WINNERS OF THE WEEK: Brain cells. Conventional Hollywood wisdom says that the months when school is out are the time for movies built on pure, mindless visceral spectacle. Yet this weekend’s box office chart is dominated by movies that don’t assume your brain is on vacation and may actually require you to fire up the hamster wheel and think a little. Leading the pack was The Bourne Legacy, which easily beat the competition by debuting with an estimated $40.3 million, despite having a plot no less convoluted than the franchise’s three previous spy thrillers. Opening in second place, with an estimated $27.4 million, was The Campaign, in which Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis disproved the rule that audiences won’t pay to watch political satire. After a three-week perch atop the chart, the thoughtful Bat-epic The Dark Knight Rises fell to third place but still earned an estimated $19.5 million, meaning it’s earned just shy of $400 million in only 24 days. And premiering in fourth place was Hope Springs, a romantic comedy-drama for grown-ups. The Meryl Streep-Tommy Lee Jones film took in an estimated $15.6 million over the weekend, plus another $4.5 million on Wednesday and Thursday. (Rounding out the top five was tween comedy Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, which earned a solid $8.2 million, according to estimates, in its second week.) At the other end of the intellectual spectrum, Nitro Circus the Movie 3D underperformed. An anthology of stunts, the Jackass-like spectacle was expected to gross around $5 million on 800 screens but earned a paltry $1.7 million over the weekend, according to estimates, for a total since Wednesday of $2.2 million and a finish outside the top 10.
LOSERS OF THE WEEK: Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass. The longtime Bourne star and director chose to sit this installment out . . . and nobody missed them. Instead, Damon handed Jeremy Renner, the valuable supporting player of Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol and The Avengers, the chance to test himself as the leading man of a mainstream action thriller, a test he passed with flying colors. Similarly, Tony Gilroy, who’d written or co-written the first three Bourne films (adapting Robert Ludlum’s novels), got to take the director’s chair this time and showed he could stage international chase sequences as smart and as exciting as the ones Greengrass shot. He may be the franchise’s true MVP.
DOWNSIZING: Remember when a new Spike Lee movie was an event, one that engaged moviegoers and op-ed page essayists nationwide? This weekend, the latest Spike Lee Joint, Red Hook Summer, was released on just four screens by indie boutique distributor Variance Films. At least it’ll open in a few dozen venues nationwide over the next few weeks. That’s more than you can say for Freelancers, a police drama with supporting turns by Oscar-winners Robert De Niro and Forest Whitaker (the star is 50 Cent), which got only a token release this weekend in New York and Los Angeles before heading to DVD next week. Red Hook snagged an estimated $42,100 on four screens; Freelancers didn’t even chart. Shouldn’t films with such big-name talents be a bigger deal?