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Box Office: M. Night Shyamalan AFTER EARTH with Will Smith and Jaden Smith

Will Smith and Jaden Smith After EarthAfter Earth box office: Will Smith / M. Night Shyamalan sci-fier to open at highly disappointment no. 3? (Photo: Will Smith and Jaden Smith in After Earth)

Starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith, M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth opened with a highly disappointing $9.8 million — including $1 million from Thursday evening and midnight screenings — at 3,401 North American theaters on Friday, according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo. The Sony Pictures / Columbia release trailed not only last weekend’s top movie, Fast & Furious 6, but also Lionsgate Pictures / Summit Entertainment’s lower-budgeted "magical" heist thriller Now You See Me.

Starring Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, and Vin Diesel, the Justin Lin-directed Fast & Furious 6 collected $10.5 million at 3,686 locations and could reach $33-35 million by Sunday evening and approximately $170 million cume. Directed by Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans, The Incredible Hulk), and featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Isla Fischer, the $75 million-budgeted Now You See Me debuted with a better-than-expected $10.05 million at $2,925 sites, including $1.5 million from Thursday evening and midnight screenings.

Fast & Furious 6 will easily top the domestic box office this weekend. Although it’ll be a close call, Now You See Me will quite possibly remain at the no. 2 spot. Both Now You See Me and After Earth should score around $26-28 million. (Update: Fast & Furious 6 took in $34.53 million, followed by Now You See Me with $28.05 million and After Earth with $27 million, according to studio estimates released on Sunday.)

After Earth underperforms at domestic box office: International market to come to the rescue?

Deadline.com reports that Lionsgate had been expecting Now You See Me to open with $20 million. Even if that’s a much-too-modest figure, Now You See Me is undeniably overperforming, whereas After Earth is just as undeniably (badly) underperforming. According to Deadline, Sony Pictures had been expecting the Will Smith / M. Night Shyamalan combo to score somewhere around $40 million.

Of note: After Earth cost a reported $130 million, not including marketing and distribution expenses. If the above estimates are on target, After Earth will have trouble reaching $80 million at the U.S. and Canada box office, let alone get near to matching is productions costs domestically. As has been the case much too often with big-budget Hollywood productions in the last few years, the film’s only chances of recovering its production costs lies with the international market — and even then only if the Will Smith brand works miracles. After Earth opened in three international territories this weekend, and will start rolling out for real next weekend.

Well, perhaps Will Smith will prove himself to be as potent an international box office draw as Tom Cruise. Oblivion opened with a solid $37.04 million in North America; its current cume is $87.67 million. Internationally, however, Cruise’s action sci-fier has collected an estimated $179.5 million. Oblivion’s budget was a reported $120 million.

After Earth, Now You See Me cast

Besides Will Smith and Jaden Smith, the After Earth cast includes Academy Award nominee Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) and Zoë Kravitz. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith were two of the film’s producers, while M. Night Shyamalan shared screenwriting credit with Gary Whitta (of the apocalyptic The Book of Eli), from a story by Will Smith.

Besides Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Isla Fisher (recently seen in the Baz Luhrmann / Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Great Gatsby), Now You See Me also features Oscar nominees Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) and Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Messenger), Academy Award winners Michael Caine (Hannah and Her Sisters, The Cider House Rules) and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby), James Franco’s brother Dave Franco (21 Jump Street, though perhaps best known for a clever online video in which he coyly romances and then animalistically copulates with his double / himself), Michael Kelly, David Warshofsky, and Common. Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt were credited for the Now You See Me screenplay.

Will Smith and Jaden Smith in After Earth photo: Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures.

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