Kevin Hart’s ‘The Up­side’ un­seats ‘Aquaman’

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - Pho­tos and text from wire ser­vices

Kevin Hart isn’t host­ing the Os­cars, but he’s got a num­ber one movie.

NEW YORK >> Kevin Hart isn’t host­ing the Os­cars, but he’s got a num­ber one movie. “The Up­side,” star­ring Hart and Bryan Cranston, sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions to open with $19.6 mil­lion in ticket sales, ac­cord­ing to stu­dio es­ti­mates Sun­day.

The strong per­for­mance of “The Up­side” pushed “Aquaman” to sec­ond af­ter the aquatic su­per­hero’s three­week reign atop the North Amer­i­can box of­fice. Warner Bros.’ “Aquaman” still passed $1 bil­lion world­wide over the week­end, be­com­ing the first DC Comics re­lease to reach that mark since 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”

“The Up­side” opened on the heels of sev­eral weeks of Os­car drama sur­round­ing Hart. The co­me­dian last month with­drew from host­ing the Academy Awards , just days af­ter be­ing named em­cee, when he ini­tially re­fused to apol­o­gize for years-old ho­mo­pho­bic tweets.

On the pub­lic­ity trail for “The Up­side,” Hart re­peat­edly dis­missed the Os­car con­tro­versy, say­ing he was “over it,” while flirt­ing with the pos­si­bil­ity of re­turn­ing as Os­car host — some­thing for which talk-show host Ellen De­Generes, in par­tic­u­lar, ad­vo­cated.

Whether all that at­ten­tion helped raise the pro­file of “The Up­side,” a re­make of the 2012 French com­edy “The In­touch­ables,” was dif­fi­cult to ex­trap­o­late, though it surely didn’t hurt. Ticket sales were al­most twice in­dus­try fore­casts. The film re­ceived poor re­views (40 per­cent fresh on Rot­ten Toma­toes) and was slammed by some crit­ics for trad­ing on the kind of gay panic hu­mor that Hart was forced to apol­o­gize for.

Neil Burger’s film, which cost about $35 mil­lion to make, stars Hart as an ex-con who be­comes a care­taker for a phys­i­cally dis­abled au­thor (Cranston). It was orig­i­nally to be dis­trib­uted by the We­in­stein Co. Har­vey We­in­stein pre­miered the film at the 2017 Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val just weeks be­fore the many al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment sur­faced against the movie mogul.

STX En­ter­tain­ment picked up the movie, which on Sun­day handed the five-year-old startup stu­dio its first no. 1 re­lease at the box of­fice. Launched in 2014 with a mis­sion to make the kind of mid-bud­geted, star-driven films the stu­dios have in­creas­ingly aban­doned, STX has had some suc­cesses (“Bad Moms,” “The For­eigner,” the crit­i­cally ac­claimed “The Edge of Seven­teen”) but has of­ten strug­gled to find break­out hits. Last year’s “The Hap­py­time Mur­ders,” with Melissa McCarthy, was one of the 2017’s most glar­ing flops.

STX’s Mo­tion Pic­ture Group Chair­man Adam Fo­gel­son pointed to strong au­di­ence re­ac­tion (an A Cine­maS­core) and down­played any ef­fect of the Os­car chat­ter on “The Up­side,” not­ing that Hart “is in the cul­ture con­stantly for tons of stuff.”

Fo­gel­son called the no. 1 re­sult a sym­bol of larger suc­cess for STX’s busi­ness model.

“We have been prof­itable on the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of our movies for more than a year and a half. No one needs to cry for us, but I don’t think the com­pany gets credit for that be­cause the way we’re do­ing that is so dif­fer­ent from how tra­di­tional Hol­ly­wood has op­er­ated,” said Fo­gel­son. “This re­sult is just an ex­cla­ma­tion point on the fact that this can work not just in an STX way but in an old Hol­ly­wood way, as well.”

DAVID LEE — STXFILMS VIA AP

This image re­leased by STXfilms shows Bryan Cranston, from left, Jahi Di’Allo Win­ston, and Kevin Hart in a scene from “The Up­side.”

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