Box office results revealed that "The Purge," the suspense and horror film taking place in a dystopian, twisted America, brought in $36.4 million, taking the no. 1 spot from "Fast & Furious 6." Even more impressive was that the low-budget thriller was made for only $3 million, and managed to do well despite some tough reviews by critics.
The box office results shocked many analysts and distributors, who expected high-grossing films this summer only to be blockbusters like "Iron Man 3" or "Man of Steel," which opens this coming weekend. Still, the rated-R horror movie's concept and star Ethan Hawke's performance drew audiences in, impressing executives who didn't have to spend much to see success.
"Never did we expect to open at this level," Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, told the Associated Press. "This result could not have been forecasted by anybody."
However, the concept— in America's dark future of 2022, the government sanctions one 12-hour "purge" per year, where all violence and crime are legal— piqued audiences' interest from the day the trailers were released. Conversations on social media about the movie indicated excitement, with #WhatWouldYouDo, #SurviveTheNight and #IfThePurgeWasHappening taking off on Twitter.
"There was so much conversation on all social media platforms," Doug Neil, senior vice president of digital marking for Universal, told USA Today. "YouTube, Tumblr, Facebook all amplified the conversation."
"People want to talk about it. They need to share their thoughts. It really struck a nerve," added "The Purge" producer Jason Blum.
Even more surprising was audiences' willingness to see the film after a series of mediocre reviews by critics. Although many of them thought the plot was refreshing, the execution was deemed poor.
"Interesting, if improbable idea: execrable execution," Susan Granger wrote for the SSG Syndicate.
"Instead of being a creepy B-movie about the necessity of suppressing one's animalistic urges, 'The Purge' is just a product of uninspired filmmaking," agreed Simon Abrams for The Chicago Sun-Times.
Though the movie's overall rating was only 41 percent on RottenTomatoes.com, audiences liked the movie more, with a rating of 59 percent from them. Other movies rating high in the box office this weekend included "Now You See Me" with $19.5 million, "The Internship" with $18.1 million and "Epic" with $12.1 million.
To see the movie trailer, click below (WARNING: Adult themes, graphic violence).