By LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer
” Creed III ” punched above its weight at the domestic box office in its first weekend in theaters. The MGM release knocked “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” out of first place and far surpassed both industry expectations and the opening weekends of the first two movies in the franchise.
Playing in 4,007 locations in North America, “Creed III” earned an estimated $58.7 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday. Going into the weekend, analysts expected the film to open in the $30 million range. The first “Creed” debuted to $29 million in 2015 and “Creed II” opened to $35 million in 2018.
Michael B. Jordan made his directorial debut with “Creed III,” which pits his character Adonis against a childhood friend, Dame, played by Jonathan Majors. It’s the first in the Rocky/Creed films to not feature Sylvester Stallone, who chose not to return because of creative differences.
“This is beyond all of our expectations. And we knew that we had something special — we tested the movie and it tested great, but the public responded so resoundingly to it,” said Erik Lomis, MGM’s head of distribution. “Everything went right here starting with the movie itself … It was just up to us not to break it when they gave it to us and we didn’t.”
Strong reviews helped “Creed III,” which is currently sitting at an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, while audiences gave it an A- CinemaScore. The audience was largely male (63%), diverse (36% Black, 28% Latino, 23% white and 13% Asian/other) and young (55% between 18 and 34) according to exit polls.
Over 80% of general audiences said the film was a “definite recommend.” With Black audiences, that number ballooned to 89%.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and that’s rarefied air,” Lomis said. “People love the movie.”
It’s also the most expensive “Creed” film, with a reported production budget of $75 million, compared to the others which cost $35 million and $50 million. Internationally, “Creed III” earned $41.8 million from 75 markets, making its global debut $100.4 million.
It’s a big moment for Amazon, who acquired MGM for $8.5 billion last year, and could have simply released “Creed III” on its streaming service with a limited theatrical run. But they chose theatrical, and it paid off.
“Amazon threw their weight behind this movie like only they can do,” Lomis said. “They supercharged the campaign with marketing support across all their verticals on the platform and beyond the platform. That shows a commitment to the theatrical business model from Amazon and MGM, which I think should be exciting to everybody.”
The company’s next major theatrical release is the Ben Affleck-directed “Air,” starring Matt Damon, out next month.
“Ant-Man 3″ slipped to a distant second in its third weekend in theaters with $12.5 million from North America and $22 million internationally. The Marvel and Disney film’s global cume now stands at $419.5 million.
Third place went to Universal’s ” Cocaine Bear,” which added $11 million in its second weekend in theaters to bring its domestic total to $41.3 million.
Crunchyroll’s “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – To The Swordsmith Village” placed fourth with $10.1 million. The series is based on Koyoharu Gotoge’s manga about a boy avenging his family.
Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company’s “Jesus Revolution” rounded out the top five with $8.7 million. The film starring Kelsey Grammer as a pastor in the 1970s has made $30.5 million in two weekends in theaters against a $15 million production budget.
Opening outside of the top five was Guy Ritchie’s “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre,” a spy caper with Jason Statham, Hugh Grant and Aubrey Plaza that made $3.2 million from 2,168 locations this weekend. The film, originally an STX release, was in distribution limbo for some time. Lionsgate recently stepped in to oversee the domestic rollout.