The conventional wisdom holds that summer is for teens — hence so many superheroes, fart jokes and massive pieces of machinery — and that adults better wait until fall if they want to visit the multiplex. "Red 2" is set to turn the conventional wisdom upside down.
Three years after the first "Red" movie put guns into the hands of actors of a certain age and grossed nearly $200 million worldwide, Friday's sequel arrives squarely targeting patrons in their 50s and 60s. Yet even though the first film was a solid hit, the second installment was not considered a sure thing until "Red" also generated outsized DVD receipts.
"People running the studios are not stupid, but they just don't see certain things coming," said the 67-year-old Helen Mirren, who stars in both films as the sniper Victoria. "They are constantly finding new audiences, but they've always been out there."
Audience-tracking surveys suggest a very close fight for first place among all new films except the dead-on-arrival "R.I.P.D." The $84-million "Red 2" is likely to improve upon the first film's debut in 2010, when the original "Red" opened to $21.8 million.
Just as with the first film, "Red 2" blends midlife crisis with action comedy. In the new film, a band of semi-retired spies and assassins (led by the 58-year-old Bruce Willis and the 59-year-old John Malkovich) is drawn into a bomb plot tied to a jailed scientist who may not be in full control of his faculties (the 75-year old Anthony Hopkins). The cast includes Catherine Zeta-Jones and Korean martial arts star Byung-hun Lee.
In keeping with its predecessor, "Red 2" — the acronym for Retired: Extremely Dangerous — takes the ensemble cast to an array of exotic locations, including Moscow, London and Paris (a late substitute for Montreal, which couldn't double as the French capital). The film's action sequences are bigger than the previous film, too, which is why it cost much more than the $60-million original.
Unlike the first film, which debuted in October, "Red 2" is opening in the middle of the summer, a bold gambit by Summit. But several releases earlier this season have dramatized that older moviegoers are ready and willing to visit theaters.
Two-thirds of the opening weekend audience for Brad Pitt's "World War Z" was 25 and over, 73% of the ticket buyers for "Star Trek: Into Darkness" were older than 25 and more than 45% of people who showed up for "The Great Gatsby" were 35 and older.
In recent years, several titles performed exceptionally well thanks to older customers, including last year's "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (worldwide gross: $136.8 million), and 2010 and 2012's two "Expendables" movies, which have a combined worldwide gross of more than $574 million.
All the same, "Red 2" didn't get an official go-ahead until the first film performed exceptionally well on video. Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura said that broadened the audience for the movie and made a sequel possible.
"We didn't succeed in getting a lot of kids to come to the first movie in theaters," Di Bonaventura said. "Adults saw it, and decided it was OK for their kids when it came out on DVD. The word of mouth on it was really, really good — it became a family movie."
Audiences may detect that the cast, much like "Ocean's Eleven," has a good time making the "Red" movies.
Mirren said that the making of the films is a bit like a traveling summer camp. At the film's recent junket in New York, when actors typically scurry from the host hotel to see friends and family, the "Reds 2" cast went out for dinner together.
"We don't think of ourselves as old," Mirren said. "Experienced is a better word. Definitely."
Original filmmaker Robert Schwentke, who directed this weekend's "R.I.P.D.," was replaced by Dean Parisot, who made the action comedy "Galaxy Quest" and has directed episodes of television's "The Good Wife" and "Justified." Both films were written by the team of Jon and Erich Hoeber. The movie was delayed briefly because the script wasn't ready when Willis had an opening.
Parisot said the challenge with "Reds 2" was striking a balance between the film's humor and pyrotechnics. "It's an odd tone you have to strike," the director said. "You have to make a good action movie to make it work as a comedy. If you go too far to either side, it becomes something else."
The 61-year-old director said the town's bias against filmmakers and performers older than 50 is hardly new.
"For the last 50 years, they have thrown away both actors and directors in their 50s — look what happened to Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges," Parisot said. "But they're ignoring the fact that there's a baby boom audience that grew up loving movies, and now that their kids are in or graduated from college, they are looking for something to do on a Friday night."
Thanks to the first film, Di Bonaventura knows that the "Reds" concept works. Like any producer, he's still nervous about the sequel's commercial outcome.
"The first time, there was a lot of skepticism in town," said the producer, who is now making the next "Transformers" sequel. "Now the fear is, 'How many people will come to see our movie? Did we pick the right weekend?' "