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Kirsten Dunst stars in 'Civil War.'Murray Close/The Associated Press

Alex Garland’s provocative Civil War didn’t only ignite the discourse. The film also inspired audiences to go to the cinemas this weekend where it surpassed expectations and earned US$25.7-million in ticket sales in North America, according to studio estimates Sunday.

It’s the biggest R-rated opening of the year to date and a record for A24, the studio behind films like Everything Everywhere All At Once and The Iron Claw. Civil War also unseated Godzilla x Kong from its perch atop the box office. The titan movie from Warner Bros. had held the No. 1 spot for the past two weekends.

Civil War, starring Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura and Cailee Spaeny as front-line journalists in a near future covering a devastating conflict in the U.S. and trying to make their way to Washington, D.C. The story, written by Garland, who is also the mind behind Ex Machina and Annihilation, imagines a U.S. in which California and Texas have united against a president who has disbanded the FBI and given himself a third term.

Though entirely fictional, Civil War has been inspiring debates since the first trailer that have extended beyond the musings of film critics and traditional reviews. This weekend, The New York Times ran two opinion pieces related to the movie, one by Stephen Marche and another by Michelle Goldberg. There were also pieces on CNN and Politico.

Going into the weekend, projections pegged the film to debut in the US$15 to US$24-million range. The studio said Civil War overperformed in markets “from LA to El Paso.” The data analytics company EntTelligence reported that the film has attracted over 1.7 million patrons this weekend and that the top three markets were Los Angeles, New York and Dallas.

“The title alone is enough to spark a conversation in a year where the political discourse is top of mind,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. “And they couldn’t have picked a better date. This movie is perfectly timed in a month that is very quiet.”

The film opened on 3,838 screens in the U.S. and Canada, including IMAX. It’s the most expensive movie that the studio has ever made, with a production budget of US$50-million, which does not account for millions spent on marketing and promotion.

IMAX showings of Civil War, which was playing on 400 of the large format screens, accounted for US$4.2-million, or 16.5 per cent of the domestic total.

Reviews have been largely positive. It’s currently at 83 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 77 per cent audience score. Its CinemaScore was a B-, which has sometimes indicated that word-of-mouth might not be strong going forward. But that might not be the case with Civil War, which doesn’t have a tremendous amount of competition over the next few weeks until The Fall Guy opens on May 3.

“You have to take all the metrics together, including the competitive landscape,” Dergarabedian said.

But it is a notable win for the studio, which doesn’t always open films nationwide out of the gates. Before Civil War, A24′s biggest debut was the Ari Aster horror Hereditary, which opened to US$13.6-million in 2018.

“This isn’t destined to be a $200-million global blockbuster. But it’s a very high-profile win for A24,” Dergarabedian said. “They’re a studio that pushes the envelope. They’re a brand associated with a certain level of quality and filmmaking expertise, pushing boundaries and taking risks. It’s well-earned over the years.”

Second place went to Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, which earned US$15.5-million in its third weekend to bring its running domestic total to nearly US$158-million. Another “Empire” movie, Sony’s Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, took third place in its fourth weekend with US$5.8-million. It’s now at US$160-million worldwide.

Rounding out the top five was Universal and DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 4, in fourth with US$5.5-million in weekend six, and Dune: Part Two with US$4.3-million in its seventh weekend. Dune 2 has now earned US$272-million domestically.

This weekend also saw the box office year-to-date comparisons take a big hit. Last year, The Super Mario Bros. Movie brought in over US$92-million in its second weekend in theatres. On the same weekend in 2023, the top 10 accounted for over US$142-million, compared to this year’s US$68.4-million. The year to date is back down to 16 per cent after seeing some recovery with the success of Dune: Part Two.

“The box office has been a see-saw,” Dergarabedian said. “But we all knew this was going to be a rough month for comps because of Mario.”

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theatres, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. “Civil War,” $25.7 million.

2. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” $15.5 million.

3. “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” $5.8 million.

4. “Kung Fu Panda 4,” $5.5 million.

5. “Dune: Part Two,” $4.3 million.

6. “Monkey Man,” $4.1 million.

7. “The First Omen,” $3.8 million.

8. “The Long Game,” $1.4 million.

9. “Shrek 2,” $1.4 million.

10. “SUGA – Agust D Tour `D-DAY’ The Movie,” $990,881.

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