Unlike last year, when Memorial Day weekend box office hit a nine-year low of $192.7 million, industry executives aren’t planning to shed tears this weekend. Building upon the box office recovery which began four weekends ago with Fast Five (current B.O. $188.1 million), Memorial Day looks to restore its boffo record-breaking glamour.
The early predictions for Warner Bros.’ The Hangover Part II are apparently on the mark: The sequel to the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all-time ($277.3 million domestic) is on track to make $90-100 million over four days at 3,615 sites – the widest release ever for a raunchy restricted laffer. Hangover 2 is already a hit, having amassed $10.4 million in midnight shows at 2,600 theaters; the highest ever for an R-rated release besting the $6.3 million earned by Paranormal Activity 2.
Counter-programming with a strong one-two punch is Paramount/DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2, which is expected to grab a respectable $65-$70 million over four days at 3,925 – a figure well below the $100 million bows of Shrek two and three, but in between Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa ($63 million) and Shrek Forever After ($70.8 million).
On the surface, it appears Warner Bros. might be committing the same mistake as they did last Memorial Day: unspooling a sequel to a popular R-rated comedy geared toward a specific demo. Last year’s chick-flick non-starter Sex and the City 2 fell off the runway with an ugly $36.8 million four-day bow. Young males under 25 shelled out a notable $45 million to see the first Hangover, prompted by a heatwave of advance screenings. So will Hangover II hit its head on the ground like Sex and the City 2? Not a chance, according to Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman:
“Hangover II is a film for everyone right across the board, young and old. Word of mouth spread beyond young males. The first film played for 28 weeks and sold 100 million DVDs."
And if Warner Bros. still wants that young college/high school demo – they’ve got ‘em since 70% of all schools are off Friday. Should Hangover II cross $90 million by Monday, it will rep the highest opening for a Memorial Day comedy ever, outstripping the 2003 Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty ($85.7 million).
Typically, DreamWorks utilizes Memorial Day as a vibrant holdover period, i.e. opening a toon a week in advance and building up traction through the holiday. However, this year, family pleaser Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is in the way on the schedule. Paramount’s hope is that older moviegoers will flock to the Jerry Bruckheimer epic in its second outing, freeing up youngsters for Kung Fu Panda 2. The last time DreamWorks bowed a feature toon over Memorial Day was 2005 with Madagascar, and similar to this weekend, butted heads with a male comedy (Adam Sandler’s The Longest Yard). Madagascar wound up having more yardage than Longest Yard over four days, $61 million to $58.6 million. Kung Fu Panda 2 should also win over Asian audiences in such cities as San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto.
What Paramount discovered from the first Kung Fu Panda on its opening night was that a number of older fanboy males showed up, savoring the toon’s homage to chopsocky imports. It’s because of the comic book crowd that DreamWorks remains committed to Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3-D at 2,707 venues. Those auds are a reliable source of premium ticket revenues while families have no pretensions when it comes to 2-D. Kung Fu Panda 2 has families all to its own for four weeks before Cars 2 drives onto the big screen June 24.
Expect a three-day second sesh drop, i.e. 55% or steeper, for Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. 2006’s Dead Man’s Chest fell 54% while At World’s End dropped 62%. Buffering Stranger Tides’ splash is of course the four-day holiday. Stranger Tides, currently at $104.3 million, crossed the century mark in five days, indicating that word of mouth remains solid. Global B.O. is at $415 million and counting.