‘The Purge’ Shocks Box Office With $36.4 Million Debut

Small-budget flick starring Ethan Hawke takes #1 spot, as 'The Internship' debuted at #4.

Sometimes in Hollywood, smart concepts and high profit margins will trump big budgets and big stars.

June kicked off with Will Smith flaming out in the critically reviled vanity project, “After Earth,” (which paired him with his son, Jaden) in an effects-heavy sci-fi story under the direction of big name director M. Night Shyamalan. This past weekend, the box office was dominated by a micro-budget movie, which clobbered another pair of A-list actors.

“The Purge,” from the same producer as the “Paranormal Activity” series and “Insidious,” was made for just $3 million but managed to debut at #1 with $36.4 million, beating even some of the highest industry expectations. The story about a future where people are allowed to break the law for one day a year became the largest opening ever for Ethan Hawke, as Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson saw their poorly reviewed “The Internship” open at #4 with $18.1 million.

The opening was significantly higher than Hawke and producer Jason Blum’s previous collaboration, “Sinister,” which was released in October of last year. “The Purge” usurped last year’s similarly micro-budgeted “The Devil Inside” as record holder for largest opening of an R-rated horror movie that wasn’t a remake, a sequel or an adaptation.

Vaughn and Wilson were a blockbuster team in the well-reviewed R-rated comedy “Wedding Crashers.” Going into the weekend, The Onion joked that “The Internship” was “poised to be the biggest comedy of 2005.” With its bad reviews, bad buzz and lackluster opening, the Google-centric PG-13 comedy won’t make anywhere near the $209.2 million made by “Wedding Crashers” back in (you guessed it) 2005. “One of the most conventional comedies ever filmed,” wrote CraveOnline in their review. “They should have called it ‘Comedy Movie: The Movie.’”

Even though this was the second weekend in a row where a smaller movie beat once-unstoppable stars, there’s no reason to fear for the future of tentpole films. Both “Fast & Furious 6″ and “Star Trek Into Darkness” passed the $200 million mark domestically over the weekend. “Marvel’s The Avengers” follow-up “Iron Man 3″ has made more than $1 billion worldwide and “Man of Steel” should have a very strong opening Friday.

After a franchise-first two-week run at the top, “Fast & Furious 6″ dropped to #2 over the weekend with $19.8 million. With $202.9 million in domestic ticket sales, the movie is “fast” approaching the $209.8 million haul of “Fast Five.” As of right now, “Fast & Furious 6″ trails behind only “Iron Man 3″ and “Oz the Great and Powerful” in 2013 domestic receipts.

Last weekend’s “After Earth”-beating runner-up, “Now You See Me,” dropped one spot to #3. The ensemble picture was almost tied with “Fast & Furious 6″ with $19.5 million for a $61.3 million total. “After Earth” dropped 59 percent during its second weekend, a bigger second week decline than sci-fi flops “John Carter” and “Battleship,” ‘though not quite a high as the “Total Recall” remake. “After Earth” has no made less than $47 million domestically. Sony will no doubt be pleased with the overseas business of “After Earth,” where it’s made another $48.6 million thus far.

Family-friendly flick “Epic” rounded out the top five with $12.1 million for a three-week total of $81.4 million. Meanwhile, “Avengers” director Joss Whedon’s passion project “Much Ado About Nothing” made $183,000 as it opened in just five theaters. That was an impressive per-theater average of $36,600, the biggest for any movie over the weekend.

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Purge.”