Columbia Pictures; Universal Pictures
‘The Equalizer 2,’ ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’

In a battle of the sequels — and the sexes — Denzel Washington’s R-rated action pic out-gunned the $34.4m debut of ‘Mamma Mia 2.’

In a summer box-office upset, Sony’s R-rated The Equalizer 2 came in ahead of expectations to beat the star-studded Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again with an estimated $35.8 million launch in North America.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again grossed an estimated $34.4 million. The numbers could shift when final weekend earnings are tallied on Monday. Overseas, the sequel debuted to $42.4 million, from its first 43 markets, for a global bow of $76.8 million. The U.K. led with $13.1 million.

The female-fueled Mamma Mia 2 is by no means a disappointment in North America and opened in line with expectations. As it turned out, Equalizer 2 beat projections, thanks to an ethnically diverse audience and keen interest among men. (Rival studios show the movie coming in closer to $35 million, but Sony is counting on a strong Sunday.) Internationally, it only debuted in 11 markets, earning $3.3 million.

Equalizer 2 is the first sequel of Washington’s career. The first Equalizer was a sleeper hit in fall 2014 after opening to $34.1 million domestically. The budding franchise — both films were directed by Antoine Fuqua — follow the exploits of an ex-government operative drawn back into action. This time out, Washington’s character is determined to exact revenge for the death of a friend. Males made up around 60 percent of ticket buyers.

“This opening speaks to the star power of Denzel Washington. And you can’t go wrong with the combination of Denzel adn Antoine Fuqua,” says Sony distribution chief Adrian Smith, noting that this marks Fuqua’s highest domestic opening. He also believes there is room for both Equalizer 2 and another male-fueled action pic opening next weekend, Mission: Impossible — Fallout.

Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman also star in Equalizer 2, which marks the fourth film Fuqua and Washington have made together after The EqualizerTraining Day and The Magnificent Seven.

Equalizer 2 earned an A CinemaScore, compared to an A- for its predecessor. Mamma Mia 2 received the same CinemaScore as the 2008 movie, or an A-.

Mamma Mia 2‘s domestic opening came in 22 percent head of the first Mamma Mia!, which opened to $27.7 million in summer 2008 on its way to grossing $609.8 million globally, not adjusted for inflation.

“We consider it an outstanding opening. These kind of movies leg out like crazy,” says Universal domestic distribution president Jim Orr.

A big curiosity factor is Cher, who along with Lily James, are among the newcomers to the Mamma Mia! brand. Returning stars included Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard. The story traverses time to when Streep’s character (Donna) is pregnant.

Mamma Mia 2 is one of the few 2018 summer event films targeting females, who made up more than 80 percent of Friday’s audience, according to comScore.

In June, Warner Bros.’ female-fronted spinoff Ocean’s 8 opened to $41.6 million on its way to earning $256.7 million globally. And Paramount’s Book Club, starring Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen, was a sleeper hit in May upon grossing nearly $70 million domestically.

The weekend’s third new nationwide offering, Blumhouse’s million dollar horror-thriller, Unfriended: Dark Web , came in No. 9 with an estimated $3.5 million against a tiny production budget of $1 million. The found-footage pic, directed by Stephen Susco (The Grudge), follow a twenty-something who finds a cache of hidden files on his new laptop. He soon realizes that the former owners of his computer will do anything to get the laptop back.

Among holdovers, Sony’s Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation placed No. 3 domestically with $23.2 million for a 10-day total of $91.1 million. Internationally, it earned another $37.7 million from 51 markets to jump the $200 million mark and finish Sunday with a global total of $206.7 million.

Disney/Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp came in fourth with $16.1 million for a domestic total of $164.6 million and worldwide total of $353.5 million after earning another $21.6 million offshore.

Disney also took fifth place with Incredibles 2. The Pixar tentpole grossed $11.5 million for a dazzling domestic tally of $557.3 million. Internationally, it took in $36.5 million from 42 territories for a worldwide total of $940.1 million, meaning it has a strong shot of approaching $1 billion by the end of its run.

Dwayne Johnson’s summer event film Skyscraper continued to struggle in the U.S. in its second weekend, falling to No. 6 and grossing $11 million for Legendary and Universal. That puts the pic’s 10-day North American cume at $46.7 million.

However, Johnson’s star status translated into big numbers in China, where Skyscraper debuted over the weekend to a rousing $47.7 million for Legendary East. Combined with the $27.7 million earned in other foreign markets, the action-disaster pic won the weekend internationally with $75 million. Skyscraper finished Sunday with a worldwide total of $179.6 million.

New specialty offerings at the U.S. box office included Lionsgate and Code Black’s critically acclaimed urban drama, Blindspotting. The Oakland-set urban drama marks the feature directorial debut of Carlos Lopez Estrada, and stars Hamilton‘s Daveed Diggs opposite Rafael Casal.

Blindspotting, which opened in 14 theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and the Bay Area, grossed $332,500 for a per screen average of $23,750 million. The film earned one of the best averages of the weekend.

Estrada directed Blindspotting from a script by Rafael Casal and Diggs. The story, set in Oakland, follows two lifelong friends who navigate their final days of probation.

The top average of the weekend belongs to Bleecker Street’s new Alexander McQueen documentary McQueen, which opened to $96,928 from four theaters for an average of $23,854.

Amazon Studios’ new offering, Generation Wealth, opened to $33,602 from four cinemas for a per screen average of $8,401.

Meanwhile, A24’s Eighth Grade continued to impress as it expanded into a total of 32 locations in its sophomore outing. The film earned roughly $794,000 for a stellar screen average of $24,072.

Among other indie holdovers, Neon’s acclaimed doc Three Identical Strangers continued to climb up the chart, grossing $1.4 million from 332 theaters for a cume of $4.6 million. The film placed No. 14, the best ranking of any specialty title behind Annapurna’s Sorry to Bother You, which placed No. 10 with $2.8 million from 1,050 locations for a total of $10.2 million.

Three Identical Strangers is the latest documentary to prosper at the summer box office after RBG and Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which has crossed the $18 million mark domestically in a major win for Focus Features.