Weekend Box Office (March 27 - 29, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Following a very pricey marketing campaign, DreamWorks Animation's 3D animated film Monsters vs. Aliens delivered on its promises and attracted the largest opening weekend of any film this year leading the overall marketplace to its best performance in over a month. Big muscles were also flexed by Lionsgate which enjoyed one of its biggest horror openings ever with The Haunting in Connecticut which landed in second place with a powerful launch of its own. The top ten films sold over $136M worth of ticket stubs making it the best non-holiday tally of 2009.

As the main event at the multiplexes this weekend, Monsters vs. Aliens captured $59.3M over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final studio figures, to lead a busy frame at the box office. Paramount released the PG-rated hit in an ultrawide 4,104 locations averaging a stellar $14,454 per location. The numbers were helped by higher-priced tickets from the 1,550 theaters that featured the 3D presentation with most charging an extra $3 or so per stub. Many exhibitors allocated screens for both the 2D and more expensive 3D versions offering their customers a choice although most moviegoers chose to pay more for the extra dimension. Real D, the leading supplier of 3D equipment, reported that its screens accounted for about $25M, or 42%, of the total weekend gross.

Produced for $165M, Monsters got off to a superb start with $16.8M on Friday followed by a 45% surge on Saturday to $24.4M and a 26% dip on Sunday to $18.1M.

It was the best opening of the year surpassing the $55.2M of Watchmen from the beginning of the month. For DreamWorks, it was the second largest opening for a non-sequel toon trailing Kung Fu Panda's $60.2M from last June by a slim margin. And for the month of March, Monsters delivered the third highest bow after 300 ($70.9M) and Ice Age: The Meltdown ($68M). Looking at admissions however, Monsters attracted about as many people as the first Ice Age and Shark Tale reached in their debut frames. Fox's Ice Age opened to $46.3M in March 2002 which would amount to roughly $58M at today's 2D ticket prices. The DreamWorks hit Shark Tale bowed to $47.6M in October 2004, or roughly $56M today.

But with schools taking breaks for Easter in the coming weeks, the long-term outlook seems bright for Monsters vs. Aliens. Fox has routinely scheduled family-friendly toons around the spring holiday with past March titles like Horton Hears a Who, Robots, and the Ice Age pics finishing with at least three times their opening weekend takes. That would put Monsters on course to reach the neighborhood of $175M domestically. Overseas markets should also generate plenty of heat given how strong toons do abroad. DreamWorks vaulted past the $400M mark overseas twice last year with Panda and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, although each had an internationally-set story. A global box office gross north of $500M for Monsters would not be surprising.

Young women looking for a scare powered the new supernatural thriller The Haunting in Connecticut to a stellar second place debut spending $23M over the opening weekend. With a teen-friendly PG-13 rating, the Lionsgate spookfest averaged a muscular $8,420 from 2,732 sites giving the distributor its best horror movie opening ever outside of the Saw franchise. Studio research indicated that 62% of the audience was female while 44% was between the ages of 17 and 24. Friday got off to a solid start with $9.6M, Saturday dipped 9% to $8.7M, and Sunday fell by 46% to $4.7M. A creepy marketing campaign helped to excite the target audience which helped Haunting score the second biggest debut of the year for a fright film after only Friday the 13th's $40.6M from last month.

Last weekend's trio of new releases got bumped down two notches each but remained in the same order. The Nicolas Cage hit Knowing enjoyed a solid second weekend hold dropping just 40%, a low decline for a critically-panned sci-fi actioner, grossing $14.7M. After ten days, Summit has banked a solid $46.2M and could be headed for a $75-80M finish.

The smallest dip in the top ten was generated by the buddy comedy I Love You, Man which slid only 29% to $12.7M giving Paramount $37.1M after ten days of play. Julia Roberts and Clive Owen witnessed a larger 45% fall for their spy pic Duplicity which followed with $7.7M for a cume of $25.8M. Final grosses should reach around $70M and $45M, respectively. Starpower may help Universal's caper flick do better in international waters.

With families getting their 3D kick this weekend, Disney's Race to Witch Mountain took a big hit falling 55% to $5.8M. Total is $53.5M in 17 days.

Opening poorly in seventh with $5.3M was the cop actioner 12 Rounds which averaged a mere $2,286 from 2,331 locations. Starring wrestler/actor John Cena, the PG-13 film played to young males and came in below the $7.1M bow his film The Marine from 2006. Though drawing big numbers on television and even pay-per-view, producer World Wrestling Entertainment has struggled to make the leap to the big screen with its ventures. Fox handled distribution duties on 12 Rounds.

Following in eighth with $2.7M was Watchmen which tumbled 60% lifting the sum to $103.3M. The Warner Bros. release has fallen by at least 60% every weekend since debuting at the beginning of the month and now looks to finish its domestic run with $105-110M meaning more than half of its overall total will have been grossed during the opening weekend. Fox's sleeper hit Taken grossed $2.7M, off 34% in its ninth frame, for a cume of $137.1M. Rounding out the top ten with $2.6M was the horror flick The Last House on the Left which dropped 54% pushing the total to $28.5M for Universal.

Continuing to show considerable strength in limited release was Overture's indie comedy Sunshine Cleaning which expanded from 64 to 167 theaters in its third weekend and grossed $1.3M jumping up to eleventh place. The R-rated hit averaged a solid $7,629 which is an impressive figure given the theater count and age of the film. Cume to date is $2.5M. Also doing well was the Mexican gang drama Sin Nombre with $70,167 from only six sites for a $11,695 average. The Focus title has taken in $185,874 in ten days.

With the first quarter of 2009 almost complete, the North American box office is sizzling once again with total ticket sales at an estimated $2.4 billion, up a terrific 11% from a year ago. Ten of the thirteen weekends have been up versus 2008 with eight of those enjoying double-digit gains. But amazingly, this improvement has occurred despite a decrease in actual films being released. The first quarter has seen 36 films open in wide release, down 16% from the 43 over the same period last year. Fifteen hits debuted north of $20M compared to only ten from a year earlier. And four have topped the $100M mark in total grosses versus just one from 2008 at this same point. This excludes films that reached wide release in December and were still playing well into the new year like Slumdog Millionaire and Juno last year. Studios have done a commendable job streamlining their marketing efforts on a smaller slate of films and have walked away with more ticket sales in the process.

The top ten films grossed $136.6M which was up a whopping 60% from last year when 21 opened in the top spot with $24.1M; and up a healthy 21% from 2007 when Blades of Glory opened at number one with $33M.

Compared to projections, Monsters vs. Aliens was on target with my $60M forecast. The Haunting in Connecticut debuted much higher than my $14M prediction while 12 Rounds came very close to my $6M projection.

Check the UPDATED chart of the Top 12 openings for animated films.

For a review of Monsters vs. Aliens visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Fast & Furious and Adventureland both open wide.

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

# Title Mar 27 - 29 Mar 20 - 22 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Monsters vs. Aliens $ 59,321,095 4,104 1 $ 14,454 $ 59,321,095 Paramount
2 The Haunting in Connecticut 23,004,765 2,732 1 8,420 23,004,765 Lionsgate
3 Knowing 14,702,187 24,604,751 -40.2 3,337 2 4,406 46,217,199 Summit
4 I Love You, Man 12,671,533 17,810,270 -28.9 2,717 2 4,664 37,078,306 Paramount
5 Duplicity 7,672,485 13,965,110 -45.1 2,579 2 2,975 25,754,865 Universal
6 Race to Witch Mountain 5,801,775 12,786,041 -54.6 3,268 3 1,775 53,459,752 Buena Vista
7 12 Rounds 5,329,240 2,331 1 2,286 5,329,240 Fox
8 Watchmen 2,732,439 6,801,114 -59.8 2,010 4 1,359 103,273,462 Warner Bros.
9 Taken 2,695,342 4,057,695 -33.6 1,961 9 1,374 137,068,886 Fox
10 The Last House on the Left 2,644,295 5,776,160 -54.2 2,251 3 1,175 28,492,330 Universal
11 Sunshine Cleaning 1,274,007 671,618 89.7 167 3 7,629 2,477,704 Overture
12 Slumdog Millionaire 1,164,903 2,676,369 -56.5 840 20 1,387 139,341,484 Fox Searchlight
13 Madea Goes to Jail 1,133,085 2,566,535 -55.9 1,128 6 1,005 89,067,436 Lionsgate
14 Paul Blart: Mall Cop 840,596 1,842,984 -54.4 1,082 11 777 142,503,850 Sony
15 He's Just Not That Into You 473,269 1,250,201 -62.1 506 8 935 92,510,829 Warner Bros.
16 Gran Torino 438,481 740,137 -40.8 478 16 917 145,815,056 Warner Bros.
17 Hotel for Dogs 314,942 403,092 -21.9 381 11 827 71,353,470 Paramount
18 The Cross 309,455 221 1 1,400 309,455 Gener8xion
19 The Reader 308,495 535,983 -42.4 324 16 952 33,484,347 Weinstein Co.
20 Coraline 305,114 2,130,746 -85.7 360 8 848 73,929,936 Focus
Top 5 $ 117,372,065 $ 75,967,286 54.5
Top 10 136,575,156 93,174,791 46.6
Top 20 143,137,503 101,099,313 41.6
Top 20 vs. 2008 143,137,503 99,560,099 43.8

Last Updated: March 30, 2009 at 9:45PM ET