Fueled by females, Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock's The Heat ended up having all the firepower at the North American box office as their new R-rated comedy crushed Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx's big-budget tentpole White House Down.
From 20th Century Fox, The Heat opened to a rousing $40 million, signaling another major win for McCarthy and her Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. The pic also marks McCarthy's best opening to date for a lead role -- as well as the best opening ever for Bullock and Feig.
Conversely, director Roland Emmerich's White House Down debuted to a dismal $25.7 million. The action pic cost a pricey $150 million to produce and is the second Sony summer tentpole to flop after Will Smith's After Earth. The studio does have two high-profile summer tentpoles yet to open, both of which have strong buzz: Grown Ups 2 and Elysium.
Disney and Pixar's Monsters University stayed at No. 1 in its second weekend, declining a slim 44 percent to $46.2 million and pushing its domestic total to $171 million. The toon has jumped the $300 million mark after earning another $44.2 million overseas from 37 territories for an international total of $129.3 million.
Monsters University wasn't the only 3D animated film making headlines. Overseas, Universal's Despicable Me 2 broke records as it opened in six countries, scoring $41.5 million for the weekend for an early international total of $50 million from seven territories (it opened in Australia last weekend.) The sequel opens Tuesday in North America, where it is expected to be just as much of a monster.
Despicable 2 opened No. 1 in the U.K., France, French Switzerland, Netherlands and Belgium, and was second only to Man of Steel in Sweden and Australia. In the U.K. and Ireland (considered one market), the toon opened to $15.7 million -- the top opening ever for a Universal film, as well as being the top opening of 2013. Including last week's previews, the U.K. total is an outstanding $23.3 million.
In North America, The Heat came in No. 2, followed by Paramount holdover World War Z, which held well, falling 48 percent to roughly $30 million. The Brad Pitt zombie tentpole has now earned $124 million domestically.
Heading into the weekend, The Heat and White House Down were each tracking to bow in the $30 million range. And on Friday night, each film earned an A- CinemaScore from moviegoers.
The Heat, costing Fox a modest $43 million to produce, provided a needed respite for younger and older women weary of action fare stars (females made up 65 percent of the audience). In the film, Bullock stars as a strict FBI agent who is forced to team up with McCarthy's rough-around-the-edges Boston street cop.
"We positioned this movie as a female summer movie event, and it worked. That was the entire thrust of the marketing campaign, but due to the popularity of the stars and the storyline, men also turned out," said Chris Aronson, Fox's president of domestic distribution.
Bullock's previous best opening was The Blind Side ($34.1 million). Female-skewing films, save for The Twilight franchise, often open lower but have strong legs.
To date, McCarthy's top opening for a movie in which she plays a lead role is is Identity Thief, which debuted earlier this year to $34.6 million. Bridesmaids grossed $26.2 million in its domestic debut in May 2011. The film, whose ensemble cast also included Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, became a female-friendly comedy hit and has gone on to gross $288.4 million to date worldwide.
White House Down will turn into a financial headache for Sony unless it does exceedingly well overseas. The A- CinemaScore is a good sign in terms of strong word-of-mouth, but simply not enough moviegoers turned out. In the film, the president of the United States (Foxx) and a wannabe Secret Service agent (Tatum) team up after the White House is invaded by terrorists and the U.S. Capitol destroyed.
One problem -- White House Down comes out just three months after FilmDistrict's White House-under-siege film Olympus Has Fallen played in theaters (that film opened to $30. 4 million). Another is a glut of male-skewing action films in the market, including World War Z and Man of Steel.
White House Down is the lowest opening for an Emmerich-directed tentpole in recent times. In summer 2004, The Day After Tomorrow debuted to $68.7 million. Independence Day -- which also featured the destruction of the White House -- opened to $50.2 million in July 1996.
Sony believes the film will have strong legs based on the A- CinemaScore. Also, plenty of females turned out (49 percent).
"We couldn't be more proud or supportive of the film Roland, Channing and Jamie created. This weekend's launch is just the beginning. While White House Down opened in a few smaller countries this weekend, it will not begin to open in major overseas territories until mid-July and it will continue to roll out overseas well into the fall," said a Sony spokesman.
Action plays very well internationally, although some box office observers question whether the storyline is too American centric. Olympus Has Fallen, which took in $98.7 million domestically, topped out at $62.1 million overseas.
White House Down took in $6.8 million from its first handful of markets, most of which are in Southeast Asia. It grossed $2.1 million in Korean, five times the opening of Olympus Has Fallen, and $1.2 million in Indonesia.
On a brighter note, Sony's innovative end-of-the-world comedy This Is the End continued to prosper, grossing $8.7 million in its third weekend for a North American total of $74.7 million and coming in No. 6.
Among other weekend highlights, Warner Bros. and Legendary's Man of Steel jumped the $500 million mark globally. The Superman pic placed No. 5 domestically, grossing $20.8 million in its third weekend for total of $248.7 million.
Summit's sleeper hit Now You See Me raced past the $100 million mark in North America and crossed $150 million worldwide. The magician heist pic has earned $104.7 million domestically and $48.7 million internationally for a total $153.4 million.
At the specialty box office, Pedro Almodovar's I'm So Excited, starring Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, opened slightly less than his other recent offerings, grossing $102,730 from five theaters for a location average of $20,546. Sony Classics Pictures, which has a longtime relationship with the filmmaker, is distributing the indie film in the U.S.