By Mark Olsen
8:40 PM EDT, May 31, 2013
In something of a box-office surprise, the once iron-clad star Will Smith and his new "After Earth" lost Thursday night to the seeming upstart "Now You See Me." The futuristic sci-fi adventure vehicle for Smith and his son Jaden pulled in $1 million in early shows, while the magic-themed caper flick "Now You See Me" brought in some $1.5 million.
As one of the world's biggest box office stars, Will Smith would seem to be more of a sure thing, "Now You See Me" a less likely contender, with its oddball magicians-as-criminals premise and a cable-menu hodgepodge cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Melanie Laurent and Morgan Freeman.
Neither film looks likely to contend with "Fast & Furious 6," which should cruise to its second weekend in the winner's circle with an estimated $40 million. And though estimates earlier this week had put "After Earth" somewhere around $35 million to $38 million for the weekend, according to people who have seen early returns and updated tracking surveys, the film could end up neck and neck with "Now You See Me," with each possibly landing somewhere between $20 million and $25 million.
Sony, the studio behind "After Earth," says the film cost $135 million to make. "Now You See Me," from Summit Entertainment, has a budget of about $75 million. While the two films may go neck and neck stateside, "After Earth" may find more fans abroad.
The Thursday success of "Now You See Me" may also be another sign of the opening-day creep that has affected recent box office tallies. "Now You See Me" began its Thursday night shows at the prime-time slot of 7 p.m., while shows of "After Earth" didn't start until 9 p.m. slot.
Neither film has fared well with critics. As of Friday afternoon, "Now You See Me" was at 44% on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation site; "After Earth" ranked an abysmal 13%. Writing for the L.A. Times, critic Gary Goldstein declared of "Now You See Me" that "there's little magic to be had" as "the movie just doesn't deliver." Of the Smith family adventure, L.A. Times critic Betsy Sharkey asked, "If you're still wondering whether 'After Earth' is a disaster, the question is not if, but how big?"
If "After Earth" loses at the weekend box office to the less likely "Now You See Me," those same kinds of questions -- how did this happen? -- may be reverberating through Hollywood.
Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus
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