Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weekend Box Office (04/17/11): Rio opens big, Scream 4 underwhelms.

As expected, 20th Century Fox's Rio followed its stunning $55 million overseas debut last weekend with a $39.2 million domestic opening weekend here. Rio is officially the biggest opening weekend thus far in 2011. The film comes from Blue Sky Animation, the Fox-owned animation house that has consistently delivered since the original Ice Age back in March of 2002. This is the second-weakest debut for the studio, after the $36 million debut of Robots in March of 2005, but Robots, Horton Hears a Who ($45 million opening weekend), and the Ice Age pictures weren't dealing with being the fifth computer-animated film to open in just over two months.

Still, a win is a win. Rio cost just $90 million and earned an 'A' from Cinemascore. There will be talk that the film should have opened even higher due to it being presented in 3D, but I think 2011 is quickly proving that 3D is no longer an enticement one way or another. It didn't stop Drive Angry (review) from tanking and it won't stop Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides from succeeding. To be honest, the overcrowded marketplace has probably hurt most of these films, although Gnomeo and Juliet ($97 million) benefited from being the first out of the gate and Mars Needs Moms ($20 million) would have arguably tanked anyway. But given more breathing room,Rango ($38 million opening), Hop ($37.5 million opening), and now Rio could have theoretically topped $45 million and been aiming at $150 million end-points instead of $125 million. With Dreamworks sitting this quarter out, the competition saw prime real estate and everybody pounced. And it's no over yet, as Hookdwinked Too is coming in two weeks, which will then lead into the summer. How well Rio fares from here depends on how well it weathers the competition.

Coming it at number two was Scream 4 (review), the third sequel to the horror franchise that once redefined the genre and arguably defined horror for the late 1990s. But it was not a pleasant homecoming, as the Wes Craven picture opened with just $18.6 million. The first Scream (retrospective) opened in 1996 with just $6 million over Christmas weekend, but then displayed astonishing legs and ended up with $103 million, or 16x its opening weekend. The sequel followed just under a year later, and Scream 2 (retrospective) shocked observers by opening with $33 million, one of the biggest R-rated openings on record at the time, before showing sequel-frontloading and ending up with $101 million. Scream 3 (retrospective) opened a little bigger in February 2000 ($34 million), but was generally frowned upon by fans and ended with just $89 million. Scream 4 was a wild card this weekend. Would it return with a vengeance, telling the likes of Paranormal Activity and Saw to get off its lawn? Or would it mainly play to the hardcore fans of the franchise, and older movie fans with fond memories of the original series? Alas, the answer was 'B'.

Adjusted for inflation, Scream 4 sold about 32% as many tickets as Saw 2 and 36% as many as Saw 3. Heck, it only sold about 66% more tickets that the opening weekend of the original Scream. While the film cost Dimension just $40 million, one has to presume that the Weinsteins were hoping for a bigger opening than Prom Night ($20 million), The Haunting in Connecticut ($23 million), or even the wide-release debut of Paranormal Activity ($21 million). For all the grief the film gives to the likes of Saw and the various 70s/80s horror remakes, this opening is 50% below the $40 million opening of Friday the 13th and well-below every single Saw sequel except the $14.5 million debut of Saw VI (which is ironically the best of the series, but I digress).

This is a sad, terrifying thing to acknowledge, but speaking purely in financial terms, Dimension probably would have been better off remaking/rebooting the series outright and/or going for a PG-13. Of course, had the film been a return to the creative heights of Scream 2, this might be a tragedy. But Scream 4 is a lazy, self-indulgent rip-off of itself that thinks acknowledging its own mediocrity excuses and/or justifies its existence. There is something just a little arrogant about a film that trashes or belittles a decade's worth of horror trends and then delivers a film that is far inferior to the pictures it derides. The film earned a 'B-' from Cinemascore, meaning even the fans were annoyed, so this should drop like a rock. At this point, the film that many thought would open with $40 million will likely struggle to top $45 million overall.

The only other wide release was the semi-wide debut of Robert Redford's The Conspirator. The period legal drama concerns the trial of a woman accused in taking part in the conspiracy to murder Abraham Lincoln. It received relatively mixed reviews, with most likening it to a History Channel reenactment, but the film pulled in $3.5 million for a solid $4,963 per-screen average. This is good news for me, as my wife really wants to see this in two weeks (preschool 'babysitting night') and I was genuinely concerned that the film would be gone from our local AMC by then. I have no idea of the expansion plans, if there are any, for the Roadside Attractions picture, nor do I know how much the all-star (James McAvoy, Robin Wright Penn, Alexis Bledel, Justin Long, Evan Rachel Wood, Norman Reedus, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Danny Huston) 9/11 parable actually cost. In limited release, Atlas Shrugged part I opened with $1.6 million on just 299 screens ($5,640 per screen). Objectively speaking (pun intended), that's a pretty solid result. I imagine it was a boon for concessions sales as the showings were full of people who were unwilling to share their popcorn or soda with their fellow moviegoers.

In holdover land, the shocking news is the continually strong performance of Insidious, which dropped just 27% in weekend three. Guess that answers the question of just where all the horror fans were this weekend (or who bought tickets to the PG-13 horror film while sneaking into the R-rated one). Anyway, the $1.5 million horror pic has so far amassed $35.8 million. Frankly, I haven't seen a come-from-behind horror triumph like this since the original Scream back in 1996. Soul Surfer dropped an impressive 31% in weekend two, and may see another small drop over Easter weekend. The inspirational drama has grossed $19.8 million. Hop fell 49% in its third weekend, likely owing to demo competition from Rio, but still managed a solid $10.7 million weekend and a $82.1 million cum thus far (next weekend should be a boon for obvious reasons).

tumbled a hard 44%, ending day ten with $22.1 million. The seemingly sure-fire hit will now struggle to match its $40 million budget. Hanna (review) held strong as well (-41%), with a ten-day cum of $23 million for the $30 million action drama. Your Highness (review) tumbled 57% and now sits with $16 million. Weep not for Universal, as they have a MASSIVE hit on their hands in just two weekends (the fifth time is indeed the charm). Source Code (review) is now at $36.8 million, while Rango (review) is at $118 million. The Lincoln Lawyer (review) crossed the $50 million mark to boot. Way down the chart, True Grit passed the $170 million mark this weekend.

That's it for this weekend. Join us over Easter when Tyler Perry presents Madea's Happy Family. Also opening is Water Elephants, a romantic drama starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Christoph Waltz. And Disney debuts African Cats, a nature documentary about Australian bunnies that my wife and daughter want to see. Till then, take care and keep reading.

Scott Mendelson

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