IN SOME WAYS, it’s like we’re back in 1988: In culturally resonant times, N.W.A. has exceeded all commercial expectations all over again.
Three decades ago, the gangsta rappers shocked the world by going double-platinum. This time around, some box-office prognosticators were sizing up the new film “Straight Outta Compton” on a scale fit for other top musical biopics. Turns out, for comparison’s sake, they should have been eyeing superheroes.
Pundits had projected “Compton” for an opening in the neighborhood of $40 million. Instead, the N.W.A. biopic moved into the ‘hood of “Ant-Man.”
“Compton” grossed a whopping $56.1 million in its domestic debut, according to studio estimates Sunday, not only dwarfing the rest of this weekend’s competition (including the bow of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”), but also nearly equalling the $57.2 million opening last month for Marvel’s latest flick. And that gap could yet close with Monday’s final numbers. [Monday update: According to the final numbers, “Compton" topped $60 million over the weekend, surpassing “Ant-Man" by about $3 million.]
Late N.W.A. co-founder Eazy-E was born just one year after Ant-Man was (the latter debuting in 1962’s “Tales to Astonish”). A closer look at the box office’s tale of the tape highlights the degree to which “Compton” had an opening worthy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (based on Sunday’s estimates):
* “Compton” ranks at No. 100 on the list of biggest opening-day gross ($24.2 million domestic), just one slot and less than $100,000 behind Marvel’s 2003 “Hulk” (and ahead of “Ant-Man’s” $22.64 million).
* Even more impressive, “Compton” sits at No. 81 all-time for best weekend theater average ($20,348 domestic), according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, a hair behind “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” ($20,751) and ahead of “Spider-Man” ($19,755). (It’s worth noting, too, that “Ant-Man” opened in 1,000-plus more theaters than “Compton.”)
* “Compton’s” opening three-day gross is ahead of 2005’s “Fantastic Four” ($56.06 million domestic), “The Incredible Hulk” ($55.4-million) and “X-Men: First Class” ($55.1 million).
* “Compton” had the 10th best opening weekend ever for an R-rated film, ousting Warner Bros./DC’s “Watchmen” ($55.2 million domestic) from that slot.
Beyond the box office, “Compton” — an 11-year project — has also bested “Ant-Man” critically. The latest smash hit from Universal (amid the studio’s record-breaking year) tops the Marvel film on both RottenTomatoes.com (88 percent to 79 percent) and MetaCritic.com (a 72 score vs. “Ant-Man’s” 64).
Who knows? N.W.A.’s latest shocker could spark at least a minor shift straight outta Hollywood as studios wonder what films can rival tentpoles like animated and superhero franchises.