Weekend Box Office (April 22 - 24, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND The angry and not-so-angry birds of the 3D animated smash Rio held onto the top spot at the North American box office for a second weekend in a row. Results for the Easter frame's three new releases were good as the Tyler Perry comedy Madea's Big Happy Family, the circus romance Water for Elephants, and the nature documentary African Cats all connected with their respective audiences. Ticket sales for the Top 20 were up a sharp 40% from a year ago which was not a holiday session, but down a troubling 23% from 2010's record Easter weekend. Most holdovers did remain strong though.

Still attracting large crowds, Rio fended off the Tyler Perry machine to retain the number one spot with an estimated $26.8M over the holiday weekend dropping only 32% from its debut to boost the ten-day tally to a muscular $81.3M. The hold was on par with what Fox saw nine years ago with Ice Age which fell 35% in its second weekend in March 2002 which was not a holiday. With schools out on Good Friday, Rio had a more available audience that day helping to cushion the blow. Both films were directed by Carlos Saldanha as were the Ice Age sequels.

Rio's sophomore decline was almost even with last spring's leggy hit How To Train Your Dragon which slipped 34%, but easily bested the second weekend drops for recent spring toons Rango (-41%), Monsters vs. Aliens (-45%), and Horton Hears a Who (-45%). At its current pace, Rio could find its way to the neighborhood of $160M from North America and plenty more overseas. The international haul after three weeks soared to $204.7M after a sturdy $44.2M international frame putting the global gross at a towering $286M with much more to come. The worldwide take should easily climb past the $500M mark in the coming weeks as 3D animated kidpics, especially ones set outside of the U.S., travel very well.

Tyler Perry scored the fourth biggest opening of his career with his latest comedy Madea's Big Happy Family which debuted close behind in second place with an estimated $25.8M from 2,288 theaters for a robust $11,254 average. While on its way to being another moneymaker for the filmmaker and Lionsgate, this new PG-13 entry showed some audience erosion when compared to the director's past films. Happy fell behind the openings of Perry's last two Madea pics - 2006's Madea's Family Reunion ($30M) and 2009's Madea Goes to Jail ($41M). Perry's most recent comedy, last year's Why Did I Get Married Too which bowed on Good Friday as well, also debuted better with $29.3M.

While Tyler Perry films tend to draw in his fan base on the first weekend and suffer large declines in following weeks - his films tend to make 45-48% of their totals in the first three days - Happy scored a rare A CinemaScore so word-of-mouth could allow for a slightly better road ahead. African Americans made up the usual share of the audience (81%) but females were a somewhat smaller portion of the crowd at 72%. Married Too was 80% female.

Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson drew a solid crowd for their romantic drama Water for Elephants which premiered in third place with an estimated $17.5M. Based on the best-selling novel, the PG-13 film averaged $6,212 from 2,817 locations and played heavily to female audiences, lovers of the book, and Twilight fans that follow Pattinson religiously. Critics had mixed feelings but the built-in audiences came out anyway giving Fox the best opening for an adult drama this year so far. Mature-skewing thrillers and comedies have done exceptionally well this year, but regular dramas have seen more modest numbers on the first weekend. An A- CinemaScore suggests a good run ahead as counter-programming to a steady diet of testosterone flicks about to attack multiplexes.

The Easter holiday, and a concentrated advertising effort reminding audiences of it, gave a big boost to the kidpic Hop which climbed 16% from last weekend to an estimated $12.5M. The Easter Bunny pic appropriately broke the $100M mark on Easter Sunday putting the 24-day total at $100.5M.

With most major holdovers dropping by less than 30%, horror fourquel Scream 4 collapsed in its second weekend tumbling by a steep 62% to an estimated $7.2M. With $31.2M in ten days, a final gross of roughly $40M seems likely for The Weinstein Co. release putting it below the much-loved fright pic Insidious which has been winning over genre fans all month.

Disneynature's latest Earth Day documentary African Cats debuted in sixth place with an estimated $6.4M over an incredibly front-loaded weekend. With opening day being both Good Friday and Earth Day, its $3.3M take accounted for a whopping 52% of the three-day figure. The G-rated pic about feline families in Africa was narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and averaged a commendable $5,246 over the weekend from 1,220 sites. Reviews were mostly positive. Cats generated an opening gross and average similar to those of the distributor's Oceans from one year ago which bowed to $6.1M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of its four-day launch.

Four holdovers rounded out the top ten, all within $500,000 of each other and with low declines. Sony's uplifting girlpower drama Soul Surfer slipped just 23% to an estimated $5.6M for a $28.7M cume to date. The sleeper hit horror flick Insidious followed with an estimated $5.4M, down just 20%, with an impressive $44.2M to date.

Focus saw its action entry Hanna drop 28% to an estimated $5.3M while Summit's train disaster thriller Source Code fell a mere 18% to an estimated $5.1M. Totals to date are $31.7M and $44.7M, respectively.

Morgan Spurlock's latest documentary POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold delivered a mediocre debut bowing in 18 theaters with an estimated $135,000 for a moderate $7,500 average. Marketed as the first film about product placement to be fully financed by product placement, the Sony Classics release did succeed in getting its title sponsor publicized in brand new places although there is no telling what effect it will have on pomegranate juice sales. Reviews for Greatest were mixed but fairly positive.

The summer box office gets an early headstart with this Friday's opening of Fast Five which kicked off its international run over Easter weekend with large number one bows in Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and South Korea. The fifth installment in the lucrative Fast and Furious franchise grossed a meaty $24M from 957 theaters across the four markets with series-best openings in all territories. Australia debuted with a mammoth $10.7M setting a new studio record for Universal there while the U.K. generated $8.8M. Ten territories open next weekend along with North America including Germany, Russia, and Spain feeding audience hunger after a long drought of action tentpoles.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $117.4M which was up 37% from last year when How To Train Your Dragon returned to the top spot with $15.4M; and up 17% from 2009 when Obsessed debuted at number one with $28.6M. Neither was the Easter frame though.

Compared to projections, Madea's Big Happy Family opened below my $34M forecast while Water for Elephants debuted ahead of my $14M prediction. African Cats was on target with my $7M projection and Rio was close to my $25M forecast.

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

Check the UPDATED chart for the Top April Openings. For reviews of Rio and Scream 4 visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Monday for final figures and again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Fast Five, Hoodwinked Too!, and Prom all open.

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

# Title Apr 22 - 24 Apr 15 -17 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Rio $ 26,323,321 $ 39,225,962 -32.9 3,842 2 $ 6,851 $ 80,806,562 Fox
2 Madea's Big Happy Family 25,068,677 2,288 1 10,957 25,068,677 Lionsgate
3 Water for Elephants 16,842,353 2,817 1 5,979 16,842,353 Fox
4 Hop 12,185,905 10,715,205 13.7 3,616 4 3,370 100,224,905 Universal
5 Scream 4 7,030,747 18,692,090 -62.4 3,314 2 2,122 31,035,010 Dimension
6 African Cats 6,003,200 1,220 1 4,921 6,003,200 Disney
7 Soul Surfer 5,436,868 7,268,502 -25.2 2,240 3 2,427 28,502,151 Sony
8 Hanna 5,296,302 7,282,546 -27.3 2,384 3 2,222 31,740,162 Focus
9 Insidious 5,207,622 6,744,623 -22.8 2,130 4 2,445 44,001,416 FilmDistrict
10 Source Code 5,091,347 6,209,058 -18.0 2,363 4 2,155 44,692,591 Summit
11 Arthur 4,066,109 6,755,340 -39.8 2,770 3 1,468 29,216,091 Warner Bros.
12 Limitless 2,664,461 3,660,104 -27.2 1,363 6 1,955 74,002,055 Relativity
13 The Conspirator 2,190,440 3,509,048 -37.6 849 2 2,580 6,893,123 Roadside Attr.
14 The Lincoln Lawyer 1,789,519 2,884,979 -38.0 1,220 6 1,467 53,381,451 Lionsgate
15 Your Highness 1,706,590 4,019,710 -57.5 1,610 3 1,060 19,764,545 Universal
16 Win Win 1,107,961 1,276,196 -13.2 388 5 2,856 6,630,650 Fox Searchlight
17 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules 933,540 2,081,944 -55.2 928 5 1,006 50,290,531 Fox
18 Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 881,034 1,686,347 -47.8 465 2 1,895 3,096,815 Rocky Mountain
19 Jane Eyre 737,177 993,232 -25.8 319 6 2,311 7,857,176 Focus
20 Born To Be Wild 659,216 625,014 5.5 208 3 3,169 3,081,688 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 87,451,003 $ 83,184,305 5.1
Top 10 114,486,342 110,573,140 3.5
Top 20 131,222,389 125,459,120 4.6
Top 20 vs. 2010 131,222,389 96,092,744 36.5

Last Updated: April 24, 2011 at 5:00PM ET

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