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By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES, May 17 (Variety.com) - "Pitch Perfect 2" hit all the right notes at the box office, snagging first place on the charts with a smashing $70.3 million debut despite fierce competition from "Mad Max: Fury Road."
Universal's acapella sequel earned more in its first weekend than the $65 million that the original "Pitch Perfect" pulled in during its entire North American theatrical run. The only comparable performance is the way that "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" opened with $54.9 million, more than the $53.9 million that the first spy satire racked up during its domestic engagement.
Like the first "Austin Powers" film, "Pitch Perfect" put up big numbers on home entertainment platforms, allowing people to catch up with a movie they may have missed while it was in theaters. Add to that the ubiquity of the breakout number from the first film, "Cups," and shows it inspired such as the reality series "Sing it On," and it's easy to understand the surge in interest between the two installments.
"People loved the first movie and it resonated well beyond that $65 million that the first film did," said Nick Carpou, Universal's domestic distribution chief. "This was original [intellectual property] for us and to be able to build on the first film and expand its popularity is pretty amazing."
"Pitch Perfect 2" brought back original stars Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, along with newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. It marks Elizabeth Banks' feature film directorial debut and is the second highest opening for a film by a female director, behind only Sam Taylor Johnson's "Fifty Shades of Grey," which kicked off with $85.2 million last winter. It's also the highest opening for a first-time feature film director, the biggest musical opening, and the second biggest PG-13 comedy opening in history.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" also put up strong numbers, racking up $44.4 million across 3,702 locations. The Warner Bros. release capitalized on rapturous critical notices with some reviewers tossing around words like "genius" and "masterpiece."
"It's a film where there's a lot of applause at the end of the movie," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief. "A lot of people coming to the movie went purely on the reviews. The conversation about it is so strong about what an incredible ride this is that it's going to propel us right into the meat of the summer."
"Mad Max: Fury Road" needed the critical notices, because three decades separated chapters in the apocalyptic franchise and original star Mel Gibson aged out of the role/had one intemperate outburst too many and had to be replaced by Tom Hardy. Moreover, the film carries an R-rating which prevents teenagers from attending the picture without a parent or guardian, potentially limiting its audience.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" has much more ground to make up before it pushes into profitable terrain. "Pitch Perfect 2" cost a modest $29 million to produce, while "Mad Max: Fury Road" carries a $150 million price tag.
There was a clear gender divide when it came to the weekend's top two releases. The crowd for "Mad Max: Fury Road" was 70% male, while the opening weekend audience for "Pitch Perfect 2" was 75% female. Ticketbuyers for the acapella sequel were younger, with 62% under the age of 25. It was 61% Caucasian, 18% Hispanic, 9% African American, and 7% Asian.
"Mad Max: Fury Road's" debut drew a crowd that was 46% under the age of 35, with 46% of ticket buyers opting to see the desert wasteland in 3D.
The sequels' strong performances pushed "Avengers: Age of Ultron" from its perch atop box office charts. The Marvel and Disney sequel had to settle for third place and a $38.8 million finish. Its domestic total stands at $372 million.
"Hot Pursuit" clocked in at a distant fourth place with $5.8 million. The critically excoriated comedy has earned $23.5 million in two weeks in theaters.
Among art house releases, Bleecker Street's "I'll See You in My Dreams," a bittersweet comedy with Blythe Danner, opened in limited release to $49,340 from three theaters or a per-screen average of $16,447.
A24's "Ex Machina" continued to be a solid performer, earning $2.1 million from 1,718 screens and pushing its gross to $19.6 million.