Will Smith‘s con-man caper Focus disrobed Fifty Shades of Grey at the box office, but the film’s modest $19.1 million opening still left questions about the drawing power of the once unstoppable star.
According to studio estimates Sunday, Warner Bros.’ Focus easily topped all competitors on a weekend with little competition at North American multiplexes. In second place was the Colin Firth spy thriller Kingsman: The Secret Service, which made $11.8 million in its third week of release. After two weeks atop the box office, Fifty Shades of Grey continued its steep slide, landing in fourth with an estimated $10.9 million for Universal Pictures.
Watch Will Smith Perform the Fresh Prince Rap on Ellen
The weekend was largely seen, fairly or not, as a referendum on Smith’s star power. Focus, written and directed by the Crazy, Stupid, Love duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, is Smith’s first film since 2013’s After Earth, the sci-fi flop in which he co-starred with his son, Jaden.
Smith has been frank about the sting of that film’s box-office performance. “I can’t allow the box-office success, or lack thereof, to determine my self-image,” he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
But Focus, made for about $50 million and co-starring Margot Robbie of The Wolf of Wall Street, was never intended to be a summer-sized blockbuster. It had been predicted to make around $21 million.
“This is a mid-budgeted film with a result that matches,” said Jeff Goldstein, head of distribution for Warner Bros., who added that winter storms accounted for a drop of $1-2 million. “There’s no question we got hammered because of inclement weather in the South and the Midwest.”
The R-rated Focus overwhelmingly appealed to adults, with 88 percent of its audience older than 25 – not a good sign for Smith’s appeal to a new generation of moviegoers who weren’t around for his triumphs in Independence Day.
Nevertheless, there aren’t many stars who could do better with a drama in late February. And Focus should play well internationally, where Smith’s popularity remains strong.
“This still goes on his balance sheet as a number one debut,” said Paul Degarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office data firm Rentrak. “He can still draw an audience, particularly with a film that’s R-rated and not aimed at the young crowd.”