With the top twelve films totaling $182 million, this Memorial Day weekend was a disaster at the domestic box office: the holiday has posted in excess of $200 million over the last six years. Overall, ticket sales are off as much as 15% from last year and 26% from the 2007 high of $246.4 million when Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End posted the all-time holiday record of $139.8 million.
Blame the product. Memorial Day weekend is neither the ideal place to launch a franchise (Disney’s Prince of Persia: The Sand of Time) nor play R-rated femme fare (Sex and the City 2). Family films and tentpole sequels catering to males tend to click turnstiles.
Heading into the weekend, distribution executives warned that Paramount’s DreamWorks Animation title Shrek Forever After could trump the competition, and it did, grabbing $55.7 million from 4,367 venues over four days. This is the second time since 2004 that a Shrek film has rallied the Memorial Day frame and its the third best return for the DreamWorks film over the holiday, queueing behind Shrek 2’s $95.6 million and Shrek the Third’s $67 million.
While being 3D doesn’t hurt, Shrek’s ability to thrive doesn’t necessarily stem from its visual format. It's more that Memorial Day has always been a strong play time for family and event films, particularly those starring cartoon ogres. Walt Disney’s videogame adaptation Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which nabbed second place with $37.8 million, and Iron Man 2 which earned $20.6 million in fourth, only serve as further evidence of audience taste. Shrek Forever After saw fewer returns from its 3D huts, dropping to 55% this weekend from 61%, suggesting sticker shock over sky-high premium tickets.
While producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Mike Newell's Prince of Persia should have dominated the frame, the $200-million fantasy adventure barely managed to squeeze past Sex and the City 2. “People thought we were going to be third place, but based on today’s numbers, it appears we are No. 2,” said Disney distribution chief Chuck Viane. Prince of Persia drew 60% males, 40% females; 44% of the audience was under 25. It earned a B Cinemascore. Fortunately for Disney, the sword-and-sandal film played better foreign: scoring No. 1 worldwide; after bows in China, India and Russia, it has grossed $104.8 million overseas. (Here's how Prince of Persia went wrong.)
Going into the weekend, it was clear that Sex and the City 2 would claim the biggest opening for a chick pic over Memorial Day weekend (it drew 90% femmes) and the largest R-rated bow for the holiday. But the question is, should Warner Bros./New Line have bowed Sex 2 in the post-Memorial Day period, when the first installment minted a $57 million opening? True, four wide releases will break next weekend, but the competition might have shied away had Sex 2 claimed the date first.
The sequel took in less than the original in five days -- $51.4 million – which removes any “wow” factor from the franchise’s B.O. prestige. When Sex first opened, it was an anomaly at the multiplex; a pre-sold girls-night-out film for fangirls. The future of Sex 2 is not bright, even though it’s the only female-driven film in the market prior to The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (June 30). But its B+ Cinemascore, young demo (54% of Sex 2’s crowd was under 35) and rotten Tomatometer review ranking of 15% indicate that like the first Sex (which fell 63% in it second weekend), attendance will plummet in week two.
1. Shrek Forever After (Paramount/DreamWorks Animation): $55.7 million down 27% in its second weekend at 4,367 theaters. $12,760 theater average. Domestic total: $145.5 million.
2. Prince of Persia (Disney): $37.8 million in its first four days at 3,646 theaters. $10,362 theater average. Domestic total: $37.8 million.
3. Sex and the City 2 (Warner Bros.): $37.1 million from Friday-Monday at 3,445 theaters. $10,782 theater average. Domestic total: $51.4 million.
4. Iron Man 2 (Paramount): $20.6 million down 28% in its fourth weekend at 3,804 theaters. $5,415 theater average. Domestic total: $279.2 million.
5. Robin Hood (Universal): $13.6 million down 34% in its third weekend at 3,373 theaters. $4,025 theater average. Domestic total: $86.3 million.
6. Letters to Juliet (Summit): $7.3 million down 26% in its third weekend at 2,825 theaters. $2,566 theater average. Domestic total: $37.9 million.
7. Just Wright (Fox): $2.7 million down 43% in its third weekend at 1,195 theaters. $2,259 theater average. Domestic total: $18.7 million.
8. Date Night (Fox): $2.25 million down 30% in its eighth weekend at 1,126 theaters. $1,998 theater average. Domestic total: $93.9 million.
9. MacGruber (Universal/Rogue): $1.9 million in its second weekend down 58% at 2,546 theaters. $765 theater average. Domestic total: $7.6 million.
10. How to Train Your Dragon (Paramount/DreamWorks Animation): $1.465 million down 30% in its tenth weekend at 825 theaters. $1,776 theater average. Domestic total: $213.1million.