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'Men in Black: International' Leads Box Office With Muted $28 Million

By Rebecca Rubin
FILE PHOTO: Tessa Thompson poses for a picture during a photocall for the film "Men in Black: International" in Moscow

By Rebecca Rubin

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Hollywood seems to be coming down with a contagious case of franchise fatigue this summer, as "Men in Black: International" and "Shaft" become the latest sequels largely dismissed by moviegoers in North America.

Sony's "Men in Black: International" led ticket sales at the box office this weekend with $28.5 million, but still fell short of expectations. Those receipts represent roughly half of what the previous installments in the sci-fi series earned during their first weekend in theatres.

The latest entry, toplined by Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, wasn't expected to reach the same heights as the original films starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, but analysts anticipated a start above $30 million. Directed by F. Gary Gray, the sequel sees Thompson and Hemsworth team up as black-suited agents protecting the Earth from a series of alien attacks. "Men in Black: International" is now banking on moviegoers overseas to make the action adventure a hit. Sony co-financed the movie with Hemisphere and Tencent, spending $110 million to produce the film, roughly half of what it cost to make "MIB 3."

Critics praised the chemistry between Hemsworth and Thompson, who first shared the screen in "Thor: Ragnarok," but reviews were otherwise uninspired for the follow-up, which comes seven years after the latest installment and 25 years after the first film. It carries a 24% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences were equally unenthusiastic, giving "MIB: International" a B CinemaScore.

"Men in Black: International" wasn't the only sequel this weekend that got the cold shoulder from ticket buyers. Warner Bros. and New Line's "Shaft," starring Samuel L. Jackson, flopped with a dismal $8.3 million in sales from 2,952 locations. That's less than half of what box office watchers predicted the follow-up would make in its first three days of release. By comparison, 2000's "Shaft" debuted with $21.7 million. The latest remake reunites three generation of Shaft men, played by Jackson, Jessie Usher, and Richard Roundtree, who starred in the original 1971 movie. It carries a $30 million price tag.

Positive reviews didn't salvage this weekend's other new nationwide offering, Amazon's "Late Night." The comedy, written by Kaling and co-starring Kaling and Emma Thompson, finished in ninth place with $5.1 million after the studio expanded the comedy to 2,220 venues. It debuted in limited release last weekend, collecting a solid $249,654, which brings ticket sales to $5.4 million. "Late Night," about a TV host who makes a diverse hire to save her talk show from becoming a ratings disaster, was well-received after premiering at Sundance, where Amazon shelled out $14 million for distribution rights in one of the biggest sales of the festival.

The final newcomer this weekend was "The Dead Don't Die," Jim Jarmusch's zombie comedy starring Adam Driver, Billy Murray, Selena Gomez, and Chloe Sevigny. The film, which debuted to mixed reviews at Cannes, opened at No. 12 with $2.35 million from 613 theaters. According to Focus Features, the studio distributing the movie, that figure marks the largest opening weekend of Jarmusch's career. Males accounted for 58% of tickets sold, while 64% of audiences were over the age of 35.

"We're thrilled to see Jim's biggest opening and his top grossing weekend ever with this film," said Lisa Bunnell, Focus Features' president of distribution. "His unique take on the zombie genre delivers his signature brand of humour, style and substance for moviegoers."

In a not-so-distant second place, Universal and Illumination's "The Secret Life of Pets 2" brought in $23 million during its sophomore weekend of release, marking a 49% decline from its inaugural outing. The animated sequel has now earned $92 million in North America.

Disney's "Aladdin," a live-action remake of the Arabian musical cartoon, nabbed the No. 3 spot during its fourth weekend in theaters. It collected another $17 million, boosting its domestic haul to $264 million.

Another Disney title, "X-Men" entry "Dark Phoenix," was a big-budget misstep last weekend. It dropped to fourth place, adding $9 million, a massive 73% downturn in ticket sales compared to its first weekend in theaters.

Rounding out the top five is Paramount's "Rocketman." The fantasy biopic, which sees an inspired Taron Egerton dramatize the life and times of Sir Elton John, picked up $8.8 million in its third outing for a total of $66 million in North America.

Overall, ticket sales at the domestic box office are down just over 7% compared to last year, according to Comscore. A number of upcoming blockbuster-hopefuls, including Disney's "Toy Story 4" and Sony's "Spider-Man: Far From Home," are expecting to breath some life into an otherwise lackluster summer moviegoing season.