‘Aquaman’ debuts at no. 1 with US$72m, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ beats ‘Bumblebee’

New Warner Bros. release “Aquaman” made the biggest waves in North American theatres over the weekend. (Courtesy of Warner Bros., AFP pic)

LOS ANGELES: Jason Momoa’s “Aquaman” is the King of the Seven Seas — and now the box office. The DC adventure dominated in North America with a splashy US$72 million debut, including previews.

That’s a hefty start during a month that, aside from “Star Wars” movies, tends to field smaller opening weekends that pick up steam as audiences have off from work and school between Christmas and New Years. As expected, “Aquaman” easily fended off fellow newcomers “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Bumblebee.” Those two titles were in a close race for no. 2, though Sunday estimates show “Mary Poppins Returns” narrowly defeating “Bumblebee.”

Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns” was the de facto choice for moviegoers with young kids, pocketing US$22.2 million over the three-day frame and US$31 million during its first five days of release. Musicals don’t typically see sizable opening weekends, and Disney’s live-action sequel looks to have a healthy life at multiplexes during the holiday stretch. Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda co-star in the follow-up, which pocketed US$20 million overseas for a worldwide start of US$51 million. Rob Marshall, who previously teamed with Blunt and Disney on “Into the Woods,” handled directing duties on the film, which has a US$130 production budget.

Paramount’s “Transformers” origin story “Bumblebee” landed in third place, generating US$20.9 million from 3,550 screens. While that’s the lowest start for a “Transformers” title, the sci-fi prequel directed by Travis Knight has generated some of the best reviews of the franchise and has time to build momentum in weeks to come.

“Bumblebee” the first “Transformers” movie that Michael Bay didn’t direct, though he’s still on board as a producer. Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena star in the CGI spectacle based on the popular toys, which carries a US$100 million price tag, making it much cheaper to produce than the Bay films.

James Wan directed “Aquaman,” which has already amassed US$410 million overseas for a global total of US$482.8 million. Males accounted for 55% of U.S. audiences, while 60% of crowds were under 35 years old. Imax screens accounted for US$9.9 million of domestic ticket sales. Superhero fans were much more receptive to “Aquaman” than previous DC titles, branding this entry with an A- CinemaScore. “Aquaman” cost a hefty US$200 million to produce and is Warner Bros.’ first DC stand-alone adventure since “Wonder Woman,” which opened in 2017 to a massive US$103 million.

STX’s “Second Act” launched in seventh place with US$6.5 million from 2,607 locations. The romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Leah Remini cost US$16 million to make. As anticipated, 70% of moviegoers were female, and over half were between the ages of 25 and 44.

Unfortunately for DreamWorks and Universal (and Steve Carell’s Oscar dreams), nobody was that welcoming to Marwen. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, “Welcome to Marwen” earned a measly US$2.3 million when it launched in 1,900 venues. An offbeat premise made the biographical drama difficult to market, and poor reviews definitely didn’t help draw the kind of crowds that could help justify a production budget over US$40 million.

It’s been an especially rough stretch for Universal, whose expensive steampunk adventure “Mortal Engines” bowed last weekend with the ignominious distinction as one of the biggest flops of the year. A bright spot for the studio has been “The Grinch,” an animated adventure that has earned US$253 million in North America and had the best hold in the top 10 this weekend, declining just 30% in its seventh week of release.

It was good news for spandexed heroes all around as “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” stayed in the top five, dropping to fourth place and adding another US$16.3 million to its domestic tally. That takes its stateside haul to US$65 million.

Rounding out the top five is Warner Bros.’ “The Mule,” a Clint Eastwood drama that generated US$9 million during its sophomore frame and US$35 million to date.