He’s still not hosting the Academy Awards, but Kevin Hart has a No. 1 movie to celebrate.
Only days after quashing the idea that he would return as host of the Oscars, the actor and comedian is back at the top of the box office in STX’s “The Upside,” a dramedy starring Hart as a black parolee who becomes the caregiver and pal of a wealthy, white quadriplegic man played by Bryan Cranston. Despite an unenthusiastic reception from critics (the film has a 40 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the film exceeded most analysts’ expectations, selling $19.6 million in tickets during its first weekend in theaters.
The movie’s performance is especially notable given the controversy that has embroiled Hart while he’s been trying to promote it. In December, shortly after Hart was announced as the Oscar host, he dropped out when several tweets and comments that were deemed homophobic resurfaced from his past. Since then, his appearances to talk about “The Upside” have also involved discussions about the controversy, as was the case with a spot on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” at the beginning of the month that briefly stoked rumors that Hart could be reinstated as host (he has since definitively ruled it out).
But audiences didn’t seem to want to punish Hart: They bought enough tickets to allow “The Upside” to beat out the titanic “Aquaman” and claim the top spot at the box office.
[Read the New York Times review of “The Upside.”]
Not that Warner Bros., the studio behind “Aquaman,” has much to complain about. The superhero movie led by Jason Momoa brought in $17.3 million domestically this weekend and about $27.9 million overseas, bringing its cumulative global ticket sales to $1.02 billion, according to the studio. The film had spent three straight weeks atop the domestic box office, and its strong international turnout has cemented Momoa — a “Game of Thrones” alumnus — as a moneymaking leading man.
Sony’s “A Dog’s Way Home” was the only other debut in the top 10, landing in third place with $11.3 million during its first weekend in theaters, according to Comscore, which compiles box-office data. This family film directed by Charles Martin Smith stars a real dog making a difficult journey alongside a C.G.I. cougar. “If you’ve ever wondered what ‘The Grey’ might have been like if Liam Neeson were a dog,” Glenn Kenny wrote in his review for The New York Times, “you must see this movie.”