Box Office Top 10 Film News

Box Office: Why Didn’t Melissa McCarthy’s Spy Have a Bigger Opening Weekend?

In response to Spy‘s good-but-not-great opening weekend, here’s an imagined conversation between all of the Hollywood studio executives and female filmgoers (not that I am in any way qualified to really speak for either party):

Hollywood: What do you want?

Women: More movies made for women!

Hollywood: When do you want it?

Women: Yesterday!

Hollywood: How can you prove you’re serious about it?

Pitch_Perfect_71511Women: We’re going to support every female-targeted movie you put out this year to such a degree that dang near every single one of them is going to open well above expectations.

Hollywood: What about Insurgent, Hot Pursuit and Tomorrowland?

Women:You just described two obvious Redbox rentals and a weird Disney thing you oddly made us believe was all about George Clooney even though two teenage girls are equally as important to the plot as him.  But, hey, holy crap did we ever buy so many tickets to see Fifty Shades of Grey, Cinderella and Pitch Perfect 2. We made your fancy pre-release tracking math nerds look foolish on those. They said Cinderella would be lucky to open to $60 million. We brought it in at nearly $68m. They said Pitch Perfect 2 couldn’t go any higher than a $45m debut. We acca-gave that a $69m opening, bitches.

Hollywood: What’s that you say about giving us more money?  Oh, we like money.  Please keep doing what you’re doing. Now, we can’t wait to see how much the new Melissa McCarthy movie Spy makes. It’s this mid-budget James Bond spoof we threw together when Sandra Bullock wouldn’t let us make The Heat 2 like we wanted.  Our tracking people think it will have a $35-$40 million first weekend.  Prove them wrong, ladies.

Spy MovieWomen: [Long pause] Well, this is awkward. Don’t get us wrong. We love McCarthy – great girl, real salt of the Earth. However, you know that we also like horror movies, right? Insidious: Chapter 3 could be a fun scare. Plus, don’t gender stereotype us.  Just because we’re girls doesn’t mean we won’t go to see a straight-forward disaster movie starring Dwayne Johnson, whom we adore in anything he ever does. Everyone we know who saw San Andreas last weekend loved it!  There’s even a central relationship with The Rock and his adult daughter, which we like even if her tank top is way too tight.  Also, geese, don’t put this all on us. We only make up half of moviegoers. You’ve got to get guys interested too. All told, we helped Spy make $29m this weekend, with 60% of the audience being female. That sounds pretty good to me.

Hollywood: But it’s one of the best reviewed movies of the summer and of Melissa McCarthy’s career. We’ve been showing the damn thing all over America in screenings since we premiered it at SXSW in March, where it pretty much got a standing ovation. We gave you all those trailers with McCarthy doing her signature Chris Farley pratfalls. We raved about how this was a Paul Feig movie, reminding you how much you liked Bridesmaids and The Heat. And, on top of all that, we freakin’ threw in the manliest man around, Jason Statham, as a funny spoof of the normal characters he plays.  The girls will come for McCarthy, the guys for Statham…it’s the perfect formula!  Plus, if the guys want something to lust after we threw in Rose Byrne as the film’s version of a Bond villain, and we made her speak in a vaguely European accent.  Come on, that’s just hot.

Director Paul Feig taking a selfie from the stage of a pre-release screening of Spy in Chicago

Women: Not to be an enemy to the gender, but aren’t all Melissa McCarthy movies basically the same?

Hollywood: Well, her last one, Tammy, was actually super dark. Remember when Susan Sarandon almost dies?

Tammy movieWomen: Yeah, well, we didn’t love that movie.

Hollywood: It was a passion project McCarthy wrote with her husband.  He even made his directorial debut.  So, that’s not really on us.  But, come on, we gave you The Heat.

Women: To be honest, we mostly went to see The Heat for Sandra Bullock, and while she’s fun together with McCarthy the movie’s just okay.

Hollywood: You shut your mouth. The Heat is the best buddy cop comedy of this or any generation, and Melissa McCarthy is a national treasure.

And scene.

No one is weeping or crying woe is me over Spy making $29m this weekend, giving the $65m project a 10-day worldwide total of $85.5m. However, as I attempted to get at in my little imaginary conversation above there is something ever so slightly disappointing about this start.  It came in $5-$10 million below pre-release estimates in a year in which female targeted films have routinely shattered expectations. It was still the #1 film at the domestic box office, but it was supposed to easily best San Andreas’ second weekend, not narrowly pull ahead on Sunday.   It opened a bit lower than The Heat’s $39m, but that had Sandra Bullock. It did beat Tammy’s $21.5m opening, yet it didn’t match McCarthy’s Identity Thief ($34.5m).

Fox is not really concerned,their domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson telling THR, “Laughter does cure all, and there isn’t another comedy in the marketplace for weeks.” The lack of competition along with a solid B+ CinemaScore grade should lift Spy much higher the rest of the month.

Still, why didn’t Spy have a bigger opening weekend? Forbes’ Scott Mendelson has a good take on it:

Spy is a much better film than the previous McCarthy starring vehicles, but opening weekend is about marketing and perception. 20th Century Fox did sell Spy mostly as a “watch a pratfalling Melissa McCarthy as a bumbling fish-out-of-water secret agent,” while the film completely inverts that presumption as its core joke.

McCarthy Cement Spy
Oh, silly Melissa. You can’t drive that thing through wet cement!

In fact, [spoiler alert] at one point you learn that McCarthy’s character, who starts off as a CIA desk analyst using radio-connected earpieces to feed information to a superspy played by Jude Law, would have always been an amazing field agent if she hadn’t been manipulated into abandoning such ambitions.  So, yes, she does her pratfalls since McCarthy comes from a long line of physical comedians who make falling down look hilarious, but her character is not as incompetent and out of her depth as the trailers indicates.  She’s actually presented as being frequently superior to her more oafish male counterparts.

This is a rare case of a studio arguably selling an inferior version of the movie […] I can’t count the number of people who commented to me that the film’s marketing made it look like the McCarthy vehicles they didn’t like. I would like to think the rave reviews will push people over the edge and I have to imagine the word-of-mouth will be fantastic. But audiences have to show up for word-of-mouth to matter. This one will go down as one of the best big studio releases of the summer, and if a mere $29m debut weekend feels like a disappointment, it’s because the film itself deserves better.

It’s not just the marketing, though.  Moviefone took on this same issue, and pointed to McCarthy’s superior track record when she’s used as part of a team:

McCarthy has done well in the past as part of an ensemble, or paired with at least one other star who’s a current draw (Sandra Bullock, for example). But on her own? Not so much. Last summer’s Tammy did earn some $84.5 million overall, but it was all McCarthy’s show, and it didn’t earn the dollars or the reviews that her teamwork movies have.

There is a silver lining.  McCarthy’s films tend to have long legs, with the $84.5m for alleged “flop” Tammy coming after a opening weekend of just $21.5m.  Forbes estimates that if Spy performs like Identity Thief it should make it to $117m, a little higher ($122m) if it performs more like The Heat.

However, there are far larger concerns than just a ho-hum opening for Spy right now.  As Moviefone observed, “Overall, the box office was down 4.4 percent from last week — which in turn was down 10.3 percent from the weekend before, which declined 16.4 percent from the weekend before that. These declines come as the numbers from May reveal a box office that’s 17.7 percent behind last year […] If this trend keeps up, the summer box office will end up $718 million behind last summer’s $4.1 billion take.”

This Weekend’s Actual Box Office Top 10 Totals (6/4-6/6)

1) Spy (Domestic Debut)

  • Production Budget=$65m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$29m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$60m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$29m/$56.5m/$85.5m

2) San Andreas

  • Production Budget=$110m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$25.8m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$97.8m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$98.4m/$188m/$286.4m

Rock on, Dwayne Johnson.  San Andreas only dropped 52% this weekend, an excellent hold for a summer blockbuster these days.  It’s off to a great start in China where it has amassed $52 million in its first six days.

3) Insidious Chapter 3 (Debut)

  • Production Budget=They’re not telling
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$22.6m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$14.3m
  • Worldwide Debut=$36.9m

4) Entourage (Debut)

  • Production Budget=They’re not telling
  • 3-Day Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$10.2m
  • 5-Day Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$17.6m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$3m
  • Worldwide Debut=$20.6m

Warner Bros. is taking this one in stride.  They opened it on Wednesday to get a head start on the competition, and had hoped for a minimum of $20m across the five days to potentially kickstart a new low-budget film series.  However, an Entourage movie always seemed like a bad idea considering how many of the show’s viewers were actually hate-watchers.

5) Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Production Budget=$150m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$7.8m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$11m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$130.6m/$184m/$314.6m

6) Pitch Perfect 2

  • Production Budget=They’re not telling
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$7.5m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$4.6m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$160.8m/$88.9m/$249.7m

7) Tomorrowland

  • Production Budget=$190m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$7.2m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$13.8m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$76.4m/$93.5m/$169.9m

8) Avengers: Age of Ultron

  • Production Budget=$250m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$6.3m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$7m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$438.1m/$910.2m/$1.34b

Age of Ultron is now the fifth-highest grossing film of all time, passing The Deathly Hallows Part 2.   However, don’t expect it to go any higher on the list because it has officially wrapped up its run in China, where it totaled $234.2 million, the country’s third-highest-grossing film of all time behind Furious 7 and Transformers: Age of Extinction.

9) Aloha

  • Production Budget=$37m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$3.2m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$1.6m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$16.2m/$1.6m/$17.8m

And now we know the answer: No, Aloha is not going to be saved by word-of-the-mouth the way prior Cameron Crowe flop-turned-hit We Bought a Zoo was

10) Poltergeist

  • Production Budget=They’re not telling
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$2.7m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$3.2m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$44.3m/$24.5m/$68.8m

What Left the Top 10?: Far from the Maddening Crowd (Current total: $9.8m domestic), Hot Pursuit (Current total: $33.3m domestic/$35m budget) and Home (Current total: $171.9m domestic/$135m budget)

What’s Up Next?: Sundance hit Me, Earl and the Dying Girl opens in 14 theaters. Why so few? Because it seems like every single theater in the entire world will be playing .Jurassic World!!!!

Sources: BoxOfficeMojo, Forbes, Moviefone


  1. “Spy” looks really good. It’s the sort of film that I would like being dragged to by a date. In the past I’ve been dragged along to some really awful things such as “Downfall”, “What the Bleep Do We Know”, “In the Cut” and “The Room” (it was awful but also very fun because it was an interactive crowd, spoon-throwing was encouraged).

    I’m a little surprised “Aloha” is in the top ten. So it only takes roughly $3 million to keep a film in the top ten…

    1. Yeah, I’ve been to one of those spoon-throwing screenings of The Room. It oddly made me feel bad for everyone who made the movie. Something about actually throwing objects at or near a screen seemed somehow meaner than simply watching a bad movie and mocking it with friends. However, I am weird that way because I know tons of people who love those interactive “The Room” viewing experiences.

      “Aloha” dipped something like 66% this weekend, meaning it’s just barely in the top 10 and probably won’t be sticking around in theaters for very long. However, to your point about it seeming odd that it only takes roughly $3m for something to stay in the top 10 I actually updated the article with the following breakdown of the summer movie season:

      “Overall, the box office was down 4.4 percent from last week — which in turn was down 10.3 percent from the weekend before, which declined 16.4 percent from the weekend before that. These declines come as the numbers from May reveal a box office that’s 17.7 percent behind last year […] If this trend keeps up, the summer box office will end up $718 million behind last summer’s $4.1 billion take.”

  2. Perhaps the movie didn’t have enough buzz? Not living in the US, this is the first time I heard about it, which in turn means that it was not that present in the internet, at least no on the sites I frequent.

    1. To your point about not living int he US and having been completely unaware of Spy until now, Melissa McCarthy is one of the few bankable comedic actors of the moment, yet she’s largely remained an American/Canadian attraction, e.g., 84% of Tammy’s worldwide was domestic, 77% for Identity Thief, 70% for The Heat. Her biggest international exposure to this point was in Hangover 3, which made almost as much in international biz alone as Bridesmaids did in its entire worldwide run, yet she kind of has a nothing role as Zach Galifianakis’ girlfriend. It’s very clearly not her movie. She’s barely even part of the ensemble.

      As for the buzz, Fox worked really hard to try to get buzz going for Spy. They premiered it at a hip film/music festival several months ago, and dropped it in social media coordinated screenings across the country, begging everyone who attended to Tweet about their experience and tell people how much they loved it. For whatever reason, it just didn’t quite translate to a great deal of buzz, even with John Stewart raving about the movie on The Daily Show. It almost seems like anything at this point not named Jurassic World is simply a nuisance distracting everyone from the thing they really want to see. However, Spy should do perfectly well for itself in the long run, and a $29m opening and #1 debut isn’t really bad. It’s just not amazing.

  3. Spy looked like another corny Melissa McCarthy move. I liked her best in the Gilmore Girls days because she felt more relatable than the caricature. It may be great, but even if it is a spy comedy isn’t really calling to me. Not to mention I didn’t hear anyone talking about it unlike other movies.

    1. The odd thing with Spy is that I have been hearing how great it was ever since it premiered at SXSW in March, yet at the same time I haven’t really been hearing a whole lot of, “Oh, I can’t wait to see that movie.” The trailers really, really made it look like just another standard Melissa McCarthy movie, for better or worse, with the main difference being that she wasn’t paired up with someone as a comedy duo like Bullock in The Heat and Bateman in Identity Thief. As Forbes said, the movie is better than its advertising, or at least it is if you like Melissa McCarthy. The one movie I completely forgot to mention is St. Vincent. That’s Bill Murray’s movie, and it did fairly well last year, as far as low-budget comedies/quasi-awards contenders go. However, McCarthy is in that too. She’s the mother of the kid having his own About a Boy adventure with Murray, and other than one scene with some signature McCarthy cussing and improv it’s not the typical McCarthy performance. She’s funny and relatable, but she’s not playing it big or falling over things or anything like that. So, there is more to her than we’ve seen in Bridesmaids, Identity Thief, The Heat, Tammy or Spy.

      1. From what I’ve seen of Gilmore Girls, the Melissa McCarthy of St. Vincent is far closer to that than any of the other, as you called it, “crazy kooky” film roles.

    1. Thanks. It seemed like a fun way to approach this rather than a more standard box office analysis. Plus, it seems like there’s an on-going conversation in general between Hollywood and women which often comes off like, “Wait, you girls actually like things other than romance? You dig comic book movies too? Really? Oh, crap. We need to make sure to have the hot white guy named Chris be shirtless in the next Marvel movie.” or “Hey, we gave you Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara in a knock-off of The Heat. We called it Hot Pursuit. Why didn’t you go see that?” to which women can respond, “Because we want to see good movies.” (To be fair, I haven’t actually seen Hot Pursuit. So, I shouldn’t pick on it).

  4. Spy didn’t sell as many tickets as it should have because Tammy completely sucked balls and it made the audience members who normally love McCarthy suddenly wary of her movies. Also, the publicity over-emphasized the corniness when it should have played up other aspects of the movie. Remember the dull poster that was first issued — the gold image with Melissa looking as lame as possible? A sexy and exciting new poster (featuring the entire cast) was created after the film opened because the distribution team realized they’d made a big blunder. Unfortunately, it was too late.

    I really enjoyed Spy and I’m hoping it will have a second chance in its dvd release.

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