I was hoping to see THE INTERNSHIP this weekend, but didn’t have the time.

Box office report: ‘The Purge’ doubles the debut of ‘The Internship’ with $36.4 million

Many assumed that the weekend before the debut of Man of Steel would be a calm one at the box office, but that was not the case. Universal’s thriller The Purge surged into the top spot this weekend and shattered all expectations with a massive $36.4 million debut.

The film, produced by Paranormal Activity mastermind Jason Blum, cost only $3 million to make, and because its marketing campaign was predominantly digital (read: inexpensive), the micro-budgeted film will become a hugely profitable release for the currently on-fire Universal.

The Purge had an intriguing premise: for one night every year, all crime (including murder) is legal. Universal’s marketing team effectively communicated that twisted plot in trailers and ads, and the premise helped pack theaters, though it didn’t deliver on audiences’ high expectations. Crowds issued the film a discouraging “C” CinemaScore grade, and the film sank 38 percent from Friday to Saturday — a sign of poor word-of-mouth.

The Purge gave star Ethan Hawke his best opening weekend ever — trouncing Training Day‘s $22.6 million debut in 2001. Hawke also thrived on the indie circuit this weekend, as his film Before Midnight scored $585,000 from just 52 locations for an early $1.5 million total. Before Midnight‘s robust $11,243 per theater average trailed only one other film in the Top 20: The Purge, which had a sizzling $14,353 average at its 2,536 locations.

Universal reports that audiences for The Purge were quite diverse, with Hispanic moviegoers making up 33 percent of ticket buyers. Interestingly, the film also played predominantly to women, who accounted for 56 percent of the audience.

Another Universal film held strong in second place. Fast & Furious 6 decelerated by a healthy 44 percent to $19.8 million and has now earned $203 million total after three weekends. The $160 million sequel is just days away from surpassing Fast Five‘s $209 million domestic cume, and with $584.6 million globally, it will soon race past Five‘s $626.1 million worldwide total. Notably, Fast & Furious 6 gave star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson his 16th straight week in the Top 10.

Last weekend’s surprise breakout Now You See Me worked some more box-office magic in its second weekend. Summit’s $80 million thriller declined just 34 percent to $19.5 million, giving the magician thriller a $61.4 million total after 10 days. With a few more weeks of sturdy holds like this, Now You See Me could become an impressive $100 million hit.

Fox’s Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson comedy The Internship opened in fourth place with $18.1 million, a somewhat tepid result from the duo that helped Wedding Crashers debut with $33.9 million back in 2005. Google, which is featured throughout the film, is likely used to better launches.

While The Internship did exceed Fox’s modest expectations, its mild $5,377 per theater average and the looming competitor This is the End may hurt its box office longevity. On the bright side, The $58 million comedy did earn a “B+” CinemaScore grade from audiences, which were split 50/50 between males and females and were 61 percent above the age of 25.

Spending one final weekend in the Top 5 was Epic, which dipped only 27 percent (the smallest drop in the Top 10) to $12.1 million. After three weekends, the $100 million animated film has earned $84.2 million.

1. The Purge – $36.4 million
2. Fast & Furious 6 – $19.8 million
3. Now You See Me – $19.5 million
4. The Internship – $18.1 million
5. Epic – $12.1 million

In milestone news, Star Trek Into Darkness passed the $200 million mark. Thanks to the J.J. Abrams-directed film’ $11.7 million weekend, Darkness has now earned $200.1 million domestically, and it’s running a tad behind 2009′s Star Trek, which had earned $209.3 million at the same point in its run.

In limited release, Joss Whedon’s Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing fared very well in five theaters, earning $183,000 — enough for a $36,600 per theater average. The black-and-white film starring Nathan Fillion and Alexis Denisof will expand over the next few weeks.