Something interesting has happened to Leonardo DiCaprio over the last few years: He's become a bona fide box office superstar. It just took him a long time to get there.
When Titanic blew the roof off the box office just over 15 years ago, the conventional wisdom at the time was that Leonardo DiCaprio had just been anointed as the biggest movie star in Hollywood. Yeah, not so much.
Three months after Titanic premiered, another DiCaprio flick, made before Titanic had opened, hit theaters: The Man in the Iron Mask. It couldn't quite displace Titanic's epic run atop the box office, though, and it ultimately made just under $57 million in the U.S. — a decent amount for 1998, but not what you'd expect from the purported Biggest Movie Star In The World. Later that year, DiCaprio's supporting turn in Woody Allen's Celebrity catapulted that film to...$5 million total. And when DiCaprio did finally return to theaters for his first true post-Titanic movie, 2000's The Beach, the film couldn't even beat Scream 3 in its second weekend, and it ultimately flopped at $39.8 million total.
To be fair to DiCaprio, being a superstar was never on his radar — you don't make a bloody period epic about gang warfare in mid-19th century Manhattan, or a devastating domestic drama about a disintegrating marriage, if you're hoping to rake in the big bucks.
Cut to this weekend. The Great Gatsby just opened to a spectacular $51.1 million, according to early estimates. Granted, that figure was not enough to beat the Iron Man 3 juggernaut — even a 58 percent drop from its record-setting opening weekend still put Tony Stark atop the box office with $72.4 million. But The Great Gatsby is far and away director Baz Luhrmann's best opening weekend ever, and it's DiCaprio's second best weekend ever after 2010's Inception.
More importantly, this is DiCaprio's first film to play enormously well with women since his series of big hits geared more towards men — 2010's Shutter Island and Inception, and last winter's Django Unchained (which had DiCaprio playing against type as a dastardly villain). The 38 year old can certainly thank Gatsby's literary pedigree, Luhrmann's reputation for unequaled razzle dazzle, 3-D ticket surcharges, and the lack of any female-centric competition for helping to boost Gatsby's numbers. (Peeples, a family comedy produced — but not directed — by Tyler Perry, was a non-starter with a $4.9 million debut.)
But none of that would've mattered if audiences weren't keen to take in how well DiCaprio can fill out a tux.
Cheers to you, Leo.
Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:
1. Iron Man 3 — $72.5 million
2. The Great Gatsby* — $51.1 million
3. Pain and Gain — $5 million
4. Peeples* — $4.9 million
5. 42 — $4.7 million
6. Oblivion — $3.9 million
7. The Croods — $3.6 million
8. The Big Wedding — $2.5 million
9. Mud — $2.3 million
10. Oz the Great and Powerful — $802,000