Fantastic Opening

Despite a slew of negative reviews, 20th Century Fox’s superhero actioner, Fantastic Four, enjoyed a powerful opening weekend, clobbering the competition to the tune of an estimated $56 million. And while Marvel’s crime-fighting quartet is not nearly as well-known as DC’s Dark Knight, this latest comic-book adaptation managed to surpass Batman Begins‘ $48.7 debut.

After a walk on the darker side with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, audiences were apparently ready for lighter, more comical effects-driven summer stock. Fantastic Four fit the bill, offering colorful imagery, some eye-candy casting and a ton of visual effects by Giant Killer Robots, Soho VFX, Meteor Studios, Stan Winston Digital, CobaltFX, Pacific Title, Caf’FX, Hydraulx, Pixel Magic, Kleiser-Walczak, SW Digital and CIS Hollywood.

Directed by Tim Story (Barbershop, Taxi), Fantastic Four follows the exploits of a team of astronauts who gain superhuman powers through cosmic radiation exposure and learn to use their newfound abilities to foil the evil plans of Doctor Victor Von Doom. Actor Ioan Gruffudd, best known as TV’s Horatio Hornblower, plays the elastic Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards. Jessica Alba (Sin City, TV’s Dark Angel) steps into the tights of Susan “Invisible Woman” Storm, while Chris Evans (Cellular, The Perfect Score) is Johnny “Human Torch” Storm and The Shield star Michael Chiklis endured long hours in the make-up chair to play Ben “The Thing” Grimm.

While it may have surprised critics with its impressive opening, Fantastic Four still has a battle ahead of it. Word of mouth will determine whether or not the flick can keep pace with other summer fare. Though it got off to a slower start, Batman Begins built up steam and is well on its way to collecting $300 million worldwide. Likewise, War of the Worlds, buoyed by brisk overseas ticket sales, has passed the $300 million mark worldwide despite only holding the top spot for one week domestically and losing 51% of its audience in week two. The latest cinematic adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic alien invasion yarn drops to No. 2 with an estimated $31.3 million for the weekend.

Buena Vista’s chiller, Dark Water, opened in fourth place behind Batman Begins. Yet another remake of a popular Japanese horror flick, this well-acted, competently directed but perhaps all-too-familiar ghost story only managed to scare up around $10, indicating that supernatural thrillers involving creepy kids and water may have reached saturation point. Directed by Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries), the film stars Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilley and Tim Roth in a story cooked up by K’ji Suzuki, autor of Ringu (The Ring). Effects work was handled by Digital Domain, Flash Film Works and The Effects Group Inc.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith from 20th Century Fox rounds out the top five with an estimated $7.8 million for the weekend, bringing its worldwide take to approximately $281 million five weeks out of the gate. Meanwhile, DreamWorks’ animated comedy, Madagascar, is holding onto a top-ten spot in its seventh week. The leggy toon earned another $4 million to occupy the No. 8 slot and raise its worldwide gross to more than $260 million.