By Anthony D'Alessandro | Thompson on Hollywood March 6, 2011 at 5:45AM
As the studios chase branded entertainment, the one genre open to original thinking is animation. Who can blame Gore Verbinski, after three Pirate movies, for heading back to the old West with a John Logan homage to westerns, top-of-the-line Industrial Light and Magic animation, and Johnny Depp leading a cast of great character actors? After a slow winter lacking an Avatar or Alice in Wonderland to perk up attendance, audiences returned to multiplexes to check out Rango, the winter's second hit western (after True Grit) and a slew of other new entrants.
Anthony D'Alessandro tracks the most robust 2011 weekend competition so far, which nonetheless still tracked behind last year (top ten box office chart, trailers and review rankings below):
Aside from the boom Oscar season, the one bright spot at the B.O. is animation. Paramount’s Johnny Depp-voiced lizard toon Rango, the second of six pre-summer studio toons after Gnomeo & Juliet ($83.7 million to date), corralled the No. 1 spot away from three wide entries with $38 million. Among the weekend's other openers, Universal’s Philip K. Dick adaptation The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, grossed an estimated $20.9 million in second; CBS’ modern take on Beauty and the Beast, Beastly grossed $10.1 million in third, and Relativity Media’s ‘80s comedy Take Me Home Tonight fell outside the top ten ($3.5 million).
Although Rango charted lower than industry projections of $45 million, the upside is that the sky’s the limit for this film, given animation’s tendency to churn out a 3-5 times multiple of its bow in its final domestic tally.
Why the onslaught of product? After the $116.1 million bow of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland a year ago, it appears that the first weekend in March is the new May, especially as kids check out for spring vacation. But this year, as the studios couldn’t offer up a single four-quadrant film, they opted to chip away at under 35ers with a slew of titles, which still couldn’t measure up to last year’s boffo $197 million three-day weekend.
Rango, which marks George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic’s entry into animation, won on the strength of Depp’s name above the title as well as Paramount’s all-encompassing marketing campaign, which kicked off last June with an online trailer and surged over the last two months with a flurry of TV spots, one sheets depicting the film’s characters and Justin Bieber's junket crash to sing his praises to Depp.
Some consider Rango to be a shot at the bow of DreamWorks Animation, suggesting that Paramount has ILM in its hip pocket should Jeffrey Katzenberg & Co. decide to exit. While ILM is likely to do more CG animated features, Rango’s bow charts lower than other spring 2-D debuts such as 2002’s Ice Age ($46.3 million) and certainly lower than those original toons buffed up by 3-D such as How to Train Your Dragon ($43.7 million) and Monsters vs. Aliens ($59.3 million). Also, Rango earned a lousy C+ Cinemascore (the pollster can't poll audience members under 13). The movie skews older than most family-friendly toons; it drew mostly moms and other attendees over 25 (both at 54%). Critics loved it at 88% fresh on the Tomatometer.
Rango will best its C+ Cinemascore, says Paramount's exec vp of distribution Don Harris, because the percentage of schools K-12 on vacation will swell from 3% on Friday to 10% by the end of the week and in two weeks the percentage of schools on break will number 35%. Plus the movie wasn't boosted by 3-D surcharges: Harris claims more admissions for Rango's domestic opening than How to Train Your Dragon.
After changing release dates as often as Emily Blunt changes outfits in Adjustment Bureau, Universal’s $62 million pick-up from Media Rights Capital performed in sync with the studio’s expectations. The opening reps a perk for Matt Damon solo vehicles, which have flagged of late --The Informant! ($10.5 million), Invictus ($8.6 million) and last year’s pricey bomb Green Zone ($14.3 million). Critics welcomed Adjustment Bureau's sci-fi romance at 69% fresh, while moviegoers gave it a modest B Cinemascore (those under 34 gave it an A- or B+). Unlike the action-thriller trailers and TV spots that Universal ran for Adjustment Bureau, audiences found out that the film is a heart-plucky love story at its core, starring a sexy couple, who were featured in the studio’s sleek one-sheets and billboards. 53% of the crowd were females and 73% were 30+.
Continuing to focus on more commercial fare, CBS Films accomplished its mission by hitting young females (78%) with its adaptation of teen novel Beastly. The plan to make its $17-million budget back: make Beastly the alternative choice for teen girls, wedged between headliners Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Hudgens’ other respective titles in the market: I Am Number Four and the upcoming Sucker Punch. In spreading the word, CBS saturated Nickelodeon’s iCarly with a ton of spots as well as ABC Family Channel. Those girls under 18 gave it a big A- Cinemascore (B+ overall) while critics found Beastly ugly at 21% rotten.
Relativity’s Take Me Home Tonight was the fourth film out. While the company is known for making their B.O. numbers globally (January’s stateside stinker Season of the Witch made $72 million worldwide), their self-released genre titles have failed to resonate stateside. The fledgling distrib worked to spread the word on a fun film with a Funny or Die clip, music vids of ‘80s covers, as well as an Anna Faris appearance on Chelsea Lately. Relativity shelled out $10 million for Home as part of its acquisition of Rogue titles. 55% of the audience was under 25; 51% were female. Cinemascore was a nasty C, while critics ruled the picture 30% rotten.
The Top Ten Weekend Box Office Chart:
1. Rango (Paramount/ILM): $38 million in its first weekend at 3,917 theaters. $9,701 theater average. Domestic total: $38 million.
2. The Adjustment Bureau (Universal): $20.9 million in its first weekend at 2,840 theaters. $7,375 theater average. Domestic total: $20.9 million.
3. Beastly (CBS Films): $10.1 million in its first weekend at 1,952 theaters. $5,182 theater average. Domestic total: $10.1 million.
4. Hall Pass (Warner Bros.): $9 million down 33% in its second weekend at 2,950 theaters. $3,056 theater average. Domestic total: $27 million.
5. Gnomeo and Juliet (Disney): $6.9 million down 48% in its fourth weekend at 2,984 theaters. $2,316 theater average. Domestic total: $83.7 million.
6. Unknown (Warner Bros.): $6.6 million down 47% in its third weekend at 2,913 theaters. $2,273 theater average. Domestic total: $53.1 million.
7. The King’s Speech (Weinstein Co.): $6.501 million down 11% in its fifteenth weekend at 2,240 theaters. $2,902 theater average. Domestic total: $123.8 million.
8. Just Go With It (Sony): $6.5 million down 38% in its fourth weekend at 2,920 theaters. $2,226 theater average. Domestic total: $88.2 million.
9. I Am Number Four (DreamWorks/Disney): $5.7 million down 48% in its third weekend at 2,903 theaters. $1,964 theater average. Domestic total: $46.4 million.
10. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (Paramount): $4.3 million down 54% in its fourth weekend at 2,254 theaters. $1,919 theater average. Domestic total: $68.9 million.