Weekend Box Office (March 5 - 7, 2010)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Audiences could not resist the latest offering from director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp as the 3D extravaganza Alice in Wonderland exploded on the scene with a record-shattering opening weekend leaving its nearest competitor more than $100M behind. The big-budget Disney film debuted to a gargantuan $116.1M over the Friday-to-Sunday span, according to final studio figures, smashing box office records left and right. It was the biggest March opening ever soaring past the $70.9M of 300 from 2007 and the best debut for a 3D film beating the $77M of Avatar from last December.

Alice also generated the all-time largest IMAX opening weekend with $11.9M from 188 sites which easily surpassed the $9.5M from 178 locations of Avatar. Plus, the Burton fantasy scored the top opening ever for a non-sequel edging out the $114.8M of 2002's Spider-Man. The webslinger flick sold more tickets however as admission prices were much lower eight years ago and there were no 3D surcharges involved. Overall, Alice in Wonderland enjoyed the sixth biggest opening weekend in box office history after The Dark Knight ($158.4M), Spider-Man 3 ($151.1M), The Twilight Saga: New Moon ($142.8M), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($135.6M), and Shrek the Third ($121.6M). New Moon is the only film opening outside of summer to debut better than the Mad Hatter pic.

The Wonderland performance zoomed ahead of industry expectations which were mostly in the $70M range. The starpower of Depp and Burton combined with the new eccentric 3D spin on a familiar fairy tale made for a must-see event. Disney's marketing push was powerful and the utter lack of compelling film choices for kids since Christmas helped to fuel demand. Four of the next five films on the chart were rated R. The studio must now send a thank you card to Depp as the actor has anchored the three biggest openings in company history - Dead Man's Chest, Alice, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End ($114.7M). It should come as no surprise that a fourth Jack Sparrow pic is in the works with a release date set for May 20 of next year.

Friday kicked off with $40.8M including Thursday midnight grosses, Saturday rose 8% to $44.2M, and Sunday slipped by only 30% to $31.1M. Studio research showed that 55% of the audience was female and 54% was under 25. The CinemaScore average grade was an encouraging A-.

The actor-director combo attracted more lackluster numbers for their last two films Sweeney Todd and Corpse Bride which were more experimental movies. Alice in Wonderland carried the Disney brand name and a PG rating, despite a smoking caterpillar, and featured very broad appeal exciting teens and young adults as well as families. The Alice bow more than doubled the $56.2M opening of the duo's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was a huge achievement at the time.

Avatar and Alice have reinforced the industry's faith in 3D technology, and its moneymaking potential, as moviegoers clearly have no problem spending extra for the special experience for the right event film. Studios have been feverishly reviewing their upcoming release slates to see which tentpoles can be done in 3D. Also making audiences wear those black glasses this year will be Clash of the Titans, Shrek Forever After, Toy Story 3, and the next Harry Potter film among others.

Opening in 40 additional territories overseas, Alice in Wonderland commanded a giant opening weekend haul of $94M offshore bringing the total global debut to an eye-popping $210M. That was more than enough to end Avatar's 11-week reign at number one at the international box office and there are major markets like France, Spain, Japan, and China still to come. Depp's incredible worldwide appeal will surely carry this title forward around the globe.

Two R-rated crime thrillers followed and were a mere $125,000 apart. The cop drama Brooklyn's Finest debuted with an estimated $13.4M from 1,936 locations taking second place by a hair. Averaging a strong $6,896 per theater, the Overture release stars Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, and Wesley Snipes and played to an adult ethnic audience. According to studio research, 60% of the crowd was African American with a total of 86% being non-Caucasian. 52% was female and 60% was over 30. Reviews were mostly negative.

Close behind in third place was Shutter Island which followed two weeks at number one with $13.2M in its third round. The 42% decline was commendable given the record opening of Alice which played to a broad audience. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio had to make room for that other director-actor team but have upped their cume to an impressive $95.8M. Paramount will break the $100M mark on Thursday or Friday.

The Bruce Willis-Tracy Morgan police comedy Cop Out ranked fourth with $9.3M in its second weekend dropping by an understandable 49%. With $32.5M in ten days, Warner Bros. seems headed for $50-55M.

Jake Sully and company took fifth as Avatar suffered the largest drop of its 12-week run thanks to Alice seizing control of most of the nation's 3D screens this weekend. The James Cameron juggernaut fell 41% to $8.1M and lifted its mammoth cume to $720.6M from North America. It had never fallen by more than 31% before. The overseas drop was slightly better with the Pandora pic grossing an estimated $21.7M, off 40%, boosting the international tally to $1.88 billion. The worldwide take now stands at a towering $2.6 billion. The historic run may end in the neighborhood of $2.75 billion.

The horror flick The Crazies dropped by 56% in its second weekend to $7.1M for Overture for a $27.5M cume in ten days. A $40M final seems likely which is good for a fright flick. Fox's fantasy Percy Jackson & The Olympians collected $5.1M, down 47%, raising its total to $78.1M.

The hit date movie Valentine's Day followed in eighth falling 54% to $4.2M bumping the sum to $106.3M. With two Oscars by Sunday night, Fox Searchlight's Crazy Heart saw sales climb 35% to $3.3M giving the Jeff Bridges film $29.5M to date. Dear John rounded out the top ten with $2.8M, off 42%, for a $76.6M gross.

In limited release, Summit re-released its Academy Awards darling The Hurt Locker into 276 theaters and collected an estimated $439,000 for a mild $1,602 average. The Kathryn Bigelow-directed film has been available on DVD since January 12, but the distributor wanted to capture some sales from those who missed it last summer (which includes almost everyone) and wanted to see it on the big screen. It is also positioned to capture post-Oscar business too and will take advantage of all the free publicity. Total to date is still a modest $14.7M.

The top ten films grossed a stunning $182.5M which was up a whopping 87% from last year when Watchmen opened in the top spot with $55.2M; and up a staggering 110% from 2008 when 10,000 B.C. debuted at number one with $35.9M.

Compared to projections, Alice in Wonderland surged way past my $68M forecast while Brooklyn's Finest was slightly above my $11M prediction.

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

Check the NEW box office charts for the Top Opening Weekends of All-Time and the Top March Openings. For a NEW review of Alice in Wonderland visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Green Zone, Our Family Wedding, Remember Me, and She's Out of My League all open.

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

# Title Mar 5 - 7 Feb 26 - 28 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Alice in Wonderland $ 116,101,023 3,728 1 $ 31,143 $ 116,101,023 Buena Vista
2 Brooklyn's Finest 13,350,299 1,936 1 6,896 13,350,299 Overture
3 Shutter Island 13,225,411 22,665,205 -41.6 3,178 3 4,162 95,750,005 Paramount
4 Cop Out 9,289,311 18,211,126 -49.0 3,150 2 2,949 32,504,610 Warner Bros.
5 Avatar 8,118,102 13,655,274 -40.5 2,163 12 3,753 720,607,444 Fox
6 The Crazies 7,078,851 16,067,552 -55.9 2,479 2 2,856 27,472,164 Overture
7 Percy Jackson & The Olympians 5,124,623 9,583,421 -46.5 2,994 4 1,712 78,057,749 Fox
8 Valentine's Day 4,154,110 9,063,036 -54.2 3,040 4 1,366 106,303,870 Warner Bros.
9 Crazy Heart 3,312,591 2,462,384 34.5 1,274 12 2,600 29,532,002 Fox Searchlight
10 Dear John 2,782,079 4,808,498 -42.1 2,496 5 1,115 76,626,086 Sony
11 The Tooth Fairy 1,684,408 3,425,333 -50.8 1,734 7 971 56,240,052 Fox
12 The Wolfman 1,636,835 4,259,865 -61.6 1,829 4 895 60,446,320 Universal
13 The Ghost Writer 1,287,646 789,064 63.2 147 3 8,759 2,600,505 Summit
14 The Blind Side 1,257,186 1,238,477 1.5 822 15 1,529 250,467,047 Warner Bros.
15 The Last Station 717,675 970,048 -26.0 354 8 2,027 4,527,796 Sony Classics
16 Up in the Air 607,465 802,081 -24.3 403 13 1,507 83,011,223 Paramount
17 When in Rome 575,254 1,003,452 -42.7 504 6 1,141 31,720,305 Buena Vista
18 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel 544,451 771,365 -29.4 562 10 969 217,367,092 Fox
19 The Book of Eli 533,156 1,112,493 -52.1 555 8 961 93,412,890 Warner Bros.
20 The Hurt Locker (RE) 439,000 274 1 1,602 14,700,000 Summit
Top 5 $ 160,084,146 $ 80,182,578 99.6
Top 10 182,536,400 104,201,694 75.2
Top 20 191,819,476 113,569,155 68.9
Top 20 vs. 2009 191,819,476 110,776,857 73.2

Last Updated: March 8, 2010 at 4:45PM ET