GI Joe Retaliation

"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" opened to a solid domestic three-day $41-million gross and twice-as-big international $80-million total to lead a strong Easter holiday weekend. The top ten grossed $139 million, improving on last year's one-week later holiday by $24 million while equaling the total for the exactly one year ago. The weekend total improved $12 million from last week. Business is not yet exactly booming, but it seems to have stabilized, marking a big improvement on 2013 thus far. 

Dreamworks' animated "The Croods" had a solid hold which, along with the usual strong opening for the latest Tyler Perry entry, added to the overall total. Only "The Host" among new openings failed to deliver.

1. G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Paramount) NEW - Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 42

$41,200,000 in 3,719 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $11,078; Cumulative: $51,700,000

With a boost from the holiday weekend, a Thursday opening, 3-D surcharges and a powerful overseas performance, Paramount started out well with the second film in the "G.I. Joe" series. While the budget came in over $130 million, the studio managed to keep the budget $50 million below the first entry - an unusual achievement in itself, and more impressive since "Retaliation"'s summer 2012 opening date was pushed back to add 3-D and reshoot key scenes after Channing Tatum's standing increased last year.

After several big-name male action stars flopped or underperformed earlier this year, this gross, on top of the last week's surprisingly successful "Olympus Has Fallen" marks a return to business as usual, a welcome relief heading into a summer with mostly conventional time-tested formula films. What is encouraging for Paramount is that the parallel international grosses were nearly double domestic, far ahead of the roughly even results the first time around. With this overall opening, this sequel is heading toward the $400 million+ total gross it needs to become a solidly profitable film.

This is another strong showing for stars Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, just after his more modestly budgeted drama "Snitch" had a respectable showing, as well as for the versatile Tatum. New castmember Bruce Willis, who carried the recent "Die Hard" entry, refurbishes his credentials far better than his older action star contemporaries.

This marks director Jon M. Chu's biggest film to date after his earlier "Step Up 2 the Street" and the Justin Bieber concert film, as well as a major advance for its writers, previously credited with the much lower cost "Zombieland." Skydance, which recently financed high-end films like "True Grit," "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" and "Jack Reacher" was a partner along with MGM, with franchise film veteran Lorenzo di Bonaventura ("Transformers") producing along with Brian Goldner ("Battleship").

What comes next: The A- Cinemascore and the overall gross suggest enough positive word of mouth to sustain this to a necessary $150 million or so domestic gross which, along with continued international success, could be enough to keep the series going.

2. The Croods (20th Century-Fox) Week 2; Last weekend: #1

$26,500,000 (-39%) in 4,065 theaters (+19); PSA: $6,519; Cumulative: $88,618,000

A holiday weekend helped keep the drop to a normal level and an overall strong gross for this Dreamworks Animation production through new partner Fox. With international doing as well so far, this now looks like a success despite the initial $135 million budget, a nice return to form after the expensive failure of "Rise of the Guardians."

What comes next: This should be able to approach $150 million in domestic gross, which is average these days for high-end studio animation releases.