WINNER OF THE WEEK: The Great Gatsby. Nothing succeeds like excess. That's the lesson behind the estimated $51.1 million debut of Baz Luhrmann's lavish, garish 3D version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic the-party's-over novel. Despite some scathing reviews and just so-so word-of-mouth, the film vastly outperformed predictions that it would open between $33 and $43 million. Credit the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio – this is the second biggest opening of his career, following the $62.8 million debut of 2010's Inception – the wall-to-wall marketing blitz (even high-end retailers like Tiffany and Brooks Brothers were on board), the hip-hop soundtrack featuring Jay-Z (making the 1920s-set movie seem like less of a period piece), the 3D surcharges, and the film's strong appeal to women, whom Hollywood otherwise tends to ignore during testosterone-heavy superhero season.
Credit also the overstuffed vision of Luhrmann, who had a similar May hit in 2001 with the gaudy Moulin Rouge. Still, that movie never made it past $57.4 million in North America, a figure that Gatsby should surpass on its fourth or fifth day of release. It's already earned more domestically than Lurhmann's last movie, Australia, did in its entire run ($49.5 million). Luhrmann and DiCaprio's last pairing, Romeo + Juliet, topped out at $46.4 million stateside, albeit at 1996 ticket prices.
With Gatsby, Warner Bros. has broken its Mother's Day Weekend Curse. Typically, the second weekend in May is dominated by whatever blockbuster opened the weekend before (often a Marvel movie), at the expense of new releases. The curse has felled such Warner movies as Poseidon, Speed Racer, and Dark Shadows. So the studio has to be overjoyed by Gatsby's performance, even if it premiered in second place.
After all, there is still a Marvel movie on top. Iron Man 3 lost 58 percent of its first-weekend business (which is typical for summer-kickoff superhero blockbuster), but it still held on to first place with an estimated $72. 5 million. In two weekends, it's earned $284.9 million domestically. Worldwide, its total is $949 million, meaning it should cross the $1 billion mark early this week.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Peeples. Not everything Tyler Perry touches turns to gold. His movies typically open near $20 million, but he didn't write or direct this meet-the-parents comedy, just produce it and put his "Tyler Perry Presents" banner on top. Despite Perry's name and the presence in the lead roles of TV stars Craig Robinson (The Office) and Kerry Washington (Scandal), Peeples opened in fourth place with an estimated $4.9 million, sandwiched between three-week-old Pain and Gain ($5.0 million) and five-week-old 42 ($4.8 million). The fact that the movie had been gathering dust on the shelves for two years didn't help, and neither did the fact that it was competing against Gatsby for older female ticketbuyers, against the still-solid 42 for African-Americans, and against Iron Man 3 for everyone else.
POLLEY MATH: On the indie side, actress/director/writer Sarah Polley saw her family-history documentary Stories We Tell premiere with a decent $31,000 on two screens. That $15,500 per-screen average is better than any other movie this week except Iron Man 3 ($17,040 per venue). Also continuing to do well on a per-screen basis were second-week dramas The Iceman ($6,412 per screen, for an estimated $109,000 this weekend and $236,000 total) and What Maisie Knew ($8,267 per screen, for an estimated $24,800 and a total of $55,900). In absolute terms, the strongest indie release remains Mud, which added another 278 screens this weekend (for a total of 854) and saw an 8 percent rise in sales to $2.3 million, good for a ninth-place finish and a three-week total of $8.4 million.