Bye bye, 'Barbie.' The new 'Blue Beetle' finally dethrones blockbuster at the box office

Warner Bros. and DC Studios’ “Blue Beetle” has finally dethroned Warner Bros. and Mattel’s “Barbie,” ending the bubbly blockbuster’s four-week reign atop the domestic box office.

The Latino-centric superhero movie opened this weekend to $25.4 million in the United States and Canada, according to estimates from measurement firm Comscore. “Barbie” slipped into second place, grossing $21.5 million in its fifth frame for a North American cumulative total of $567.3 million.

“Blue Beetle” met the low end of early projections, which had ranged from $25 million to $32 million. It’s the latest domestic box-office disappointment for DC, which has been struggling to bring in audiences amid cuts, a creative overhaul and a shift in leadership. “Blue Beetle,” however, faced an additional challenge previous DC titles have not — a reduced marketing campaign affected by the actors’ strike.

Rounding out the top five this week were Universal Pictures’ “Oppenheimer,” which added $10.6 million in its fifth week for a North American haul of $285.2 million; Paramount Pictures’ “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” which earned $8.4 million in its third frame for a North American total of $88.1 million; and Universal’s “Strays” which launched at $8.3 million, low for a talking-dogs movie though no doubt due in part to an R rating.

Directed by Angel Manuel Soto, “Blue Beetle” stars Xolo Maridueña as a recent college graduate whose life is turned upside down when he suddenly transforms into an alien symbiote. The cast includes Bruna Marquezine, Adriana Barraza, Damían Alcázar, Elpidia Carrillo, Raoul Max Trujillo, Susan Sarandon and George Lopez.

The historic title — DC’s first superhero film with a Latino lead — has fared much better with critics than the studio’s last two box-office failures, “The Flash” and “Shazam! Fury of the Gods.” Upon its release, “Blue Beetle” scored a respectable 76% fresh rating on reviews aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, as well as a B-plus grade from audiences polled by CinemaScore.

“‘Blue Beetle’ is a good old-fashioned origin story, a stand-alone film unrestrained by crossovers and cameos,” writes film critic Katie Walsh in The Times’ review.

“As a hard reset for the troubled DCEU, it’s refreshing, despite its adherence to formula. Soto and Dunnet-Alcocer inject the film with a welcome dose of tropical Latin flavor, a new set of values and a fair amount of humor; at times it can be a bit goofy, but that proves to be a powerful antidote to the otherwise dour tone that has bogged down DC movies of late.”

It’s also worth noting that the cast of “Blue Beetle” has been unable to promote the film during the ongoing actors’ strike. That means no late-night or daytime TV appearances, no premiere soundbites, no junket interviews and no social media posts from the stars of the movie in the weeks leading up to its debut. “The Flash” and “Shazam 2” did not experience this setback, though in the former’s case, the exposure of star Ezra Miller was kept to a minimum, due to the actor’s off-screen troubles.

At the Los Angeles premiere of “Blue Beetle,” Soto carried a cardboard cutout of Maridueña’s face and called the cast members heroes for “sacrificing this big opportunity” in solidarity with other striking actors.

“I’ll do anything for them,” Soto told De Los.

“I’ll wear their shirts. I’ll represent them wherever. They deserve it. They deserve all the flowers. I wish they were here to see and listen to people respond to their work, to see all the love for the passion that they put into this project. At the same time, I’m so proud of them … for taking a stand for better pay, for a better future. … Their protest is necessary, and they have my full support.”

In a community effort to make up for the unusual circumstances surrounding the release of “Blue Beetle,” local fans and organizations have rallied around the groundbreaking picture. For example, the food hall and cultural center BLVD MRKT hosted an event on Saturday celebrating the movie in downtown Montebello.

During a recent “Blue Beetle”-focused demonstration led by the Latinx Writers Committee and the SAG-AFTRA National Latino Committee outside of the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said he asked the studio giant to delay the launch of the film until the actors’ and writers’ strikes were over.

“Obviously, they didn’t choose to do that and I think that’s unfortunate,” Crabtree-Ireland told The Times, “but we’re going to be lifting those cast members up and really recognizing them for their unity and solidarity.”

Also new to theaters this week was “Strays.” Helmed by Josh Greenbaum, the canine comedy stars Will Ferrell and Jamie Foxx as a pair of pups who form an unlikely friendship and team up to get revenge on one particularly awful pet owner (Will Forte). The star-studded cast also includes Isla Fisher, Randall Park, Josh Gad, Harvey Guillén and Sofia Vergara.

The R-rated flick received a lackluster 54% on Rotten Tomatoes and a B+ grade from audiences polled by CinemaScore.

“Take out its wall-to-wall F-bombs, envelope-pushing scatological humor and often gross and, in one key case, deeply disturbing visuals, and you’re pretty much left with an amusing if rote story of well-meaning animals learning lessons on the road,” writes film critic Gary Goldstein for The Times.

“Think ‘Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey’ or the more recent ‘A Dog’s Way Home’ but with the furry main characters having their way with couches and garden art, tripping on magic mushrooms, and spouting poop and penis jokes.”

Opening in wide release next weekend are Sony Pictures’ “Gran Turismo,” Briarcliff Entertainment’s “The Hill” and Bleecker Street’s “Golda.”

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