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Real-Life Superhero Movie is a Surprise Box Office Hit

Deadpool won the weekend, but another iconic figure has the bigger box office story. 
By  · Published on May 21st, 2018

Unsurprisingly, Deadpool 2 topped the box office chart over the weekend. The sequel even broke an attendance record in its debut, selling the most tickets ever for an R-rated movie on a Friday opening day: 5.8 million. That’s a few hundred-thousand people more than the first Deadpool (5.5 million) and last fall’s IT (5.6 million). However, 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded is still the R-rated first day champion, having opened on a Thursday and sold 6.2 million tickets that single day.

Even with Deadpool 2 beating its predecessor on Friday, though, the sequel couldn’t top the first Deadpool overall. Nor did it beat IT or The Matrix Reloaded. After drawing the majority of its fans on Friday, Deadpool 2 wound up with a total attendance of 13.6 million. The original Deadpool remains the R-rated champ with 15.4 million. In between, The Matrix Reloaded sold 15.2 million tickets in its debut 15 years ago, and IT sold 13.8 million. Deadpool 2 did, however, just barely beat The Passion of the Christ‘s 13.5 million people.

Also, as pointed out by Scott Mendelson at ForbesDeadpool 2 broke the opening-weekend record for a comedy sequel — yes, Deadpool 2 should count as a comedy (even Box Office Mojo thinks so now). The previous holder of this honor was Rush Hour 2, which sold 11.9 million tickets back in 2001. The closest comedy sequel in the past decade was The Hangover II, which sold 10.6 million tickets in 2011. The question now is whether it can become the best-selling comedy sequel of all time by ultimately beating current champ Meet the Fockers.

Meanwhile, a real-life figure who actually makes a cameo appearance in Deadpool 2 — in photographic form only — is having much more notable box office success. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, subject of a gag in the sequel as a potential candidate for X-Force, has her own film out in theaters right now, the documentary RBG. And it’s doing very well. Not only did the doc crack the top 10 in its second weekend, last weekend, but it held the spot in its third. In fact, RBG is the only non-debut film in the top 10 not to have slid down a notch.

The doc also sold more tickets this weekend (about 139,700) than last weekend (129,700), thanks to an increase in screens from 179 to 375. It’s not that common for such limited releases to break into the top 10, especially nonfiction titles and especially when we’re in the blockbuster movie season. Is Movie Pass helping out docs, too? Many arthouse theaters, including those in my neck of the woods (Atlanta) and specifically the single screen playing RBG accepts tickets sold through the subscription service. But at a time when documentaries have been doing pretty poorly in theatrical release, RBG is also just a special exception.

Chronicling the life and career of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, aka “the Notorious RBG,” as the internet has branded her in recent years, RBG is a fairly standard biographical profile. But Ginsburg, who has been on the bench for 25 years, has developed a sort of cult following since gaining a reputation as a dissenting voice, particularly on issues where she comes off as having the liberal opinion and in continuing her longtime support of gender equality. In RBG, she’s labeled a real-life “superhero” by interviewee Gloria Steinem.

In being about a political figure, RBG‘s success is not entirely out of nowhere. The top-selling documentaries of all time include such politically charged films as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine, as well as Dinesh D’Souza’s America and 2016: Obama’s America. You could even include An Inconvenient Truth, the sequel to which was one of last year’s best sellers. Still, docs about single humans who aren’t in the music business (never mind NPR’s Nina Totenberg calling Ginsburg a “rock star” in the film) are rarely hits of this size. Animal docs and concert films rule for the genre. Appropriately, RBG goes against the grain.

In other remarkable box office news, fellow nonfiction release Pope Francis – A Man of His Word, debuted in 16th place despite only showing on 346 screens. And the 50th anniversary re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey cracked the top 20 for the weekend while showing at only four locations. Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic had the best per-screen average with 5,500 tickets sold at each of those theaters. Also successful in limited release were Paul Schrader’s acclaimed latest, First Reformed, which sold about 11,000 tickets over just four screens, and the Grey Gardens prequel That Summer, which sold about 700 tickets at just one theater.

One box office figure I can’t explain is the jump for Super Troopers 2. The movie decreased its theater count by about two-thirds yet managed to increase its ticket sales and spot on the box office chart over last weekend. Perhaps the fact that, like Deadpool 2, it’s another R-rated comedy sequel (that also saw its best numbers on its first day) had something to do with the sudden surge. I’ve spotted quite a few tweets from moviegoers stating that a Deadpool 2 and Super Troopers 2 double was the thing to do over the weekend. (Maybe some of you also took my recommendation to watch RBG after you see Deadpool 2 and made that a double feature?)

Book Club Fonda

As for the other new releases, counter-programming against the R-rated Deadpool 2 was hit and miss. For the older folks, Book Club brought in about double the attendance forecast by Box Office Pro back in March and even exceeded the more recent increased expectations for the comedy, which stars Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, Jane Fonda, and Candice Bergen as four friends whose lives are changed after reading “50 Shades of Grey” (we think there should be more movies like Book Club, and now maybe we’ll at least get a sequel). But for the younger and family audience, the talking dog movie Show Dogs came up a little short even against modest predictions. On Chesil Beach, starring Saoirse Ronan, also underperformed in limited release.

On the global sphere, it’s worth pointing out that Deadpool 2 opened worldwide with $301 million compared to the first Deadpool‘s $260 million, albeit from 81 foreign markets compared to the original’s debut of 61 foreign markets. Also, Avengers: Infinity War has now grossed $1.8 billion worldwide (that’s fourth place for all-time), which is $500 million better than Black Panther‘s global gross of $1.3 billion. Yet Infinity War still trails its fellow MCU title domestically by $100 million.

Here are the weekend’s top 20 titles by number of tickets sold with new titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Deadpool 2 – 13.6 million (13.6 million)
2. Avengers: Infinity War – 3.1 million (65 million)
3. Book Club – 1.4 million (1.4 million)
4. Life of the Party – 0.8 million (3.4 million)
5. Breaking In – 0.7 million (3.1 million)
6. Show Dogs – 0.66 million (0.7 million)
7. Overboard – 0.5 million (4 million)
8. A Quiet Place – 0.4 million (19.2 million)
9. Rampage – 0.2 million (10.1 million)
10. RBG – 0.14 million (0.4 million)
11. I Feel Pretty – 0.13 million (5.1 million)
12. Super Troopers 2 – 0.12 million (3.2 million)
13. Black Panther – 0.09 million (76.2 million)
14. Tully – 0.06 million (0.9 million)
15. Disobedience – 0.054 million (0.2 million)
16. Pope Francis – A Man of His Word – 0.052 million (0.1 million)
17. Blockers – 0.044 million (6.4 million)
18. Isle of Dogs – 0.036 million (3.4 million)
19. Truth or Dare – 0.026 million (4.4 million)
20. 2001: A Space Odyssey re-release – 0.022 million (0.022 million)

All non-forecast box office data via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.