LOS ANGELES — Executives at Universal Pictures can break out the red plastic cups.
The studio’s R-rated comedy “Neighbors” far exceeded industry expectations at the domestic box office this past weekend, debuting at No. 1 with $51.1 million, according to an estimate from Universal. Heading into the weekend, prerelease audience surveys had indicated the flick starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron would be in a tight race with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Both films had been projected to gross roughly $40 million apiece.
Instead, the superhero sequel saw its ticket sales tumble 59 percent to $37.2 million in its second weekend. After 10 days in theaters, the film has grossed $147.9 million — lagging behind director Marc Webb’s first film in the Spidey franchise. The 2012 “The Amazing Spider-Man” collected $165.9 million after 10 days.
“Neighbors” marks another win for Rogen after last summer’s hit “This Is the End,” an apocalypse comedy he co-wrote, co-directed and starred in that collected more than $100 million. He served as a producer on “Neighbors,” in which he plays a dad who moves in next door to a riotous frat house with his wife (Rose Byrne) and newborn.
The film’s strong opening also bodes well for Efron, who has had a tough year in the public eye because of a struggle with substance abuse. Though he has been a teen favorite since his breakout role in the “High School Musical” series, the 26-year-old has had trouble proving himself as a legitimate box-office draw. “Neighbors” is his best opening ever, not counting the animated film “The Lorax,” in which he voiced a character.
“He’s been in a lot of movies — we had him in ‘Charlie St. Cloud,’ and I liked him in that, but the picture didn’t work to this level,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal’s president of domestic distribution, referring to the actor’s 2010 weepy drama.
Most critics were kind to “Neighbors,” as the film has notched a 74 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Those who saw the picture this past weekend gave it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore. The film appealed to a broad audience, because male and female moviegoers came out in nearly equal measure: 53 percent of the crowd was female, the same percentage that was 25 and older.
“The appeal is not what you would think it would be for a raunchy comedy — which is heavily young male,” added Rocco, whose studio financed the picture for a modest $18 million. “I think that has a lot to do with Rose Byrne and the fact that it’s about a family with a baby.”
Overseas, where the film is known in many countries as “Bad Neighbors,” the picture was No. 1 in 17 of the 29 locations where it debuted. The majority of the movie’s $34.4 million international total came from Britain and Australia.
Meanwhile, “Spider-Man 2” continues to perform well abroad. This past weekend, the film starring Andrew Garfield surpassed $400 million, taking in an additional $69.5 million. In China, where the last Spidey film did its best foreign business, the sequel has already made $54 million. With an international total of $403 million, the film has a strong chance of exceeding the $490 million the 2012 film made abroad — a necessity for backer Sony Pictures, since the film is not doing as well as the first in the U.S. and Canada.
But Rory Bruer, the studio’s president of distribution, said he feels the sequel still has “a lot more gas” in the tank.
“I felt the drop it took this weekend in the U.S. was reasonable for a film that opened to the size we did,” he said. “I’m not sure if we’ll match the first one domestically. It’s going to be close.”
Back in the States, two other films opened to disappointing results. The animated film “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return,” based on the books by L. Frank Baum’s great-grandson, opened with a dismal $3.7 million. The picture, which features the voices of actors such as Lea Michele and Dan Aykroyd, cost $70 million to produce.
The 3-D film was expected to start with at least $12 million but ended up grossing even less than “Moms’ Night Out,” a PG-rated family film playing in about 1,500 fewer theaters. Produced by the faith-based Affirm Media and distributed by Sony, “Moms’ Night Out” opened with $4.2 million. The film, which had a budget of $5 million, follows a group of mothers whose husbands watch after their kids for an evening; its most-recognizable star is Patricia Heaton from the sitcoms “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle.”
In limited release, Jon Favreau’s “Chef” debuted in six theaters and grossed $204,201, amounting to a decent per-location average of $34,034. Written, directed by and starring Favreau, the film follows a gourmet who opens up his own food truck after losing his job as a kitchen manager.