Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson out-muscled the competition at domestic movie theaters as the earthquake epic "San Andreas" hauled in an estimated $53.2 million over the weekend. It was Johnson's biggest debut for a non-sequel as the top-billed actor, according to box office tracker Rentrak.
The action star helped the movie over-perform on the West Coast despite fears that audiences in earthquake-prone regions would shy away, said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., which distributed the film made by its New Line unit.
"Some people felt they'd be a little nervous watching such a disaster hit both Los Angeles and San Francisco, but there was a curiosity factor," Fellman said. "They went, they packed the theaters and they liked it."
"Aloha," the critically maligned romantic comedy from director Cameron Crowe, opened in sixth place with $10 million.
The movie was dogged by controversy. Leaked emails from former Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair Amy Pascal last year labeled the "Aloha" script "ridiculous." Then, some Native Hawaiian groups opposed the title as misappropriating the concept of the word. An Asian American group spoke criticized the use of a nearly all-white cast in a film shot in Hawaii, a heavily-Asian island chain.
A slew of critics slammed the movie — many calling it "confusing," wondering if parts of it were missing, and saying it was Cameron's "worst" film ever despite the all-star cast of Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, and Rachel McAdams. They combined to give it a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 17 percent.
Sony Pictures Entertainment's president of worldwide distribution, Rory Bruer, said "Aloha" did well enough with women aged 25-34 to overcome the negative buzz. The film cost about $37 million to make.
"Ultimately, we are going to come out just fine on the movie, but more than anything we're proud of the film," he said.
After showings, audiences gave "San Andreas" 3.5 out of 5 stars on average, while giving "Aloha" just 2 out of 5.
Paul Dergarabedian, Rentrak's senior media analyst, said the expectations-busting performance of "San Andreas" in theaters helped jolt Hollywood out of a funk that began on the Memorial Day long weekend.
"For it to perform in this way when typically the summer is driven by sequels proves the power of Dwayne Johnson at the box office," Dergarabedian said. "He's a seismic event all on his own."
For the year to date, box office revenues for theaters in the U.S. and Canada are up nearly 5 percent at $4.26 billion, while attendance is up more than 4 percent.