By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood March 16, 2014 at 2:18PM
So far 2014 has boasted depth and variety, and this less-than-stellar weekend still shows the elements that have led to a 9% increase in gross so far. For the 16th consecutive weekend (going back to Thanksgiving), total grosses are up (around $97 million compared to $93 last year) despite the week's two weak openers going wide-- "Need for Speed" and "Tyler Perry's Single Woman's Club." Luckily, holdovers did well enough to make up for this, even though neither "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" nor "300: Rise of an Empire" will be among the year's top domestic successes.
Amid the variable wide releases, two more limited ones had varied results: "The Grand Budapest Hotel" reached #8 despite being on a mere 66 screens, showing far greater interest than anticipated, while the Kickstarter-financed "Veronica Mars" squeaked into the Top 10. This marks the best gross, though not best PSA, for a film released in theaters day-and-date with Video on Demand outlets.
1. "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" (Twentieth Century Fox) Week 2 - Last weekend #2
$21,200,000 (-%) in 3,951 theaters (+17); PSA (per screen average) $:5,366; Cumulative: $63,180,000
The lack of strong new films allowed a rare jump to #1 for a second-week of a release (not coincidentally, last achieved by a similar 3D animated film, "Frozen"). On its own level, the 35% drop is normal. It actually is about the same as DreamWorks Animation's last release (through Fox) "Turbo," but fortunately for them at a 50% higher gross level. Before this weekend, this had already taken in $70 million overseas. With a budget over $140 million before marketing costs, this remains a work in progress (a worldwide total of over $300 million will be needed to contribute to ultimate profit).
What comes next: With most upcoming weeks including spring vacations in some locales, this could have a better than average hold ahead, needed to get this to the total needed for profit. Jumping to #1 is positive, but keeping drops to 30% or less ahead will be more important.
2. "300: Rise of an Empire" (Warner Bros.) Week 2 - Last weekend #1
$19,105,000 (-58%) in 3,490 theaters (+20); PSA: $5,474; Cumulative: $78,311,000
Here's another case where Top 10 placement isn't quite as impressive when compared to the weekend change. The 58% drop is more than the 53% second weekend fall for the first "300," which in turn opened much higher than the sequel. Like "Mr. Peabody," this is another case where domestic grosses will be important to ultimate success, but international will ultimately determine the final result. With foreign at $87 million before the weekend combined with domestic so far, this continues to look like it will get to the level needed to justify the $110 million initial cost, but it could be a close call.
What comes next: "300" took in $210 million domestic. This will pass $100 million, but not by that much, so international needs to get over $200 million.
3. "Need for Speed" (Buena Vista) NEW - Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 39
$17,808,000 in 3,115 theaters; PSA: $5,717; Cumulative: $17,808,000
A disappointing result for this video-game transition into feature film (something that rarely works, "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" is the exception that proves the rule), and another weak effort from Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks. Other than his "Lincoln," the company hasn't had a film reach much above $30 million since "Real Steel" in late 2011. In fact, they managed to provide both the two lowest-grossing BV releases of 2013 ("Delivery Man" and "The Fifth Estate") and the lowest of 2012 ("People Like Us"). "Need for Speed" should fare better with a likely $40-million final domestic take, but opening at this level and at #3 is weak, more so with a $65 million budget.
Along with its well-known game brand, this actioner featured "Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul in his first big-budget film leading role, directed by "Act of Valor"'s Scott Waugh ($70 million). Co-producer and writing contributor John Gaitins got an Oscar nod for "Flight" and had previous success with "Coach Carter" and "Real Steel." But despite this pedigree and the video game familiarity, this attempt to replicate the "Fast and Furious" formula was doomed to fail.
What comes next: International (not handled by Disney) is going to have to deliver strong numbers to give this any chance to break even -- dicey considering the lack of a name lead.