Sony and MGM's 21 Jump Street lit up the R-rated comedy marketplace, opening to a stellar $35 million at the domestic box office.
Starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, the light-hearted take on the classic TV series nabbed the best debut ever for a nonsequel, nonsummer R-rated comedy, as well as one of the best bows on the books for an action-buddy comedy or a television-to-film adaptation.
Overseas, Jump Street rolled out in 11 markets, grossing $7 million, including a standout $4.3 million in Australia, where it launched ahead of past R-rated comedies The Hangover, Tropic Thunder and Bad Teacher (also from Sony). In the U.K., it grossed $2.5 million.
Jump Street easily wrested the domestic weekend crown from Universal and Illumination's hit Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, which has ruled the domestic box office the past two weekends. Lorax continued to do good business, coming in No. 2 with $22.8 million in its third outing for a domestic cume of $158.4 million, by far the best showing of 2012.
Disney's tentpole John Carter continued to struggle, grossing $13.5 million in its second weekend for a weak 10-day domestic cume of $53.2 million. Overseas, the pic grossed $40.7 million -- including a strong $10.4 million debut in China -- for an international total of $126.1 million and worldwide cume of $179.3 million. Those are big numbers but far short of what Carter needs to make up for its $250 million budget (Disney is looking at a writedown of $100 million or more).
Even with the strong performances of Jump Street and Lorax, the domestic box office dipped behind last year's level for the first time this year. Revenue was down 8 percent, due to less depth in the holdover marketplace.
Box-office observers credit strong reviews and good word-of-mouth for Jump Street's better-than-expected numbers.
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Jump Street received a B CinemaScore on Friday night, though those under the age of 25 gave the pic an A. Sony's exit polling showed that 50 percent of audience was younger than 25, though CinemaScore's exit polling that 67 percent were actually over 25.
Jump Street's ethnically diverse audience -- 47 percent of Friday's audience was nonwhite -- also bodes well for its playability, as does the fact that it played fairly evenly among the genders, with males making up 53 percent of the audience and females 47 percent.
The movie features Hill and Tatum as bumbling police officers who go undercover in a high school to bust up a drug ring. Jump Street is a victory for Sony and MGM, which partnered on the $42 million film.
"The chemistry between Jonah and Channing was off the hook," said Sony worldwide president of distribution Rory Bruer. "You expect Jonah to be funny, but people were blown away by Channing's comedy chops."
Tatum and Hill are both on a box-office roll: Tatum's The Vow has earned $164.1 million worldwide, and Hill scored a supporting actor Oscar nomination for Moneyball.
The Jump Street TV show, which aired from 1987-91 on Fox, was far more serious and is famous for launching Johnny Depp's acting career (Depp makes a cameo in the remake).
Hill produced Jump Street with Michael Bacall -- who penned the script -- and Neal H. Moritz (the late Stephen J. Cannell also has a producing credit). The movie also stars Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ellie Kemper, Rob Riggle and Ice Cube.
Jump Street was the only new nationwide release of the weekend, but it wasn't the only new title with big comedic names. Will Ferrell's Spanish-language pic Casa de Mi Padre made its limited debut, opening in 382 theaters and grossing an estimated $2.2 million to come in No. 9.
Another headline of the weekend was New Line and Warner Bros.' sequel Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which jumped the $300 million mark this weekend. The film has now earned $95.1 million domestically and $206.8 million internationally for a sizeable $309.1 million.
Domestic Box Office, March 16-18
Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume
1. 21 Jump Street, 1/3,121, Sony/MGM, $35 million.
2. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, 3/3,769, Universal/Illumination, $22.8 million, $158.4 million.
3. John Carter, 2/3,749, Disney, $13.5 million, $53.2 million.
4. Project X, 3/2,22, Warner Bros., $4 million, $48.1 million.
5. A Thousand Words, 2/1,890, Paramount/DreamWorks, $3.8 million, $12.1 million.
6. Act of Valor, 4/2,765, Relativity/Bandito Brothers, $3.7 million, $62.4 million.
7. Safe House, 6/1,920, Universal, $2.8 million, $120.2 million.
8. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, 6/2,922, New Line/Warner Bros., $2.5 million, $95.1 million.
9. Casa de Mi Padre, 1/382, Lionsgate, $2.2 million.
10. This Means War, 5/1,660, Fox, $2.1 million, $50.5 million.