Weekend Box Office (March 4 - 6, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Three new releases targeting different audience segments successfully connected with their crowds and took the top spots at the North American box office. Leading the way with older kids and families was Johnny Depp's animated comedy Rango followed by Matt Damon's sci-fi romance thriller The Adjustment Bureau which played to mature adults. Debuting in third was the romance Beastly which catered to teen girls. The weekend's fourth new release, the raunchy 80s comedy Take Me Home Tonight, opened poorly just outside of the top ten.

Paramount generated the biggest opening of the year so far with its first-place launch of the animated Western Rango which debuted to $38.1M this weekend, according to final studio figures. The PG-rated toon about an eccentric pet lizard who accidentally finds himself in an Old West town full of unusual animals averaged a strong $9,722 from a very wide release in 3,917 theaters. Depp flexed his starpower as the film's marketing campaign was focused around the popular star who voices the title character. The pricey $135M toon played to families but skewed a little bit older due to the more sophisticated tone. The audience was fairly broad with females making up 54% and those over 25 also at 54%.

The studio reported that admissions were higher than those for the debut of its last March toon How To Train Your Dragon which enjoyed 3D surcharges helping it bow to $43.7M. With most studio animated films being presented in 3D now, Rango was that rare 2D entry to still attract moviegoers. Reviews were overwhelmingly positive however paying audiences were not as happy with the product as its CinemaScore grade was a discouraging C+. Dragon earned a robust A and ended up grossing five times its opening weekend tally. Still, animated films in the spring tend to have good legs and Depp is a major draw overseas so the road ahead could be promising.

Audiences chased after Matt Damon as his new fate-based thriller The Adjustment Bureau premiered in second place with $21.2M. Universal averaged a sturdy $7,450 from 2,840 locations with this PG-13 offering and bested the openings of most recent starring vehicles for the actor outside of his Bourne franchise. 2009's The Informant! opened to $10.5M while last year's Green Zone and Hereafter bowed to $14.3M and $12M, respectively. The studio had experienced shaky box office results with adult dramas over the last few years, but this time the marketing offered an exciting thrill ride while starpower from Damon, Emily Blunt, and Mad Men's John Slattery provided some muscle. The opening was just a few notches below the $23.8M of last fall's Ben Affleck crime drama The Town.

Reviews were generally good for Adjustment with critics pleased by the chemistry between the two leads, but audiences were just moderately pleased as indicated by the film's B CinemaScore grade. The story of a New York politician whose fate gets adjusted to keep him away from the woman he loves played older than most current movies and did well with both genders. 73% of the audience was 30 years and older while 53% was female. Universal acquired rights for North America plus several overseas territories for $62M. Bureau launched in 21 international markets and grossed an estimated $10.5M this weekend from 1,957 playdates.

Opening in third place with respectable results was the teen romance Beastly with $9.9M from 1,952 theaters for a good $5,047 average. The PG-13 update on the Beauty and the Beast story played to a young female audience as expected and scored a B+ grade from CinemaScore, the best rating among the four new films. Reviews, on the other hand, were mostly negative. Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame starred alongside Alex Pettyfer who appeared again in the top ten with his holdover action pic I Am Number Four. Released by CBS Films, Beastly boasted the smallest theater count of the frame's new titles and had a targeted marketing campaign that was not too expensive so the results were encouraging.

Last weekend's number one film Hall Pass held up well in its second weekend dipping only 35% to $8.9M. But with $26.8M in ten days, the Warner Bros. release is not exactly posting muscular numbers and looks to finish its run with around $50M.

After three weeks of better-than-expected numbers, the hit 3D toon Gnomeo & Juliet suffered a larger drop thanks to the arrival of a new animated movie and fell 46% to $7.2M. Disney has banked $84M to date. Close behind was Liam Neeson's action thriller Unknown with $6.5M, down 48%, for a $53M sum for Warner Bros.

Adam Sandler's comedy Just Go With It dropped 39% to $6.4M and raised Sony's total to $88.1M. Ranking behind it with $6.2M was The Weinstein Co. with its Oscar champ The King's Speech which dipped only 15%. With an impressive $123.5M thus far, the Colin Firth drama has become the top-grossing film ever for the distributor surpassing the $120.5M of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.

Falling 48% to ninth place was the sci-fi pic I Am Number Four which took in $5.8M upping the tally to $46.5M in 17 days. The concert biopic Justin Bieber: Never Say Never rounded out the top ten with $4.3M, off 54%, and a solid $68.8M cume.

Opening to weak results in eleventh place was the R-rated comedy Take Me Home Tonight which bowed to $3.5M from 2,003 sites for a disappointing $1,730 average. Set in the late 1980s, the Topher Grace-Anna Faris pic played to older teens and young adults and met with bad reviews.

The top ten films grossed $114.4M which was down a steep 37% from last year when Alice in Wonderland opened in the top spot with $116.1M; but up 17% from 2009 when Watchmen debuted at number one with $55.2M.

Compared to projections, Rango opened close to my $36M forecast while The Adjustment Bureau powered ahead of my $16M prediction. Beastly debuted ahead of my $6M projection but Take Me Home Tonight came in with half of my $7M forecast.

Check the UPDATED box office charts for the Top March Openings and Oscar Winners.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

For reviews of Rango and The Adjustment Bureau visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Battle: Los Angeles, Red Riding Hood, and Mars Needs Moms all open.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Mar 4 - 6 Feb 25 - 27 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Rango $ 38,079,323 3,917 1 $ 9,722 $ 38,079,323 Paramount
2 The Adjustment Bureau 21,157,730 2,840 1 7,450 21,157,730 Universal
3 Beastly 9,851,102 1,952 1 5,047 9,851,102 CBS Films
4 Hall Pass 8,861,053 13,535,374 -34.5 2,950 2 3,004 26,846,808 Warner Bros.
5 Gnomeo & Juliet 7,240,315 13,400,130 -46.0 2,984 4 2,426 84,022,325 Disney
6 Unknown 6,520,232 12,571,282 -48.1 2,913 3 2,238 53,029,496 Warner Bros.
7 Just Go With It 6,431,246 10,532,244 -38.9 2,920 4 2,202 88,131,316 Sony
8 The King's Speech 6,230,227 7,339,759 -15.1 2,240 15 2,781 123,546,104 Weinstein Co.
9 I Am Number Four 5,750,190 11,016,126 -47.8 2,903 3 1,981 46,488,606 Disney
10 Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 4,277,128 9,387,250 -54.4 2,254 4 1,898 68,828,539 Paramount
11 Take Me Home Tonight 3,464,679 2,003 1 1,730 3,464,679 Relativity
12 Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son 3,281,157 7,623,276 -57.0 1,642 3 1,998 33,250,835 Fox
13 Drive Angry 2,225,659 5,187,625 -57.1 2,290 2 972 9,103,951 Summit
14 The Fighter 1,118,397 1,576,103 -29.0 575 13 1,945 92,037,546 Paramount
15 Black Swan 1,012,346 1,327,844 -23.8 681 14 1,487 105,118,886 Fox Searchlight
16 True Grit 975,388 1,947,092 -49.9 725 11 1,345 168,681,088 Paramount
17 Cedar Rapids 821,124 664,730 23.5 235 4 3,494 3,391,035 Fox Searchlight
18 Tangled 790,248 421,474 87.5 421 15 1,877 195,784,588 Disney
19 The Roommate 585,489 1,940,609 -69.8 606 5 966 36,845,772 Sony
20 The Grace Card 464,774 1,010,299 -54.0 296 2 1,570 1,697,615 Samuel Goldwyn
Top 5 $ 85,189,523 $ 61,055,156 39.5
Top 10 114,398,546 92,540,158 23.6
Top 20 129,137,807 103,701,626 24.5
Top 20 vs. 2010 129,137,807 191,819,476 -32.7

Last Updated: March 7, 2011 at 5:15PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.