It's a weekend for girls who run the world -- or at least the box office.
Universal Pictures' "Pitch Perfect 2," a musical comedy about an all-female a cappella group, far surpassed industry expectations to gross $69.2 million in the United States and Canada over the three-day period, zooming past Warner Bros.' action reboot "Mad Max: Fury Road," which came in at a solid $45.4 million.
“This is the most you can expect from an audience base,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s president of domestic distribution, of the young female moviegoers who propelled the ticket sales.
About 72% of the audience for “Pitch Perfect 2” was female, and 57% was younger than 25. Demographically, that group complemented the audience for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which was 60% male and 64% older than 25, and drove the domestic box office to its largest pre-Memorial Day weekend ever, at $183.4 million.
“There’s something to be said for counter-programming,” Carpou said, adding that the two movies "played almost like a perfect fit.”
The opening weekend for “Pitch Perfect 2” surpassed the entire $65-million domestic theatrical run of the original film, which Universal released in 2012. In the sequel, Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and Brittany Snow reprise their roles as members of the misfit college singing group the Bellas.
Actress Elizabeth Banks, who makes her directorial debut and returns to plays an acerbic a cappella commentator, now holds the record for highest opening weekend for a first-time director. Banks’ outsized success comes at a time when female directors are a hot-button issue in Hollywood. Last week the American Civil Liberties Union asked government agencies to investigate the lack of hiring of women behind the camera.
Critics were fairly positive about the song-driven sequel, which cost $29 million to make. It has a 68% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Fans gave it an even warmer reception, with opening night audiences grading the film an A-minus, according to CinemaScore, which tracks moviegoers' reactions.
Unlike the original “Pitch Perfect,” a sleeper hit that really saw its audience bloom when it hit home entertainment channels, Universal marketed the sequel as an event film, with ads during the Super Bowl and NBA playoffs.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" was more of a critical darling, with the update of the apocalyptic George Miller franchise earning a stunning 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a B-plus audience grade from CinemaScore.
“It’s very rare for a pure action movie to get that kind of response from the press,” said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' president of domestic distribution. “The reviews are going to continue to expand our demographics.”
The film stars Tom Hardy, in the title role made famous by Mel Gibson, and Charlize Theron as a fierce new character named Furiosa. It is the largest opening in Miller’s career.
Overseas, “Mad Max: Fury Road” was the No. 1 new movie with a global take of $109.4 million. The movie opened atop the box office in the franchise’s home country of Australia, as well as in France, Russia, Spain and more than 30 other markets.
The two new movies helped knock "Avengers: Age of Ultron" from the No. 1 spot that the Disney/Marvel movie has held since opening May 1. The comic book sequel, which collected $38.8 million this weekend for the No. 3 spot, has grossed $372.2 million domestically.
Rounding out the top five at the box office were Warner Bros.' "Hot Pursuit," which added $5.8 million in its second week in release to reach $23.5 million domestically, and Universal's "Furious 7," which added $3.6 million in its seventh week to reach $343.8 million domestically.