Ethan Hawke makes waves at box office with 2 new films

If you've been longing to see Ethan Hawke more on the big screen, the next few weeks are a golden opportunity. He's starring in two movies, each representing very different facets of his multi-tiered career. 

Opening Friday is the low-budget, but highly buzzed about sci-fi thriller, “The Purge,” which Times film reporter John Horn noted could gross up to $25 million its opening weekend, quite a debut for a film with only a $3 million budget. It's likely to end up as the weekend's No. 1 movie.

The film, which co-stars Lena Headey, shows a United States in the year 2022, when crime has been diminished save for 12 hours one night a year called “The Purge,” when crime is legal. Hawke plays a suburban husband in the security system business who fights to fend off intruders during "the purge" and keep his family safe.  

Review: 'The Purge' takes a half-hearted look at class warfare

Hawke's other movie is the indie breakout “Before Midnight,” which opened in select theaters on May 24. The film, the third in a trilogy with Julie Delpy, received rave reviews. As of last Friday, it had taken in $775,000 and was off to a good start.

This is a common pattern in his work as he drifts between large action movies like “Training Day” (2001), which got him an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor, and smaller, indie films like “The Hottest State” (2006), which went relatively unnoticed. Hawke is also a novelist, having penned the novel "The Hottest State" before it was made into a film.

But maybe this is his objective, as he told a Times reporter in 2010, “I enjoy changing the worlds that I’m in.”

And they are different worlds: “The Purge” is a thriller set in a futuristic United States; “Before Midnight” is set in Greece and is a romantic drama.  Both could be a turning point of sequential successes for the actor.

“Before Midnight” is the third in an indie series whose other movies include “Before Sunrise”(1995) and “Before Sunset” (2004).

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In the series, Hawke plays Jesse, who has now settled down with his partner, Céline (Delpy). Céline first met Jesse on a train to Vienna in “Sunrise,” and they were reunited nine years later in Paris for “Sunset.” “Before Midnight” takes place nine years later (again) and viewers see a domestic side of the couple, who now have twin daughters.

In its opening weekend, “Before Midnight” grossed around $247,000, which is consistent with its predecessor “Before Sunset,” which grossed $219,425 its opening weekend, and more than $5 million total.

One thing "The Purge" and "Before Midnight" share is their R rating, which is surprising to Hawke. "It’s amazing. It’s almost like something out of 'The Purge' that 'Before Midnight' would be rated R because of a breast,” Hawke told the website Movie Fanatic in an interview published on Tuesday.

 ALSO:

'The Purge' hopes to make a killing for less

'The Purge' may boss 'The Internship' around at box office

Linklater's 'Before Midnight' draws crowds in limited release

celine.wright@latimes.com