Magnificent Seven outduels the competition at the box office

2016-09-26 15:23

New York — Movie stars don't open movies anymore? Tell that to Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks.

The pair, once co-stars in Philadelphia, have together dominated the last three weeks of the box office. After Clint Eastwood's Miracle on the Hudson docudrama Sully, starring Hanks as Captain Chesley Sullenberger, topped ticket sales of the last two weeks, The Magnificent Seven rode Washington's star power to an estimated $35m debut over the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Though both Washington and Hanks are in their early 60s, their box-office clout might be just as potent as ever. The debut of Sully was Hanks' fourth best opening of his career; the opening of The Magnificent Seven, Antoine Fuqua's remake of John Sturges' 1960 Western (itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai), is Washington's third best.

Both films boasted other enticements. Eastwood is himself a draw. And the ensemble of The Magnificent Seven most notably includes Chris Pratt, the Guardians of the Galaxy star and a potential heir apparent to Washington and Hanks.

But Washington and Hanks ranked as the overwhelming reason audiences went to see either movie, according to comScore's survey of moviegoers.

"They are the model of consistency and they are the model of quality," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. "These are guys who can draw a huge audience in any type of movie that they're in. It's not like they're pigeonholed into one kind of franchise. Denzel Washington can be part of a genre, the Western, that doesn't exactly have teenagers scrambling to the movie theater."

Sony Pictures' The Magnificent Seven wasn't cheap to make — it cost about $90m — so its path to profitability isn't assured. Directed by Fuqua (whose Training Day and The Equalizer also starred Washington), the film made splashy premieres at both the Toronto International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival.

Coming in at a distant second was Warner Bros.' Storks, an animated release where the large-winged birds have given up the baby delivery business for online sales. The film, which cost about $70m to make, opened with $21.8m. Directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland, its voice cast is led by Andy Samberg.

The rest of the top 10 was populated by holdovers, with Sully slotting in at third with $13.8m in its third week. It has now grossed $92.4m domestically. A potentially bigger test of Hanks' drawing power awaits the actor next month with the release of Inferno, in which he reprises his role as Robert Langdon in the Dan Brown franchise.

The Magnificent Seven slots in as one of the biggest openings for a Western ever, though the genre's heyday predated modern wide releases. 

The Western, like Washington and Hanks, has proven quite durable at the box office in recent years. The Coen brothers' True Grit (which grossed $171.2m in total), Alejandro Inarritu's The Revenant ($183.6m) and a pair of Quintin Tarantino releases (Django Unchained, with $162.8m, and The Hateful Eight, with $54.1m) have all proven the genre's fortitude.

"When you read this script as well as Antoine's vision of it, you knew it was going to be cool and relevant," said Rory Bruer, distribution head for Sony. "When you talk about genres or things that might not, on the surface, look to be the best play, it's always going to about what's in the story and how that story is told."

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