"Evan Almighty" did not live up to its name at the weekend box office in North America.
The most expensive comedy ever made -- with an official price tag of $175 million -- opened at No. 1 with an estimated three-day haul of $32.1 million, said distributor Universal Pictures Sunday.
The comic take on the Noah's Ark story was not the only disappointment. The Angelina Jolie drama "A Mighty Heart" opened at No. 10 with $4 million. Based on the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the film had been expected to open in the $5 million-$10 million range.
On the plus side, the Stephen King horror adaptation "1408" handily outperformed expectations, opening at No. 2 with $20.2 million, about $25,000 ahead of last weekend's champion, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer."
The tally for "Evan Almighty" is the lowest for a No. 1 opening this summer. The season is usually a lucrative period when the studios bombard theaters with sequels and special-effects extravaganzas. New entries in the "Spider-Man," "Shrek" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchises have already set various records.
Not so with "Evan Almighty," a sequel of sorts to the 2003 Jim Carrey comedy "Bruce Almighty," which earned $68 million during its first three days. The new film stars Steve Carell, who had a supporting role in the first one, long before he found fame with the TV series "The Office" and the 2005 hit comedy "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
While no one expected "Evan Almighty" to reach the stratospheric levels of its predecessor, observers had predicted it would open in the mid-$30 million range, possibly breaking $40 million. Executives at rival studios said the film needed to break $50 million to have a shot of making money.
Universal, a unit of General Electric's NBC Universal, said the opening was a few million dollars short of expectations, but executives were optimistic. (NBC Universal also is the parent of CNBC and CNBC.com.)
"As this weekend's positive audience rating polls indicate, the charms of 'Evan Almighty' are persuasive, and we have every hope that moviegoers will continue to discover it in the weeks ahead," said a statement from Universal Chairman Marc Shmuger and Co-Chairman David Linde.
With its $20.2 million opening, "1408" set records for both a Stephen King adaptation and a for a movie headlined by star John Cusack, said a spokeswoman for Dimension Films, a unit of the closely held Weinstein. Industry observers had forecast an opening in the midteen-millions.
Both "1408" and "A Mighty Heart" were marketed as smart counter-programming alternatives to the so-called "popcorn" pictures aimed at the masses. But both skewed to female moviegoers, which may have hurt "A Mighty Heart."
A spokesman for that film's distributor, Paramount Vantage," said the opening was "a little bit disappointing," but noted that it did well in major markets. Paramount Vantage is the art house arm of Viacom's Paramount Pictures.
Meanwhile 20th Century Fox's "Fantastic Four" sequel has earned $97.6 million after 10 days. An executive at the News Corp.-owned studio expected it would finish up in the $140 million range. Its 2005 predecessor earned $155 million.