Matt Damon, Christian Bale's ‘Ford v Ferrari’ zooms to No. 1; ‘Charlie’s Angels' crumbles

Jake Coyle
The Associated Press

NEW YORK – “Ford v Ferrari” left its competition in the rearview mirror, racing to a $31 million debut at the box office in a No. 1 finish that counted as a win for big-budget originality.

James Mangold’s racing drama rode into the weekend with strong reviews and Oscar buzz for its leads, Christian Bale and Matt Damon. And audiences enthusiastically greeted it, giving the $98 million movie an A-plus on CinemaScore. “Ford v Ferrari,” which dramatizes the Ford Motor Co.’s push to unseat the perennial power Ferrari at France’s 24-hour Les Mans race in 1966, has been considered a rare kind of high-priced throwback built more on story, practical effects and star power than intellectual property.

Elizabeth Banks’ “Charlie’s Angels” reboot couldn’t keep up. The movie opened below expectations with $8.6 million domestically and $19.3 million overseas, according to studio estimates Sunday. Though the movie was relatively modestly budgeted at $48 million, it fell well short of the $40.1 million debut of the 2000’s “Charlie’s Angels,” with Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu. (The 2003 sequel opened similarly with $37.6 million.)

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Ken Miles (Christian Bale, left) and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) are on a mission to help Ford Motor Company win Le Mans in "Ford v Ferrari."

Banks’ version of the 1976-1981 TV series gave the material a feminist spin. But Kristen Stewart was the sole widely known Angel, starring alongside Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska. And “Charlie’s Angels” couldn’t best the Roland Emmerich World War II movie “Midway” in its second week. It slotted in just ahead of “Angels” in second, with $8.8 million.

Rounding out the rest of the top five: John Cena's family-friendly comedy "Playing With Fire" (No. 4 with $8.55 million) and the George Michael-inspired rom-com "Last Christmas" (No. 5 with $6.7 million).

Lately, at least, Hollywood’s efforts to dust off old properties have been received with a shrug by moviegoers. November has already seen disappointing debuts for the sequel “Terminator: Dark Fate” ($56.9 million in three weeks) and “The Shining” follow-up, “Doctor Sleep” ($25 million in two weeks).

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That made the initial success of “Ford v Ferrari” stand out even more. The film has several laps to go before reaching profitability. But as an adult-oriented action film with excellent audience scores and awards attention, “Ford v Ferrari” is likely to play well for weeks to come.

“We knew that it was a real crowd-pleaser. Anywhere we played it, whether at festivals or screenings, people have come out responding so positively to it. We knew that we had a little jewel here,” says Cathleen Taff, Disney’s distribution chief. “It’s just a great, exciting, ambitious film. It’s exactly what you want to see on the big screen.”

“Ford v Ferrari,” made by 20th Century Fox before the company’s acquisition by Disney, is the biggest Fox hit yet released by Disney. 

“The Good Liar,” a mystery starring Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, was the weekend’s other new wide release. It managed a modest $5.7 million, adding to a string of underperforming adult-targeting releases for the studio, including “Blinded by the Light,” “The Goldfinch” and “The Kitchen.”

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore, applauds “Ford v Ferrari” as a quintessential crowd-pleaser, but notes the industry needs much more gas to chase down a 6.1% deficit to last year’s total domestic box office. This weekend, down 37% from the same weekend last year, didn’t help.

“ ‘Ford v Ferrari' may have won the race this weekend, but the industry is still trying to get out of neutral,” Dergarabedian says. “We need ‘Frozen’ to thaw out this box office.”

Final numbers are expected Monday.

Contributing: Kim Willis, USA TODAY