New movies fare poorly at box office

LOS ANGELES — Star power didn’t do much to attract moviegoers to the multiplex this past weekend, as two celebrity-heavy films were unable to jump-start the box office.

“Pain & Gain,” featuring typically reliable box-office draws Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg, debuted with $20 million, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. Fortunately, the studio spent only $26 million to produce the Michael Bay-directed action comedy — otherwise, its opening would be considered more troublesome.

“The Big Wedding,” starring an ensemble that includes Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl and Diane Keaton, was the only other picture to launch nationwide this past weekend. The movie — which cost nearly $10 million more to make than “Pain & Gain” — collected a disappointing $7.5 million.

As a result, overall ticket sales were down 19 percent compared with the same three-day period last year, while year-to-date receipts and attendance have each tumbled roughly 12 percent.

The only exceptionally positive news at the box office over the weekend came from abroad, where “Iron Man 3” got off to a fantastic start in advance of its U.S. opening on Friday. The Marvel Studios production was No. 1 in 42 countries and collected $195.3 million — more than the $185.1 million “The Avengers” launched with its opening weekend abroad last summer.

Meanwhile, those who turned up to see the weekend’s new films in the U.S. didn’t like them much. “Pain & Gain” and “The Big Wedding” each received an average grade of C-plus, according to market research firm CinemaScore — spelling bad news for word of mouth in weeks to come.

“Pain & Gain,” about bodybuilders who go on a crime spree in 1990s Miami, was part of a two-picture deal filmmaker Bay has with Paramount. The director behind the “Transformers” franchise will deliver the second film in that deal — the fourth “Transformers” film, also starring Wahlberg — in June 2014.

Outside of the alien-robot film series, Bay hasn’t had much luck at the box office in recent years. His $100 million-plus sci-fi flick “The Island” tanked domestically in 2005, bringing in just $35.8 million in the U.S. and Canada.

Critics loathed “The Big Wedding,” a remake of a 2006 French film about a family brought together as one of its own walks down the aisle. At least distributor Lionsgate doesn’t have much of an investment in the movie: The studio contributed less than $10 million to the $35 million budget — the rest of which was paid for by Avi Lerner’s Millennium Films.

As expected, the movie appealed heavily to females, who made up 77 percent of the audience.

Roadside Attractions opened the well-reviewed thriller “Mud” in 363 locations. The film, which stars Matthew McConaughey as a fugitive who befriends two teenagers to evade the authorities, collected a respectable $2.2 million over the weekend. It performed best in Los Angeles and saw its second-highest gross in Little Rock, Ark. — the state where the film is set.

The movie co-stars Reese Witherspoon, who made headlines last weekend when she was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct and her husband on suspicion of driving under the influence. Subsequently, the actress canceled promotional appearances on “Good Morning America” and Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show _ though she did attend the movie’s New York premiere.

Asked if the negative press might have affected the opening for “Mud,” Howard Cohen, co-president of Roadside, said he thought Witherspoon’s arrest may have helped the film.

“If anything the premiere where she did attend was more heavily covered than it would have been otherwise and was more widely talked about than usual PR appearances,” Cohen wrote in an email. “But my take is it had minimal effect either way.”