It has been over three years since we last saw Will Smith on the silver screen in 2008′s “Seven Pounds.”
Regardless of the profession, three years is a long break. But in the movie industry, it can be an eternity. So it was only natural for many to wonder whether Smith’s previous box-office dominance would waver at all when “Men in Black 3” hit theaters last weekend. Could the movie star pick up where he left off in 2008 and continue selling a gazillion tickets as though his sabbatical simply never occurred? Well, sort of.
“Men in Black 3″ opened to $54.6 million last weekend (or $69.3 million if you include Memorial Day). While that’s slightly better than the debuts of 1997′s “Men in Black” ($51.1 million) and 2002′s “Men in Black II” ($52.1 million), “Men in Black 3″ actually sold far fewer tickets. If you adjust for ticket-price inflation, then “Men in Black” and “Men in Black II” opened to $88.2 million and $71.2 million, respectively.
Furthermore, the first two “MIB” movies debuted on Wednesdays and would have scored even larger figures had they been held until Friday, like “Men in Black 3″ was. And “Men in Black 3″ was the series’ only entry to benefit from 3-D surcharges.
So “Men in Black 3′s” performance was actually something of a disappointment, especially when considering its gargantuan $230 million budget. But to what extent, if any, is Will Smith to blame here?
After all, we’re talking about a threequel that was released a decade after the last installment — and “Men in Black II” was a very poorly received installment to boot. Even if Smith had continued acting these past three years, it would probably be unreasonable to expect “Men in Black 3″ to perform significantly better than it did. Also, according to the market-research firm CinemaScore, 50 percent of moviegoers listed Smith as their reason for buying a ticket to “Men in Black 3.” So the actor was still the main drawing factor for the film.
Take a look at Smith’s five last features: “Seven Pounds,” “Hancock,” “I Am Legend,” “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and “Hitch.” Yes, “Men in Black 3″ failed to compete with the likes of “Hancock” ($62.6 million debut) and “I Am Legend” ($77.2 million). But if you averaged the openings of all five films, it’d come out to $45 million — or $52 million when adjusted for ticket-price inflation. In that light, “Men in Black 3′s” $54.6 million debut isn’t so disheartening. Disappointing for such a pricey sci-fi action franchise? Sure. But a stain on Smith’s box-office report card? Not really.
The real test for Smith will be his next film, the M. Night Shyamalan sci-fi thriller “After Earth,” which will costar the actor’s son, Jaden Smith. It’s an original project, so franchise fatigue won’t be a viable excuse this time. And it won’t be released for another year (June 7, 2013).
But while we wait, it’s nice to see a movie star of Will Smith’s caliber back on the big screen — even if his star is shining a tiny bit less brightly than it used to.