‘The Fall Guy’ gives Hollywood a muted summer kickoff with a $28.5M opening

NEW YORK – “The Fall Guy,” the Ryan Gosling-led, action-comedy ode to stunt performers, opened below expectations with $28.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday, providing a lukewarm start to a summer movie season that’s very much to be determined for Hollywood.

The Universal Pictures release opened on a weekend that Marvel has regularly dominated with $100 million-plus launches. (In 2023, that was “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” with a $118 million debut. ) But last year’s strikes jumbled this year’s movie calendar; “Deadpool & Wolverine,” originally slated to open this weekend, is instead debuting in July.

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So in place of a superhero kickoff, the summer launch went to a movie about the stunt performers who anonymously sacrifice their bodies for the kind of action sequences blockbusters are built on. Going into the weekend, forecasts had the film opening $30 million to $40 million.

“The Fall Guy,” directed by former stuntman and “Deadpool 2” helmer David Leitch, rode into the weekend with the momentum of glowing reviews and the buzz of a SXSW premiere. But it will need sustained interest to merit its $130 million production budget. It added $25.4 million in overseas markets.

Working in its favor for a long run: strong audience scores (an “A-” CinemaScore) and good reviews (83% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). Jim Orr, distribution chief for Universal, believes things line up well for “The Fall Guy” in the coming weeks.

“We had a very solid opening,” said Orr. “We’re looking forward to a very long, very robust, very successful run throughout the domestic box office for literally weeks if not months to come.”

But the modest start for “The Fall Guy” hints at larger concerns for the film industry. Superhero films haven’t been quite the box-office behemoth they once were, leading studios to search for fresher alternative. “The Fall Guy” seemed to check all the boxes, with extravagant action sequences, one of the hottest stars in the business, a director with a track-record for crowd pleasers and very good reviews.

But instead, the opening for “The Fall Guy,” loosely based on the 1980s TV series, only emphasized that the movie business is likely to struggle to rekindle the fervor of last year’s “Barbenheimer” summer. “The Fall Guy” stars one from each: Gosling, in his first post-Ken role, and Emily Blunt, of “Oppenheimer.” Both were Oscar nominated.

“It’s going to be a very interesting, nontraditional summer this year,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore.

In part due to the effects of last year’s work stoppages, there are fewer big movies hitting theaters. Expectations are that the total summer box office will be closer to $3 billion than the $4 billion that’s historically been generated.

“The summer season is just getting started, so let’s give ‘The Fall Guy’ a chance to build that momentum over time. It’s a different type of summer kickoff film,” said Dergarabedian. “There’s always huge expectations placed on any film that kicks off the summer movie season, but this isn’t your typical summer movie season.”

In a surprise, No. 2 at the box office went to the Walt Disney Co. rerelease of “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.” The first episode to George Lucas’ little-loved prequels collected $8.1 million over the weekend, 25 years after “Phantom Menace” grossed $1 billion.

Last week’s top film, the Zendaya tennis drama “Challengers,” slid to third place with $7.6 million in its second week. That was a sold hold for the Amazon MGM release, directed by Luca Guadagnino, dipping 49% from its first weekend.

The Sony Screen Gems supernatural horror film “Tarot” also opened nationwide. It debuted with $6.5 million, a decent enough start for a low-budget release but another example of horror not quite performing this year as it has the last few years.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. “The Fall Guy,” $28.5 million.

2. “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace,” $8.1 million.

3. “Challengers,” $7.6 million.

4. “Tarot,” $6.5 million.

5. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” $4.5 million.

6. “Civil War,” $3.6 million.

7. “Unsung Hero,” $3 million.

8. “Kung Fu Panda 4,” $2.4 million.

9. “Abigail,” $2.3 million.

10. “Ghostbuster: Frozen Empire,” $1.8 million.

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