Thompson on Hollywood

Twentieth Century Fox execs woke up Sunday morning to the news that their Steve Carell-Tina Fey action romantic comedy Date Night stole the No. 1 box office spot away from Warner Bros.’ Clash of the Titans. It was a matter of dollars and cents, reports TOH box office analyst Anthony D'Alessandro, with an estimated $27.1 million at 3,374 venues versus $26.9 million for the Greek epic, which crashed 56%. UPDATE: By Monday, though, Titans squeaked ahead on the numbers ($26.7 million), thanks to premium 3D ticket prices and an overestimation by Fox on Date Night, which only scored $25.2 million.

While Monday’s weekend actuals might tell a different story, Fox tends to dish out spot-on weekend estimates. Date Night had two advantages: First, it was the only new wide release at theaters this weekend. Fox capitalized on the head-to-toe image of Fey and Carell in their disheveled evening get-up in its print marketing campaign. Both are NBC sitcom names: Fey stars in 30 Rock and Carell in The Office. (Fey's appearance as Sarah Palin on NBC's Saturday Night Live also didn't hurt.)

Second, with kids returning to school from spring break, Date Night lured adults: 60% of attendees were over 25 with a 52%--48% split between females and males, indicating that the comedy was truly a date film. Date Night reps Fey’s best opening, easily eclipsing both her 2004 spring hit Mean Girls ($24.4 million), which she co-starred and wrote, and her 2008 headlining feature Baby Mama ($17.4 million). For his part, Carell has opened more big summer comedies such as Get Smart ($38.7 million).  Carell’s second film to bow outside the summer frame after 2007’s Dan in Real Life (opening: $11.8 million), Date Nightmarks his strongest performance in the off-season to date.  

See the full box office chart below.

As an adult romantic comedy, Date Night is an anomaly among April’s $20-million-plus openings. The films that typically open well during the spring months--high-octane action titles, horror films or broad comedies--tend to cater to teens and twentysomethings. With an estimated production budget of $55 million, Date Night’s opening is a plus for Fox. But most April releases that bow in the $20-million range fall short of $100 million. The film earned a B on Cinemascore.

True, the top-grossing April release of all-time is a romantic comedy: 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding at $241.4 million. However, that film had a unique path at the B.O., benefiting from an extended platform release and strong word of mouth among older women.

In the wake of spring break and Titans' strong opening on Good Friday, Warner Bros. considers 56% to be an average decline for the epic. The studio’s March hit 300 weathered a similar drop in its second session of 54% in 2007. “We’re very pleased,” said Warner Bros. president of distribution Dan Fellman. “A big action-adventure film like this usually declines 60% or more. Holding under 60% is a great indication that word of mouth is good among our core audience (males 13-39).” The 3D theaters for Titans continue to mine 50% of the film’s ticket sales.

Holdover declines for most films in the top 10 weren’t as sharp as kids headed back to school. But Paramount’s DreamWorks Animation title How to Train Your Dragon continued to flex its 3D muscle in its third weekend by slipping a mere 13%.

In usual Nicholas Sparks sleeper fashion, Disney’s The Last Song dipped 37%, besting the second weekend declines posted by the author’s previous title this year Dear John (-47%) as well as leading girl Miley Cyrus’ Hannah Montana: The Movie (-59%) last year. Both Dear John and Hannah Montana finaled their domestic totals just under $80 million.

The 62% drop for Lionsgate’s Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? isn’t uncommon for the director’s films, as the bulk of his fans always show up during the first weekend. His previous two titles, I Can Do Bad All by Myself and Madea Goes to Jail, respectively posted second-frame declines of -58% and -61%.

Faith-based film Letters to God from Vivendi Entertainment managed to crack tenth place with $1.25 million from 897 locations. Faith-based films are known to be cash cows at the B.O. with their economical budgets. However, the genre has seen better days as witnessed by Fireproof which managed to open in fourth place in late September 2008 with $6.8 million before ending its domestic run with $33.5 million.

Next weekend, Lionsgate’s R-rated comic-book film Kick-Ass enters the marketplace. The film about potty-mouthed, gun-touting superhero tweens and teens isn’t targeted to as young an audience as its junior protagonists. Tracking is solid currently with males under 25, which is to be expected with a comic-book release. Critical response to Kick-Ass has been strong to date with a Tomatometer of 78% fresh.

1. Date Night (Fox): $27.1 million in its first weekend at 3,374 theaters. $8,032 theater average. Domestic total: $27.1 million.
2. Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros.): $26.9 million down 56% in its second weekend at 3,802 theaters. $7,069 theater average. Domestic total: $110.5 million.
3. How to Train Your Dragon (Paramount): $25.4 million down 13% in its third weekend at 4,007 theaters. $6,326 theater average. Domestic total: $133.9 million.
4. Why Did I Get Married Too? (Lionsgate): $11 million down 62% in its second weekend at 2,155 theaters, theater average $5,104. Domestic total: $48.5 million.
5. The Last Song (Disney): $10 million down 37% in its second weekend at 2,674 theaters. $3,746 theater average. Domestic total: $42.4 million.
6. Alice in Wonderland (Disney): $5.6 million, down 32% in its sixth weekend at 2,530 theaters. $2,219 theater average. Domestic total: $319.3 million.
7. Hot Tub Time Machine (MGM/UA): $5.4 million down 33% in its third weekend at 2,611 theaters. $2,080 theater average. Domestic total: $40.0 million.
8. The Bounty Hunter (Sony): $4.3 million down 29% in its fourth weekend at 2,901 theaters, theater average $1,482. Domestic total: $56 million.
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Fox): $4.1 million down 23% in its fourth weekend at 2,453 theaters. $1,671 theater average. Domestic total: $53.8 million.
10. Letters to God (Vivendi): $1.25 million in its first weekend at 897 theaters. $1,394 theater average. Domestic total: $1.25 million.