'Sonic 2' steals weekend box office, but 'Ambulance' stalls

LINDSEY BAHR
The Associated Press

"Sonic the Hedgehog 2" sped to the top of the charts in its opening weekend, earning an impressive $71 million according to studio estimates Sunday. Paramount's PG-rated sequel easily bested the weekend's other major newcomer, Michael Bay's "Ambulance," which faltered in theaters.

"Sonic 2," which brings back the first film's director, writers and cast, including James Marsden, Jim Carrey and Ben Schwartz, who voices the blue video game character, opened in 4,234 locations and actually surpassed its predecessor's opening weekend. The first "Sonic the Hedgehog" opened over the Presidents Day holiday weekend in February 2020, earning $58 million in its first three days.

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"The normal pattern domestically is that sequels slide a little bit," said Chris Aronson, the president of domestic distribution for Paramount. "But we certainly bucked that trend."

For a sequel to open 22% above the first, Aronson added, is "quite remarkable."

"Sonic 2" got mixed to positive reviews from critics and audiences were even more enthusiastic. They gave the CG/live-action hybrid a strong "A" CinemaScore.

"The filmmakers did a great job of being in service of not only the general audience but Sonic fans themselves," Aronson said. "Many feel it's a bigger, better film than the first one."

It's an important weekend not just for the "Sonic" franchise, but for PG-rated family films too. Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian said that one of the big questions of the pandemic was whether families would return to movie theaters with seemingly limitless viewing options available at home. According to exit polls, families made up 58% of the "Sonic 2" audience.

"There's been some indication that they wanted to go back with movies like 'Sing 2,' but it's moved in fits and starts," said Dergarabedian. "This says once and for all that families want to go back. It's a really good indicator of things to come for family films in 2022 with 'Lightyear' and the next 'Minions' movie."

Jim Carrey stars in "Sonic the Hedgehog 2."

"Sonic 2" is also the latest in a string of theatrical hits for Paramount in 2022, including "Scream," "Jackass Forever" and "The Lost City," which is still in the top five.

"A lot of credit goes to our marketing and distribution teams," Aronson said. "We've been judicious about picking our dates and knowing who our audience was for each."

And their next release could be their biggest yet. "Top Gun: Maverick" opens on May 27.

Meanwhile, "Ambulance" got off to a bumpy start in its first weekend. With an estimated $8.7 million in grosses, it opened behind Sony's "Morbius," down 74% in weekend two, and "The Lost City." Bay's nail-biter about a botched bank robbery was released by Universal and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Eiza González.

Its tepid launch proved a head-scratcher for many. Reviews weren't terrible (it's at a 69% on Rotten Tomatoes versus "Sonic 2's" 67%) and on paper "Ambulance" appears to be the kind of throwback, big screen blockbuster spectacle that would draw significant crowds to the theaters.

"This is a filmmaker who will forever be looked at as a blockbuster director, whether you like his movies or not. The bar is always raised for someone like that," Dergarabedian said. "But this is a different kind of movie and I think that's why we're seeing these numbers. It's not trying to be 'Transformers.' If Bay's name wasn't on it, expectations wouldn't be as high."

"Sonic 2" wasn't the only success of the weekend. A24's critical darling "Everything Everywhere All At Once" expanded nationwide in its third weekend in theaters and earned $6.1 million from only 1,250 screens.

"A24 has done a spectacular job of rolling it out on a platform release and building buzz," Dergarabedian said.

The film, directed by the Daniels and starring Michelle Yeoh, will expand to more theaters in the coming weeks.

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