Disney execs had every reason to be grinning like Cheshire Cats Sunday morning as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland broke box-office records, most prominently, the highest non-sequel domestic opening ever, surpassing such superhero summer bows as 2002's Spider-Man ($114.8 million) and 2008’s Iron Man's $102.1 million gross. Mushrooming a colossal $116.3 million at 3,728 venues, Alice easily benefited from its 3D sites, earning record highs for the format in its 2,063 locales and 180 IMAX hubs. 65% of Alice’s dough stemmed from 3D situations. Worldwide, Alice consumed $210.3 million.
For Alice to earn the best pre-summer bow, particularly in early March, is quite a feat. Typically R-rated films such as 300 ($70.9 million) and Watchmen ($55.2 million) excel during this part of the month, with distributors saving family titles for the mid-to-late part of the session.
On Tim Burton’s resume, Alice easily marks a career high, outdistancing his previous best bow, 2001’s Planet of the Apes, which generated $68.5 million. Alice marks the second biggest opening for Disney and studio star Johnny Depp, who both share the same No. 1 record opening weekend for 2006’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest ($135.6 million).
Touting an estimated budget of $200 million, Alice's first weekend comes as a sigh of relief for Disney which began promoting the film late last summer with sneak preview photos online of the film and a trailer attached to G Force. “We knew from our midnight shows on opening day that this film’s audience was as broad as we expected, literally ranging from ages five through 96,” said Disney distribution president Chuck Viane about Alice’s four-quadrant appeal.
As far as winter and March records -- Alice blew them away like a caterpillar’s hookah smoke rings. The previous first quarter three-day high belonged to Newmarket’s Passion of the Christ, which minted $83.8 million during an Oscar ceremony weekend in 2004. And while the prevailing notion is that the box office takes a slight hit on Sunday during Oscar weekend, Alice may have nothing to worry about, given the strength of PG titles during matinee times and the fact that a bulk of any film’s money is made on Friday and Saturday. “My opinion is that people will make time to do both,” said Viane on Alice versus the Oscar ceremony.
Queuing up behind Alice in spots two through four on the box office chart were a string of R-rated adult titles, led by Overture Films’ cop thriller Brooklyn’s Finest with $13.5 million. Though Brooklyn ranks in the middle opening range of Antoine Fuqua’s cop thrillers, the film repped Overture’s fourth straight successful opening. “Going this weekend with Alice, a PG-rated fantasy, in the marketplace gave us a successful opportunity to counterprogram with an interesting R-rated adult film,” said Overture’s executive vice president of theatrical distribution Kyle Davies, “It paid off.”
The film, which stars Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke was initially acquired by Senator at Sundance 2009 for about $5 million. When that company was unable to get the P&A together to release the title, the rights to Brooklyn become available again and Overture snapped the film up for $2 million back in September. Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ Bruce Willis-Tracey Morgan comedy Cop Out became director Kevin Smith’s highest-grossing film ever with an estimated take of $32.4 million, besting his previous 2008 credit Zack and Miri Make a Porno ($31.5 million).
Retaining 30% of its 3D locales (661 sites) due to the entry of Alice in the marketplace, Avatar remained buoyant in the top five, easing one notch down from its standing last weekend with $7.7 million. Avatar ranked sixth on Friday and out-pegged Overture’s The Crazies for the fifth spot. Audiences looking to check out other Oscar nominees prior to the award ceremony flocked to Fox Searchlight’s Crazy Heart which saw a 31% surge from last weekend with $3.35 million.
Here are the weekend's top ten films:
1. Alice in Wonderland (Disney): $116.3 million in its first weekend at 3,728 theaters. $31,196 theater average. Domestic total: $116.3 million.
2. Brooklyn’s Finest (Overture): $13.5 million in its first weekend at 1,936 theaters. $6,973 theater average. Domestic total: $13.5 million.
3. Shutter Island (Paramount): $13.3 million, down 40% in its third weekend at 3,178 theaters, theater average $4,185. Domestic total: $95.8 million.
4. Cop Out (Warner Bros.): $9.1 million, down 50% in its second weekend at 3,150 theaters. $2,903 theater average. Domestic total: $32.4 million.
5. Avatar (Fox): $7.7 million, down 45% in its 12th weekend at 2,163 theaters. $3,560 theater average. Domestic total: $720.2 million.
6. The Crazies (Overture): $7.0 million, down 58% in its second weekend at 2,479 theaters. $2,830 theater average. Domestic total: $27.4 million.
7. Percy Jackson & the Olympians... (Fox): $5.1 million down 48% in its fourth weekend at 2,994 theaters. $1,703 theater average. Domestic total: $78 million.
8. Valentine's Day (Warner Bros./New Line): $4.3 million, down 53% in its fourth weekend at 3,040 theaters. $1,405 theater average. Domestic total: $106.4 million.
9. Crazy Heart (Fox Searchlight): $3.35 million, up 31% in its 12th weekend at 1,274 theaters. Theater average $2,630. Domestic total: $29.6 million.
10. Dear John (Sony/Screen Gems/Relativity): $2.85 million, down 43% in its fifth weekend at 2,496 theaters. $1,142 theater average. Domestic total: $76.7 million.