Weekend Box Office (March 9 - 11, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Hollywood studios suffered failures of every kind with their new releases. The pricey actioner John Carter debuted in second place putting it far from where it needed to be to recover its enormous costs, the horror entry Silent House scored the lowest audience grade of the year, and Eddie Murphy's latest comedy A Thousand Words earned the worst reviews of 2012 from film critics. Instead, moviegoers once again made the animated comedy The Lorax the most popular film in North America and the overall box office continued to beat out last year's levels, although by a narrow margin.

Easily leading all movies in the marketplace, Universal held onto the number one spot with the Dr. Seuss toon The Lorax which slipped an acceptable 45% to $38.8M, according to final studio figures. The PG-rated hit averaged a sensational $10,370 in its second weekend from 3,746 theaters and continues to play to families and beyond. 3D and IMAX ticket prices have helped along the way and on Sunday, Lorax became the highest-grossing film of 2012 after just ten days of release with a cume of $121.7M. Breaking the $200M barrier should be no problem for the $70M production.

Landing in second place in its opening weekend was the mega-budgeted 3D sci-fi epic John Carter with $30.2M from 3,749 theaters for a $8,050 average. The gross itself was not all that bad for a sci-fi actioner releasing at this time of year. But it was far from what was needed to make a project with such a mammoth cost become a financial winner. Conservative estimates put the production cost alone at $250M while some industry insiders put it higher. Add in a lavish global marketing and distribution push and the total cost to make and release this PG-13 adventure came to nearly $400M. That eye-popping level is often reached by Hollywood tentpoles but with known brands like Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, and Harry Potter which result in billion-dollar global grossers. Last summer saw all three of those franchises come out with their first-ever 3D installments and each reached ten digits at the worldwide box office.

Disney's risky investment featured Pixar guru Andrew Stanton directing his first live-action film after his wildly successful toons Finding Nemo and WALL•E. The source material was a century-old novel which is cherished only in the hardcore sci-fi world and virtually unknown elsewhere. Reviews were mixed at best and the trailers and TV spots failed to generate much excitement with a broader action audience. Females had incredibly low interest and there was no starpower to pull in mainstream crowds. Overall, John Carter from the start had little in its arsenal to become a giant hit making the insanely large budget hard to justify.

Of course, international markets drive global box office and 3D action films are tops among those that work well overseas so the studio is counting on moviegoers around the world to show up. Carter's international debut was indeed impressive with an estimated $70.6M this weekend from 51 markets. All major territories bowed day and date except for China and Japan which are sure to contribute solid numbers in the months ahead.

In North America, John Carter played mostly to adult men. Studio research showed that 63% was male and 59% was over 25. IMAX 3D represented 16% of the gross ($4.8M) and overall, 64% ($19.3M) came from 3D screens which was an encouraging ratio by today's standards. The CinemaScore grade was a decent B+. Friday kicked off slowly with $9.8M while Saturday enjoyed a healthy 26% boost to $12.3M. Sunday dropped by 35% to $8M.

Other effects-driven action films released in the spring have opened in the $30M range like 10,000 BC ($35.9M), Constantine ($29.8M), The Scorpion King ($36.1M), and Jumper ($27.4M). However, none carried the towering budget of John Carter and none had 3D surcharges. Disney even released its red planet pic Mission to Mars this very weekend in 2000 to the tune of $22.9M which at today's 2D ticket prices would put it ahead of Carter. Last year this weekend, the studio had a costly bomb with Mars Needs Moms which bowed to a pitiful $6.9M weekend and $2,218 average. Chances are the company will stay away from opening Mars movies in March for the time being.

Those young men that didn't show up for the Mars flick were busy partying it up with the raunchy comedy Project X which held up reasonably well in its second weekend with $11.1M representing a 47% decline. With a Friday-to-Saturday drop on opening weekend and lackluster exit polls, the Warner Bros. title was expected to fall harder the way these types of films do. Instead, the target audience was uninterested in the three new offerings and showed up for this one which has now banked $40.1M in just ten days. Project X cost only $12M to produce and should finish with a promising $65M or so joining Chronicle and The Devil Inside as low-cost found-footage pics that scored big bucks this year from young adult audiences. Collecting $7M this weekend was former number one Act of Valor which fell by 49% which was the largest decline in the top ten. Relativity has taken in a stellar $56.1M for the low-budget action film.

Audiences hating the ending gave a dismal F CinemaScore grade to the new horror pic Silent House which debuted in fifth place with $6.7M. The Open Road release averaged a weak $3,136 from 2,124 locations and saw no growth in sales on Saturday from opening day. The R-rated chiller starring Elizabeth Olsen as a young woman terrorized in her family cabin earned mixed reviews but featured a twist ending that ticket buyers were not at all entertained by. CinemaScore grades are often affected by the mood that polled moviegoers are in immediately after walking out of a theater so many vote on how satisfied they were with the final parts of the film. Devil Inside from January also met with an F before collapsing 76% in the second weekend.

Eddie Murphy's latest career embarrassment came in the form of his new comedy A Thousand Words which tanked in its debut grossing only $6.2M. The Paramount release about a fast-talking agent that must refrain from speaking or else he will die (yes, that's the plot) failed to excite moviegoers and averaged a weak $3,268 from 1,890 theaters. The PG-13 film was eviscerated by critics and had the rare distinction of earning a Rotten Tomatoes score of 0%. Postponed for years, the DreamWorks production cost $40M to produce.

If there was any good news for Murphy it was that Words beat the openings of his recent box office disasters Meet Dave and Imagine That - both PG-rated summer pics - which bowed to $5.2M and $5.5M, respectively. This would be the only thing that could count as good news. The audience breakdown was 55% female and 61% 25 and older while the CinemaScore was a B-.

Universal's action hit Safe House followed with $4.8M, off 35%, for a $115.6M cume with solid legs going into its fifth frame. The Sony smash The Vow also held up well dropping only 36% to $3.8M raising the total to $117.5M. Channing Tatum aims for his second number one hit in as many months with Friday's release of 21 Jump Street.

Reese Witherspoon's action-romance This Means War is another film that audiences continue to flock to. The Fox title wasn't super strong out of the gate but has been posting good holds each week. This weekend saw a 33% dip to $3.8M lifting the sum to $46.9M. Yet another action title followed as Journey 2: The Mysterious Island collected $3.6M, off 45%, giving the Warner Bros. sequel $90.6M to date.

A pair of indie films enjoyed solid results in their limited debuts. The relationship comedy Friends With Kids opened in 374 theaters and landed in the number 13 spot nationwide with $2M and a good $5,394 average which was third best in the entire Top 20. Starring Maya Rudolph, Kristin Wiig, and Jon Hamm, the R-rated film from Roadside Attractions earned mostly positive reviews.

The Ewan McGregor-Emily Blunt pic Salmon Fishing in the Yemen opened in just 18 locations but took in $225,894 for a solid $12,550 average. Reviews were generally good for the CBS Films release which played to older women as exit polls showed that the audience was 61% female and 71% over 50. Yemen widens in existing markets Friday and then expands to new markets on the following weekend.

The top ten films grossed $116M which was up 4% from last year when Battle: Los Angeles opened in the top spot with $35.6M; but down 11% from 2010 when Alice in Wonderland remained at number one with $62.7M.

Compared to projections, John Carter opened a couple of notches ahead of my $27M forecast. Silent House debuted below my $10M prediction while A Thousand Words was above my $4M projection.

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

Watch the trailer for The Avengers. For a NEW review of John Carter visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when 21 Jump Street opens.

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# Title Mar 9 - 11 Mar 2 - 4 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Lorax $ 38,846,020 $ 70,217,070 -44.7 3,746 2 $ 10,370 $ 121,724,850 Universal
2 John Carter 30,180,188 3,749 1 8,050 30,180,188 Disney
3 Project X 11,142,103 21,051,363 -47.1 3,055 2 3,647 39,717,098 Warner Bros.
4 Act of Valor 6,991,877 13,572,578 -48.5 2,951 3 2,369 56,092,474 Relativity
5 Silent House 6,661,234 2,124 1 3,136 6,661,234 Open Road
6 A Thousand Words 6,176,280 1,890 1 3,268 6,176,280 Paramount
7 Safe House 4,801,510 7,390,935 -35.0 2,144 5 2,240 115,605,325 Universal
8 The Vow 3,842,485 6,011,147 -36.1 2,478 5 1,551 117,456,231 Sony
9 This Means War 3,756,060 5,561,323 -32.5 1,949 4 1,927 46,895,410 Fox
10 Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 3,611,388 6,547,374 -44.8 2,525 5 1,430 90,641,999 Warner Bros.
11 Good Deeds 2,904,004 7,047,061 -58.8 1,516 3 1,916 30,446,453 Lionsgate
12 The Artist 2,079,910 3,625,571 -42.6 1,505 16 1,382 40,234,933 Weinstein Co.
13 Friends With Kids 2,017,466 369 1 5,467 2,017,466 Roadside Attr.
14 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 1,965,123 4,645,637 -57.7 1,804 4 1,089 48,065,270 Sony
15 Wanderlust 1,653,645 3,843,840 -57.0 1,220 3 1,355 15,517,765 Universal
16 Chronicle 904,569 1,931,431 -53.2 595 6 1,520 62,267,441 Fox
17 Gone 895,788 3,001,862 -70.2 1,144 3 783 10,727,070 Summit
18 A Separation 728,376 952,051 -23.5 281 11 2,592 4,780,208 Sony Classics
19 The Descendants 676,862 1,291,817 -47.6 517 17 1,309 81,454,624 Fox Searchlight
20 Hugo 623,315 1,233,618 -49.5 313 16 1,991 72,269,119 Paramount
Top 5 $ 93,821,422 $ 119,279,007 -21.3
Top 10 116,009,145 145,888,328 -20.5
Top 20 130,458,203 162,515,152 -19.7
Top 20 vs. 2011 130,458,203 124,574,022 4.7

Last Updated: March 12, 2012 at 4:30PM ET

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