Weekend Box Office (April 29 - May 1, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND The summer movie season got off to an early and explosive start with the record-breaking debut of the action sequel Fast Five which raced to the top of the North American box office with an opening that was miles ahead of any other film's from this year. But the two other new offerings were flat out rejected by ticket buyers as the high school comedy Prom and the 3D toon Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil sparked no interest from audiences. Overall ticket sales were up sharply versus last year which came as great news for the industry which is trying desperately to generate momentum going into the potent month of May.

Universal scored the biggest opening in studio history with Fast Five which debuted to a stunning $86.2M, according to final studio figures, leading the marketplace with a sturdy 55% market share. The PG-13 film averaged a muscular $23,655 from 3,644 theaters including a record 244 IMAX sites where tickets cost as much as $19 each. 9% of the weekend gross came from those large-format screens. The opening was critical for Universal which has struggled over the last couple of years at the box office. Fast Five broke the long-standing opening weekend record for the studio which was set back in May 1997 by Steven Spielberg's The Lost World which took in $72.1M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of its Memorial Day weekend launch setting the all-time industry record at the time. Of course, ticket prices were much lower back then.

By bringing back the main cast members of the first movie - 2001's The Fast and the Furious - the franchise got re-energized two years ago when the fourth installment Fast & Furious opened to a stunning $71M proving there was still solid interest in the franchise. Fast Five improved on that by an impressive 22% and plans are developing for a sixth installment. Universal made sure it was offering something new and exciting by reuniting stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker with actors from previous chapters like Tyrese Gibson, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, and Sung Kang. Plus the sequel got taken to another level with the casting of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson creating a high-octane testosterone vehicle that had to be experienced on the big screen. Critics helped out too giving what were by far the best reviews the series had seen yet.

Fast Five also generated the biggest opening ever in April, beating out Fast & Furious, and more than doubled 2011's previous best debut - Rio's $39.2M. During the January-to-April periods in 2009 and 2010 there were five films each year that opened north of $40M. This year saw none until Five rolled in.

The busy weekend started off with $34.4M on Friday including $3.7M from Thursday night's post-midnight showtimes. The Brazil-set heist film then fell 13% on Saturday to $29.9M which was commendable given that the last film in the franchise tumbled 19% on Saturday. Universal enjoyed a better-than-expected 27% Sunday decline to $21.9M. Five earned a great A CinemaScore grade as fans have been liking what they have been seeing. The usual sophomore tumble is likely next weekend, especially since rival action entry Thor is opening, but good word-of-mouth may prevent the declines that the last Furious suffered.

Produced for $125M after counting tax rebates and other incentives, the adrenaline-pumping actioner played to an audience that was 56% male, 52% under 25, and 65% non-Caucasian. Overseas, Fast Five was a big ticket item too and grossed an estimated $45.3M from just 14 markets boosting the international total to $81.4M and the global gross to $168M with much more to come. All ten new markets opened at number one including Russia, Germany, and Spain. Even more encouraging for Universal, the new chapter posted franchise record debuts everywhere just as it did domestically meaning the road ahead is lucrative for the series. 45 more international territories open next weekend as Fast Five may have enough fuel to reach the $500M mark worldwide.

Moviegoers wanting a less violent trip to Brazil lined up for the animated hit Rio which fell to second after two weeks at number one and grossed $14.8M. The 3D film dropped by only 44% and crossed the century mark after 17 days of release with a cume to date of $104M for Fox. A trajectory towards about $140M seems likely as no films aimed at families will open over the next two weeks. Rio's overseas total has now climbed to $263M putting the global take at $367M with a whopping 72% coming from outside of North America. Brazil, home to the director and the film's setting, has contributed a stellar $36M to date.

Tyler Perry suffered a predictable 61% sophomore fall for his latest comedy Madea's Big Happy Family which ranked third with $9.9M. Lionsgate has banked $40.9M in ten days and should end up with $50-55M. The Reese-and-Robert romance Water for Elephants followed with $9.3M dropping by a moderate 45% in its second round. Fox has collected $32.5M in ten days and should finish with about $55M as well.

The weekend's two new releases not involving high-speed theft both stumbled at the box office failing to excite moviegoers. Disney's high school comedy Prom bowed to $4.7M from 2,730 locations for a weak $1,726 average. The PG-rated story about teens preparing for their big dance was aimed at the tween audience and girls in particular. Reviews were not too strong and Prom had no major star to anchor the project.

Parents told Hollywood that there are way too many 3D toons these days by ignoring the animated sequel Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil which debuted in sixth place with $4.1M from 2,505 theaters. Averaging a dismal $1,640, the PG-rated follow-up to The Weinstein Company's 2006 hit lacked must-see buzz and faced intense competition from other kidpics like Rio. Critics savaged the Hoodwinked sequel.

Sony's inspirational drama Soul Surfer held up nicely again slipping 38% to $3.4M for a sum of $33.8M so far. The horror hit Insidious fell to $2.7M, down 48%, and has grossed $48.3M for FilmDistrict.

Box office gravity caught up with the hit kidpic Hop. After surging last weekend in its fourth frame thanks to the Easter holiday, the Universal release plunged 78% this time to $2.7M for a cume to date of $105.4M. Rounding out the top ten was the action pic Source Code with $2.5M, off 51%, and a $48.9M total.

Overseas, Paramount's super hero epic Thor made a mighty splash opening in dozens of major markets with $83M from 56 territories making for the year's top wide international debut weekend. The pricey 3D action pic opened last weekend in star Chris Hemsworth's home country of Australia and dipped 42% this weekend in its second frame for a sizable local cume of $13.1M. Fast Five fell a similar 41% in its second round Down Under and has taken in $20.9M. Thor has raked in a total of $93M from all markets so far and will invade well over 3,500 theaters across North America this Friday.

The top ten films grossed $140.3M which was up a mighty 60% from last year when A Nightmare on Elm Street opened in the top spot with $32.9M; but down 4% from 2009 when X-Men Origins: Wolverine kicked off the summer debuting at number one with $85.1M.

Compared to projections, Fast Five debuted a few notches above my $81M forecast while Prom and Hoodwinked Too both opened below my respective predictions of $13M and $7M.

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

Check the UPDATED chart for the Top April Openings. For NEW reviews of Fast Five and the 3 Idiots DVD visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Thor, Something Borrowed, and Jumping the Broom all open.

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

# Title Apr 29 - May 1 Apr 22 - 24 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Fast Five $ 86,198,765 3,644 1 $ 23,655 $ 86,198,765 Universal
2 Rio 14,787,836 26,323,321 -43.8 3,708 3 3,988 104,014,751 Fox
3 Madea's Big Happy Family 9,860,929 25,068,677 -60.7 2,288 2 4,310 40,891,043 Lionsgate
4 Water for Elephants 9,342,413 16,842,353 -44.5 2,820 2 3,313 32,480,214 Fox
5 Prom 4,712,638 2,730 1 1,726 4,712,638 Disney
6 Hoodwinked Too! 4,108,630 2,505 1 1,640 4,108,630 Weinstein Co.
7 Soul Surfer 3,367,867 5,436,868 -38.1 2,010 4 1,676 33,843,019 Sony
8 Insidious 2,689,676 5,207,622 -48.4 1,584 5 1,698 48,309,912 FilmDistrict
9 Hop 2,683,720 12,185,905 -78.0 3,176 5 845 105,403,285 Universal
10 Source Code 2,509,824 5,091,347 -50.7 1,645 5 1,526 48,887,188 Summit
11 African Cats 2,403,808 6,003,200 -60.0 1,224 2 1,964 10,668,829 Disney
12 Hanna 2,252,257 5,296,302 -57.5 1,569 4 1,435 35,953,470 Focus
13 Scream 4 2,179,521 7,030,747 -69.0 2,221 3 981 35,496,200 Weinstein Co.
14 The Conspirator 1,098,505 2,190,440 -49.9 697 3 1,576 8,760,499 Roadside Attr.
15 Limitless 1,098,447 2,664,461 -58.8 838 7 1,311 76,090,316 Relativity
16 Arthur 1,008,363 4,066,109 -75.2 1,251 4 806 31,671,622 Warner Bros.
17 The Lincoln Lawyer 789,202 1,789,519 -55.9 719 7 1,098 54,799,510 Lionsgate
18 Dylan Dog: Ded of Night 754,779 875 1 863 754,779 Omni
19 Win Win 666,175 1,107,961 -39.9 302 6 2,206 7,611,730 Fox Searchlight
20 Your Highness 629,125 1,706,590 -63.1 402 4 1,565 21,102,070 Universal
Top 5 $ 124,902,581 $ 87,451,003 42.8
Top 10 140,262,298 114,486,342 22.5
Top 20 153,142,480 131,222,389 16.7
Top 20 vs. 2010 153,142,480 97,943,881 56.4

Last Updated: May 2, 2011 at 6:30PM ET

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