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LOS ANGELES: "Morbius," the latest comic book adventure from Sony's Universe of Marvel Characters, opened in first place at the domestic box office, though ticket sales were considerably softer than recent superhero blockbusters.

Dinged by comically terrible reviews, "Morbius" sunk its teeth into $39.1 million from 4,268 North American theaters in its first weekend of release. That initial tally is at once a sign that audiences truly love comic book movies (in pandemic times, a non-superhero film with a 17% on Rotten Tomatoes wouldn't stand a chance at the box office) and an indication that not every superhuman character will be greeted equally on the big screen. (Sony's 2018 antihero origin story "Venom" was similarly panned but still managed to score at the domestic box office with $80 million to start and $213 million in total).

"Morbius" took in $44.9 million at the international box office, boosting its global total to $84 million. Like many Hollywood movies, it's unclear if "Morbius" will land a release date in China.

Sony spent $75 million to produce the vampire-infused "Morbius," which is less than studios typically shell out for superhero blockbusters. Marketing and other promotional costs added many millions more to expenses. Since Morbius the Living Vampire is not nearly as well known as Spider-Man, Batman or even Venom -- who was introduced to general audiences in Tobey Maguire's "Spider-Man 3" and later played by Tom Hardy in the standalone movies -- film industry analysts were not expecting "Morbius" to break box office records.

'Batman' swings high, again topping N.America box office

Still, Sony has a lot riding on "Morbius," which stars Jared Leto as Michael Morbius, a renowned biochemist who becomes a lethal vampire after attempting to cure himself of a rare blood disease. The studio majorly scored with "Spider-Man: No Way Home" ($1.88 billion at the worldwide box office) and successfully spun "Venom" into cinematic gold (the first movie earned $856 million globally and the 2021 sequel "Let There Be Carnage" earned $501 million at the worldwide box office).

But Sony has grander plans to fashion a viable rival to Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a so-so turnout for "Morbius" signals that in order to get audiences to go to theaters, these movies actually have to be watchable. After "Morbius," Sony's Universe of Marvel Characters is chugging along with standalone stories on "Kraven the Hunter," starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and "Madame Web," featuring Dakota Johnson.

Daniel Espinosa directed "Morbius," with a cast that includes Adria Arjona, Matt Smith, Jared Harris and Michael Keaton, reprising his role from previous "Spider-Man" films.

Given the muted reception from critics and moviegoers (it landed a "C+ CinemaScore), box office experts do not expect "Morbius" will have a fruitful life on the big screen. It'll face steep competition from younger male ticket buyers as "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" (April 8) and "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" (April 15) open in theaters.

"This is a weak opening by Marvel's exceptional standard for launching a new superhero series," said David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. He added, "Marvel movies are generally very well reviewed; here reviews are uncharacteristically poor."

In a distant second place, Paramount's action-adventure "The Lost City" collected a strong $14.8 million from 4,283 venues in its second weekend of release. So far, the screwball romantic comedy, starring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, has grossed $54.5 million at the domestic box office. Since the film cost $68 million, "The Lost City" is not yet a commercial winner. However, it's a promising sign that meet-cutes haven't entirely fallen out of favor with moviegoers.

Another comic book tentpole, "The Batman" with Robert Pattinson, landed in third place with $10.8 million from 3,732 theaters. After five weeks on the big screen, the Warner Bros. film has pulled in a mighty $349 million at the domestic box office. "The Batman" has continued to be a force across the globe, crossing $700 million over the weekend. The movie's worldwide total now stands at a massive $710.5 million.

For the second weekend in a row, Tom Holland's video game adaptation "Uncharted" and Crunchyroll's manga adaptation "Jujutsu Kaisen 0: The Movie" took spots four and five, respectively, on box office charts.

"Uncharted" brought in $3.6 million from 3,064 cinemas, buoying its North American tally to $138.9 million. Overseas, the $120 million-budgeted tentpole added $5.5 million from 55 markets. That takes "Uncharted's" tally to $234 million internationally and $373 million globally.

The anime film "Jujutsu Kaisen 0," an unexpected box office champion, earned $1.9 million from 2,070 screens in its third weekend in theaters. To date, the movie has grossed $31 million.


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