CATEGORIES Movies
It was supposed to be a close race. Ages ago, when Universal and Warner Bros. scheduled "Fast & Furious 6" and "The Hangover Part III" to open against each other on Memorial Day weekend 2013, it looked like an evenly-matched competition between two franchises chasing the same demographic, testosterone-addled young adult males.

In recent weeks, however, "Fast 6" started to look like it had the edge, that it might earn $100 million over the four-day weekend, while "Hangover" would be not far behind with about $80 million.

But now that the smoke has cleared, "Fast 6" has left "Hangover III" choking on its dust. "Fast 6" made its $100 million (well, $98.5 million) in just three days, with a likely $122.2 million by the end of the holiday weekend. "Hangover III" opened in second place, but with just an estimated $42.4 million from Friday to Sunday. By the end of the four-day weekend, it will have earned somewhere between $48 and $55 million, a far cry from those $80 million predictions.

What went wrong? Why was the "Hangover III" premiere so woozy and wobbly? Here are some possible reasons:

"The Hangover Part II" squandered the franchise's good will. "Part II" was a huge hit, earning $254.5 million in North America (a bit below the first movie's $277.3 million) and another $332.3 million overseas (a marked improvement over the first film's $190.2 international take). Still, it's pretty remarkable that "Hangover II" earned $586.8 million worldwide, considering how much it disappointed moviegoers and critics, who found it a stale xerox of "The Hangover." So it's no wonder viewers were skeptical about "Hangover III." So far, that skepticism has yielded a three-day opening about half the size of the $85.9 million debut of "Hangover II" in 2011.

Word-of-mouth was tepid. Of course, critics were bound to dislike "Hangover III," but this is the sort of franchise that's critic-proof, reaching an audience that doesn't much care what the professionals think. Word-of-mouth, however, is very important to this audience, and for "Hangover III," the word-of-mouth was just okay, as indicated by its B grade at CinemaScore. (By contrast, "Fast 6" earned a solid A grade.)

Opening early may have backfired. Sometimes a movie can generate an extra boost of good word-of-mouth by opening a day early, as "Hangover III" did on many screens. Indeed, the comedy was able to grab an additional $11.8 million by opening Thursday. But those early audiences must not have thought much of the film, and their reluctance to recommend the movie to friends only seemed to hurt its long, lackluster opening weekend.

Action beats comedy. "Hangover III" has its share of visual gags and chase sequences, but you could argue that it has nothing as cinematic as the eye-popping action stunts that form the set pieces of "Fast 6." Also, "Fast 6," with its implausible action sequences and its multi-ethnic gang of jet-setting thieves, requires a lot more suspension of disbelief than "Hangover III," which, for all its comic excesses, remains rooted in the familiar, prosaic dilemmas of middle-aged masculinity. If you're looking for an escapist movie, which would you choose?

Competition came from everywhere. It wasn't just "Fast 6" that hobbled "Hangover III." This month's earlier blockbusters, including "Iron Man 3," "The Great Gatsby," and "Star Trek Into Darkness," all held up well this weekend. Even "Epic," the new family cartoon, did better than expected, opening in fourth place with an estimated $34.2 million through Sunday. After all, if your a middle-aged guy like the members of the "Hangover III" Wolf Pack (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis), you're probably a dad, and your kids probably wanted you to take them to see "Epic."

Then again, the movie's made some $19.2 million overseas. If it makes anywhere near the $190.2 million that the first "Hangover" made internationally, we'll probably be seeing a fourth installment, despite Warners' promise that this was the last one. They'd just better hope it doesn't open against "Fast & Furious 7."