The latest iteration of the Godzilla franchise took over the top spot from Aladdin and roared louder than Elton John at the weekend box office, but it still left a notably smaller footprint on North American theatres than its predecessors.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Warner Bros and Legendary Entertainment's sequel to 2014's Godzilla, was brought down to size by poor reviews and middling interest from moviegoers, selling US$49 million ($74.7m) in tickets, according to studio estimates.
While still enough for No 1, it was US$10-15m off industry expectations and close to half of the US$93m debut of the previous Godzilla.
Still, the weekend, led by one of the most classic movie monsters, brought Hollywood's northern summer season into full swing. Last week's top film, Disney's live-action, blue-Will Smith Aladdin remake, slid to second with US$42m in its second weekend. And a rush of newcomers, including the Elton John biopic Rocketman and the Octavia Spencer-led horror film Ma, swelled theatres with a variety of options.
Dexter Fletcher's fantastical Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton, didn't launch with the same bravado as last year's Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. But it opened solidly in third with US$25m. The weekend's most profitable release, by percentage, was likely Ma, from Blumhouse Production, which made US$18.2m against a US$5m budget.
Part of the appeal of giant monster films from a studio standpoint is their popularity in Asia. This Godzilla fared best in China, opening there with US$70m. It made US$130m internationally overall.
But in Godzilla, some see a flagging franchise of unrealised potential. In its three recent blockbuster iterations going back to Gareth Edwards' 1998 Sony release, none has drawn much praise from fans or critics. The latest, directed by Michael Dougherty, has a 40 per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Warner Bros is developing a face-off movie between Godzilla and King Kong, who was last featured in Kong: Skull Island. That 2017 release opened with US$61m and went on to make US$566m worldwide. Jeff Goldstein, distribution chief for Warner Bros, believes the US$200m budgeted King of the Monsters can keep drawing moviegoers to the studio's ongoing monster franchises.
Coming off its acclaimed premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Rocketman, which Elton John executive produced, opened well if not spectacularly for Paramount Pictures. The R-rated biopic cost about US$40m to make.
Aiming to capitalise on the British singer's worldwide appeal, its stars have circled the globe ahead of release. It added US$19.2m abroad. In Russia, its local distributor cut out scenes with homosexual activity and drug use. John and the film's makers criticised the move as "a sad reflection of the divided world we still live in".
Though Rocketman shares much with Bohemian Rhapsody — including Fletcher, who helmed the Mercury film after Bryan Singer left — its makers have sought to distance it from last year's Oscar-winning US$900m sensation.
"That movie is a unicorn," Egerton said in Cannes. "Our movie is a different animal."
Ma, fashioned by Blumhouse as its contemporary answer to Misery, reteams Spencer with The Help director Tate Taylor. Spencer's first solo lead drew a diverse audience, 57 per cent of them female.
"The best news this weekend was for the industry itself," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore. "Even if the top movie didn't earn US$100m, we had a big up weekend and we need more of those to get out of this deficit that we've been in since basically the beginning of the year."
The news, though, wasn't good for Booksmart, the acclaimed teen comedy starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. Amid its disappointing wide-release opening last weekend, director Olivia Wilde appealed on social media for fans to support a movie "made by and about women". On its second weekend, Booksmart couldn't turn it around, earning US$3.3m on 2518 screens.
Overseas, Cannes' Palme d'Or winner Parasite, a social satire from Korean director Bong Joon-ho, opened with US$24.6m.