to massive grosses — both domestically and around the world.

But his latest effort, After Earth, landed with a major thud on opening weekend, grossing just $27 million (distributor Sony told outlets it was expecting $35 million before the weekend) and opening in third place with a tepid “B” CinemaScore. The $130 million M. Night Shyamalan-directed sci-fi film, based on an original story idea by Will Smith himself, also starred the A-lister’s son, Jaden. The father/son duo previously found success with 2006′s The Pursuit of Happyness, which earned $163.6 million, but this time around, the casting gimmick wasn’t enough to get audiences into the door.

After Earth‘s opening weekend was Smith’s lowest summer debut since his first wide release, Made In America, which bowed with $11.8 million in 1993. Discouragingly, After Earth opened with even less than Smith’s oft-ridiculed Wild Wild West, which wrangled $27.8 million in its opening weekend in 1999.

So what went wrong? Well, M. Night Shyamalan’s name certainly repelled many potential viewers. The director has lost credibility with audiences after films like Lady In The Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender, and Sony wisely kept his name out of all marketing materials. Still, film buffs (and anyone that read the scathing reviews) weren’t fooled. The blame can’t lie solely with the director, though, especially at a time when people seem to feel little affection for the Smith family. Between accusations of Hollywood nepotism, backlash against eyebrow-raising interviews, and lingering suspicions about their involvement with Scientology, Will, Jaden, and the rest of the gang seem to be in a bit of a public opinion rut.

Whatever the reason for After Earth‘s domestic under-performance, Sony is hoping that international grosses can make up lost ground. And that certainly could happen since Will Smith’s film’s often gross more overseas than they do in America. Last year, Men In Black 3 took in $179 million domestically and $445 million internationally, and time will tell whether After Earth enjoys a similar fate.

But there were other movies at the box office this weekend, too. Let’s talk about those!

Fast & Furious 6 topped the chart for a second time, dropping by a hefty 65 percent to $34.5 million. While that’s the largest-ever second weekend drop for a Fast film, the well-reviewed sequel has already earned $170.4 million in just ten days, making it the second-highest grossing entry in the franchise behind Fast Five‘s $209 million haul. Worldwide, Fast & Furious 6 (or is it just Furious 6?) has earned $480.1 million, and it should race past the $600 million mark with ease. Universal spent about $160 million on the film. (Fun fact: between Fast & Furious 6, Pain & Gain, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Snitch, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has had a film in the Top 10 every weekend since February 22.)

The surprise of the weekend was Summit’s magician thriller Now You See Me, which worked box office magic on its opening weekend and earned $28.1 million from 2,925 theaters — good for second place. Expectations for the $80 million thriller, which stars Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Isla Fisher, and Mark Ruffalo, were in the $20 million-range, but business proved bouyant. Audiences, which were 51 percent female and 52 percent under 30, issued the film an enthusiastic “A-” CinemaScore grade, which should help the action entry thrive in coming weeks.

Two holdovers rounded out the Top 5. Star Trek Into Darkness dropped by a distressing 56 percent to $16.4 million in its third weekend, lifting its total to $181.2 million. The $190 million sequel is now officially lagging behind 2009′s Star Trek, which had earned $184.5 million at the same point in its run. Most sequels of well-received blockbusters get a big boost in business, but Darkness hasn’t been so lucky. In fifth, Fox’s animated film Epic fell 51 percent to about $16.4 million, giving it $65.2 million total against a $100 million budget. It looks like this won’t be another Croods-like performer for the studio.

1. Fast & Furious 6 – $34.5 million
2. Now You See Me – $28.1 million
3. After Earth – $27 million
4. Star Trek Into Darkness – $16.4 million
5. Epic – $16.4 million

Just outside the Top 5 was The Hangover Part III, which fell 62 percent to $15.9 million in its second weekend giving it a weak $88.1 million total. It’s truly astonishing how poorly Part III is playing when compared to The Hangover Part II, which had earned $185.8 million at the same point in its run. Yes, after 11 days Part III is trailing its predecessor by $97.7 million domestically. The $103 million Warner Bros. film is unlikely to even reach the $135 million mark that Part II earned in just five days. Fortunately, the film just had a stellar $82.3 million opening weekend overseas.