By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES, April 19 (Variety.com) - "Furious 7" ran laps around the competition, picking up $29.1 million in its third weekend of release, according to studio estimates.
The fast cars sequel withe the gravity-defying stunts is barreling toward the $300 million mark Stateside, having already hurtled past the $1 billion mark globally. Domestically, "Furious 7" has earned $294.4 million.
"This is how you build a record year," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. "These are summer-style numbers in April."
Despite "Furious 7's" continued dominance, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2" did better than expected, pulling in a solid $24 million across 3,633 locations. It had been projected to fall short of the $20 million barrier.
It's good news for Sony Pictures, which had a painful chapter from its recent history dredged up this week when Julian Assange's WikiLeaks published an archive of emails and documents that were stolen by hacker group Guardians of Peace. However, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2" could not match the $31.8 million debut of the first film in the Blart chronicles.
With a modest $30 million production budget, the sequel will be profitable, Sony execs said.
"It was a little scary to be in ['Furious 7's'] wake, but that Blart is tough stuff," said Rory Bruer, Sony's distribution chief. "We exceeded expectations and held our ground despite this juggernaut."
The film brought back Kevin James as the hapless shopping center cop, but transplanted the segway shenanigans to Las Vegas. Critics were savage, handing "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2" a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.
"This movie is about having fun and having some laughs with the whole family, and it delivers on that," said Bruer. "If critics don't get that, I guess maybe they needed to see it with an audience or bring their kids."
Universal has been racking up big numbers with "Furious 7," and the studio scored another hit with the micro-budget horror film "Unfriended." The look at a group of teenagers engaging in some digital-age bullying cost a measly $1 million to produce, returning that many times over after one weekend in theaters. "Unfriended" made $16 million across 2,739 theaters. Going into the weekend, the studio had predicted a debut in the $12 million range, but the movie struck a chord with teen viewers.
"It's a very cool concept and it's very timely," said Nicholas Carpou, Universal's president of domestic distribution. "Our marketing really emphasized the digital realm, which helped us reach our core audience."
It's another success for Universal and Blumhouse, which have previously enjoyed capacious profit margins on the likes of "The Purge," "Ouija" and "The Boy Next Door." Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted") produced "Unfriended."
Pity poor "Child 44." The Soviet serial killer thriller with Tom Hardy bombed, earning a doleful $600,000 in just 510 theaters. Lionsgate, the studio distributing the film, did sell some foreign territories to mitigate its financial exposure and brought in check-writing partners such as Worldview Entertainment, but with a $50 million pricetag, "Child 44" is shaping up to be one of the year's biggest flops.
Disney's "The Monkey Kingdom" bowed in seventh place, earning $4.7 million from 2,012 locations, while Fox Searchlight's "True Story" earned $1.9 million from 831 theaters. "True Story," a look at murder and journalistic ethics, had big names in James Franco and Jonah Hill, but its $2,323 per-screen average is disappointing. Along with "Child 44," it demonstrates the difficulty of launching a film geared at adults in the blockbuster era.
With "Furious 7," "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2," and "Unfriended" taking up the first three slots, the top five was rounded out by "Home" with $10.3 million and "The Longest Ride" with $6.9 million. "Home" has made $142.6 million since debuting last month, while "The Longest Ride" has lassoed $23.5 million.
In limited release, "Ex Machina" expanded from four to 39 screens this weekend, generating the highest per-screen average in the country for the second week in a row, and adding $814,293 to its haul. The brainy sci-fi film has made $1.1 million.
Noah Baumbach's mid-life crisis comedy "While We're Young" made $1.6 million from 713 theaters. It has taken $4.2 million since debuting four weeks ago.