There’s always an audience out there. You just have to serve it. And so it goes with the past three days, the second straight strong weekend of this summer that suggests business is rebounding from a tepid 2011. “Madagascar 3D: Europe’s Most Wanted” took the crown in a fashion similar to the first two films in this series, because it is a CG-animated kids film with talking animals, and you have to purposely run a terrible ad campaign to not make money in that racket. It's been a while since kids and parents have seen a CG-toon with a heavy marketing presence -- you probably could have released “Rio 5” in this atmosphere and it would have killed.
If this weekend’s shifting estimates hold, this installment of the DreamWorks franchise should finish its debut weekend a hair underneath the last entry, but far above the first. There’s a slight disappointment in those numbers, as this film arrives with a 3D surcharge as well as an association with a hit Nickelodeon series spawned from these films. But like a number of recent film series, this was specifically engineered to have greater worldwide appeal than the other two films, and since the global landscape is just that much stronger than it was when part two arrived, it’s likely no one is sweating that Americans aren’t exactly rabid for a “Madagascar IV.” Gee, we’re really missing out there.
The results of this weekend bring back memories of a muscular period in June 2008 when a CG toon and an R-rated actioner both debuted to over $50 million. Of course, the results for “Wanted” and “Wall-E” are more notable since, unlike “Madagascar” and “Prometheus,” they didn’t have the benefit of artificially enhanced prices from the 3D format. As if studios, who are absolutely drunk on the format, care: it boosts grosses and creates the illusion that moviegoing is always on the upswing. But it can't be ignored that "Prometheus" has the best opening for an R-rated film since "Paranormal Activity 3" last year.
And some kudos to the marketing department: “Prometheus” is a dark R-rated film with a story that seemed unclear to casual moviegoers, particularly with associations to “Alien” that seemed superficially obscure. And yet, through an ad barrage, clever trailers, and a colorful cast of fresh but familiar faces, “Prometheus” has to be one of the best campaigns of the year. Fox sold this thing like their pants were on fire.
It should be obvious by now that “Prometheus” will only need one more weekend to be the highest-grossing film associated with the “Alien” franchise, unseating “Aliens” and its $85 million take. But that’s something Fox was depending on, so it’s not necessarily significant. What is interesting is that this is second biggest opener from Ridley Scott -- yep, “Hannibal” is still on top with a $58 million take. Budget wise, “Prometheus” cost $125 million. Surprised by the relatively low figure? You can thank U.K. tax breaks for that, however, the P&A on this was likely just as high.
However, audiences granted the film a “B” Cinemascore which will likely help carry into a second strong weekend where it will still be the only action spectacle in town with hair musical "Rock of Ages" and Adam Sandler/Andy Samberg vehicle "That's My Boy" serving as competition. So, a good first few days, but a wait-and-see, particularly in regards to Ridley Scott and his potential involvement in a “Prometheus 2.” He has no shortage of other projects to pursue, and he’s certainly not getting younger. Perhaps the spectacular early international results help, but Fox likely has to be aggressive on a follow-up to maintain Scott’s attention. Taking a shot in the dark, but we’ll say no one loses their jobs on this film, but this particular on-screen story has concluded. Give it another seven years before a fancy “Alien” remake hits screens. If we’re wrong, drinks for everyone. Courtesy of that guy over there.
Right after announcing a sequel, Universal has to be a little worried that “Snow White and the Huntsman” took such a steep second weekend fall. It’s not disastrous, of course, but you spend this sort of money to get closer to $200 million domestic, not $150 million. They had previously discussed further installments centered around the Huntsman character, played by Chris “I Am Now A Slave To Franchise Contracts” Hemsworth with Kristen Stewart also contractually optioned for sequels. Could they trim the budget, retain some of the sets and effects, keep Rupert Sanders as director for a manageable price, and produce a cheaper followup? It’s not an artist-friendly approach, but it’s probably a smart business decision. Also, it’s “Snow White and the Huntsman.” If the sequel is inferior, will the core audience really care?
Speaking of which, “Men In Black 3.” It’s in weekend three, and it’s likely no one really remembers this actually happened. Even with 3D, this looks like a misfire that will fail to sniff the gross of “Men In Black 2” from a decade ago. There are a lot of ways to spin this unless you consider the budget, troubled production, and huge backend deals of all participants. Then there’s only one: Sony done laid an egg. This does not bode well for “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Sony’s other troubled franchise picture this summer that’s tracking to open well below the previous three films. Sony: We Make Movies So Disposable That Wait What Were We Talking About Again?
It is weekend six for “The Avengers” (seven, if you count the international release), and Marvel execs are still drunkenly riding mopeds around the office while blaring Watch The Throne. Firmly ensconced as the third highest grossing film of all-time, the superhero pic is still holding on through a possible play for $600 million domestic, and if it gets close enough, expect Disney to let it ride until the end of summer. The movie’s already crawled pretty close to “Men In Black 3,” and it would not be a surprise to see “The Avengers” lap that picture next week to stay in the top five. It didn’t have the staying power of “Avatar,” but “The Avengers” was an unprecedented box office brushfire that is only now starting to subside.
Leading the pack of non-blockbusters is “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which continues it’s improbable $100 million global run with its modest American showing. Even with the bigger films clogging up the multiplex, Hollywood simply has less product to release, allowing for a middlebrow offering like such to play for long without necessarily selling out. Plus, you’re not going to take mom to see “Men In Black 3.” Well, unless you hate her.
The strongest hold in the top ten is “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” though Lionsgate figured they had a hit on their hands with this one, not a low-heat programmer. These results would be fine if the budget was halved, but this pregnancy comedy supposedly cost somewhere in the vicinity of $60 million, in addition to an aggressive ad campaign that made a futile attempt to market to men as well as women, essentially selling two different movies. But at least it looks like it will hang around for a couple more weeks.
The same can’t be said for “Battleship,” “The Dictator” and “Dark Shadows.” “Battleship” dropped over a thousand theaters this weekend, as Universal attempts to save face from what may be the summer’s biggest flop. “The Dictator,” meanwhile, did reasonable business, unless those hard-to-believe rumors of a $100 million budget were true. Meanwhile, “Moonrise Kingdom” continues to do strong numbers as it expands into more cities, nudging Tim Burton's throwaway "Dark Shadows" out of the top ten to take the last spot.
1. Talking Animals 3D - (Paramount/Dreamworks) - $60.4 million
2. Prometheus 3D - (Fox) - $50 million
3. All Fairy Tales Should Apparently Look Like Lord Of The Rings (Universal) - $23.1 million ($98.5 mil.)
4. Men In Black 3D (Sony) - $13.5 million ($135.5 mil.)
5. Those Who Would Avenge Us (Disney) - $10.8 million ($571.9 mil.)
6. The Best Exotic Third World Hotel For White People (Fox Searchlight) - $3.3 million ($31 mil.)
7. What To Detect When You’re Detecting (Lionsgate) - $2.7 million ($35.7 mil.)
8. You Should Have Adapted Risk Instead (Universal) - $2.2 million ($59.8 mil.)
9. The Dictator (Paramount) - $2.1 million ($55.1 mil.)
10. Quirks Abound (Focus Features) - $1.5 million ($3.7 mil.)