Box Office: Without Wolverine ‘X-Men: First Class’ can only muster $56 million debut

As predicted after its $23 million Friday debut, “X-Men: First Class” had the smallest debut of any “X-Men” film in the history of the 11-year-old franchise coming in with $56 million this weekend.  Technically, the first “X-Men” film grossed less, $54 million, but average ticket prices were about a third less expensive than they were back in 2000 when Bryan Singer’s film kicked off the series.  “First Class” still topped the box office, but there are a number of reasons why the picture performed as it did.

The absence of key Marvel Comics character Wolverine and Hugh Jackman has to be first and foremost on any studio executive’s radar.  Jackman’s portrayal may be as beloved as Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow at this point.  Second, 20th Century Fox presented a weak and almost late to the game marketing campaign that seemed to assume the core “X-Men” audience would still come even without some of their favorite characters.  That may not have been the case.  Third, the marketing creative was also pretty weak and uninspired (something they are clearly aware of avoiding with August’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”).  Instead of treating the film as something fresh and new, Fox went the safe angle and tried to position it as just another “X-Men” movie.  Without some of the fan’s favorite characters though, that made it seem less important and even second rate. And, finally, critical acclaim did not reach the masses fast enough.  The positive buzz just came too late.  Still, there will no doubt be much second guessing on the studio’s Century City lot on Monday morning as Fox hopes word of mouth provides solid legs in the weeks to come.

“First Class” also missed out on a huge opportunity after “The Hangover, Pt. II’s” estimated 62.2% drop after its spectacular debut Memorial Day weekend.  “Hangover” still claimed the second spot with $32.4 million, however, and Warner Bros. execs are no doubt euphoric over the R-rated comedy’s $186.8 million in just 11 days.

“Kung Fu Panda 2” fell to third with a solid, but disappointing 49% drop.  The critically praised “Kung Fu Panda” sequel kicked up another $24.3 million for $100.4 million so far, but competition from “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and “Cars 2” will likely keep the DreamWorks Animation title from reaching the $200 million mark most analysts and box office observers expected.  Was the marketing too much of the same? Did the sequel not appear different enough?  Was the 3D push a turn off to moms and dads?  Much to consider before DreamWorks decides on a third installment of the Jack Black voiced series.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” continued it’s steady, but not spectacular U.S. run with another $18 million for fourth.  The Disney flick hit $190 million domestically so far, but has been a monster overseas with over $536.7 million as global audiences embrace 3D screens.

On the other had, the continuing shocker of the summer so far has been the performance of Universal Pictures’ “Bridesmaids.”  The female driven comedy dropped just a scant 26.7% in its fourth weekend for another $12.1 million as it crossed the $100 million mark with $107 million so far. Could $150 million be within reach?  

Other milestones reached over the three-day frame include “Fast Five” passing the $200 million mark domestically ($202 million), “Midnight in Paris” hitting almost $7 million while in no more than 147 theaters and “Thor” on the verge of $170 million ($169 million to date).

Next weekend’s new films include “Super 8” and “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.”