Box Office: Ryan Gosling’s ‘The Fall Guy’ Earns Soft Opening Day

The summer box office isn’t exactly starting with a bang. Universal’s action-romance “The Fall Guy,” starring Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stuntman courting a rising director played by Emily Blunt, earned $10.4 million from 4,002 locations on its opening day, a figure that includes $3 million and change from preview screenings. The feature is now projecting a three-day opening of $28 million, which would leave it short of industry projections that had forecast a debut in the low-to-mid 30’s.

It’s not a great result for Universal, which hasn’t succeeded in getting much traction out of Gosling’s red-hot post-“Barbie” media presence and a bunch of rave reviews for the action film out of a buzzy March premiere at SXSW Festival. With a $130 million production budget, the David Leitch-directed feature doesn’t carry the heavy financial expectations of the summer’s biggest tentpoles, but it’s still got a substantial number to recoup. Though “Fall Guy” is Leitch’s most expensive project other than his “Fast & Furious” spin-off, it’s going to have trouble matching the $30 million domestic opening of his last endeavor, the Brad Pitt vehicle “Bullet Train.” And that Sony release cost $40 million less to make.

“The Fall Guy” is also facing some inflated expectations by releasing in the first weekend of May: a calendar slot that has usually been reserved for the biggest of tentpoles in recent years, particularly from Marvel Studios. Two years ago, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” opened to $187 million; last year, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” notched $118 million. “Deadpool & Wolverine” originally had this weekend staked out, but was delayed after production stalled during last year’s strikes.

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Universal was quick to shift “The Fall Guy” into the vacated slot, a calculated maneuver to brand the title as a summer blockbuster. An opening below $30 million wouldn’t exactly deliver on that branding. There’s still a path to profitability for “The Fall Guy” if the film holds strongly. Reviews are good and early ticketbuyers like it too, per audience survey firm Cinema Score’s “A-” grade. But for the North American theatrical industry, which is already pacing nearly 20% behind in revenue from last year, it isn’t an auspicious kick-off for what’s supposed to be exhibitors’ busiest season.

Based on the ’80s TV series of the same name, “The Fall Guy” stars Gosling as a stuntman who helps his director and previous fling, played by Blunt, to investigate a conspiracy involving the disappearance of a movie star (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The cast also includes Hannah Waddingham, Winston Duke, Stephanie Hsu and Teresa Palmer.

Also opening this weekend, Sony is releasing the horror play “Tarot” in 3,104 locations. The Screen Gems film earned $2.5 million across Friday and preview screenings and is looking at a fourth-place finish. With a PG-13 rating and $8 million production budget, “Tarot” is scoring well enough with younger audiences, even with terrible reviews and a “C-” grade on Cinema Score.

And America stills loves Gungans and droids, with Disney’s 25th anniversary re-release of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” looking at a third-place finish for the weekend after earning $2.4 million on Friday from 2,700 locations. Today is “Star Wars” day, by the way, so may the fourth be with you. The prequel is outdoing the re-release of “Return of the Jedi” a year ago, which earned $4.6 million in its first three-day frame.

In second place, Amazon MGM’s “Challengers” is seeing a solid hold in its sophomore outing. The love-triangle tennis drama saw $2.5 million on Friday, down 59% from its opening day. The Zendaya film will likely surpass a $30 million domestic total through Sunday.

And fifth place should go to Legendary Entertainment’s “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” still chugging along in its sixth weekend of release. The Warner Bros. release is looking at another $4.2 million for the frame, pushing its domestic total to an impressive $187 million. It will likely end up above Universal’s “Kung Fu Panda 4” to become the second-highest grossing North American release of the year.