Weekend Box Office (May 18 - 20, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Dominating the box office for a third weekend in a row and turning all competitors into casualties of war, The Avengers held on firmly to the number one spot breaking more records in the process. Audiences were not very excited about the new releases as the big-budget action tentpole Battleship suffered a poor opening in second place, the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy The Dictator failed to match the raunchy funnyman's past performances, and the all-star pregnancy comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting debuted in fifth with weak results. It was the first time in fourteen years that the normally-busy weekend before the Memorial Day holiday frame failed to deliver any $35M+ openings causing the top ten to fall below both last year's and 2010's levels.

The shawarma-loving super heroes continued to rule the box office as The Avengers grossed $55.6M in its third weekend on top, according to final studio figures, dropping a reasonable 46%. Disney's Marvel juggernaut has now amassed an eye-popping $457.7M in 17 days and broke two more speed records breaking $400M in 14 days and $450M after 17. The Dark Knight held both of those milestones before with 18 and 27 days, respectively. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team zoomed up to number six on the list of all-time-domestic blockbusters sitting right behind the $461M lifetime of Star Wars with a final North American take of near $600M likely.

Moviegoers have been loving Avengers and really have not been moved by all the other offerings that Hollywood has programmed into May. Studios knew that it would be a heavy hitter so they avoided slotting in any high-profile sequels into the first three weeks of its run for fear of being crushed. But the Iron Man-led film opened much stronger than expected and has been holding up very well utterly dominating the movie conversation and reaching beyond the core fan base of comic book geeks.

Avengers enjoyed the second largest third weekend gross in history trailing only the $68.5M of Avatar which had help from the New Year's holiday that frame. Both films enjoyed a boost from 3D surcharges although more of those screens are installed now. 2002's Spider-Man grossed $45M ten years ago this weekend while in its third session but actually sold about 30% more tickets than Avengers. 2008's The Dark Knight grossed $42.7M which was about even with Avengers in terms of tickets sold on the third weekend. The Batpic enjoyed a slightly better hold with its 43% decline.

With Avengers grossing so much, industry eyes will shift to the highly-anticipated The Dark Knight Rises which opens July 20. Being a 2D film, it's not expected to break the $207.4M record opening of Avengers. However, with stronger midweek grosses when students are out of school in July, its final tally could challenge the Marvel team's especially if it can hold up like its predecessor. While the gross is unprecedented, the Avengers audience size is not record-setting. Four years ago, Dark Knight pulled in $393.8M in its first 17 days which would equate to roughly $440M at today's 2D prices. Factor in 3D surcharges and the rough admissions totals would be 55 million for Dark Knight and 50 million for Avengers. Of course, Rises will not have the Heath Ledger factor but the good will created by the last Knight will certainly pay dividends this July.

Overseas, The Avengers banked another $56M in its fourth round for a $111.7M global weekend. The international cume has rocketed to $723.3M bringing the worldwide tally to a staggering $1.18 billion putting it at number four on the all-time global list right behind Avatar, Titanic, and the final Harry Potter. In another week or so, Nick Fury and pals will beat the Hogwarts clan and settle into what should be its final resting place with a bronze box office medal. Leading markets continue to be the U.K. ($72.3M), China ($69.3M), Mexico ($56.2M), and Brazil ($51.9M). Avengers has become the top-grossing movie of all-time for Disney which expects more cash to come from future films from Marvel which it owns.

Universal suffered a pricey misfire with the big-budget action film Battleship which just didn't connect with moviegoers. Costing at least $209M to produce with no other studios sharing the financial risk, the PG-13 naval adventure opened to only $25.5M, with an average of only $6,920 from 3,690 theaters. It would barely be a respectable performance for a film costing half as much. Audiences in the mood for a large-scale effects-driven action picture had Avengers to see - even if it was for a second time - and Battleship just did not stand out as a must-see film.

Critics and audiences were not too thrilled with what Battleship delivered. Reviews were mixed but more on the downbeat side while patrons polled by CinemaScore gave the film a mediocre B grade. As expected, the alien attack film loosely based on the alien-less board game skewed towards men as studio research showed that 57% of the crowd was male while 55% was 30 or older. An aggressive marketing campaign including Super Bowl spots failed to excite audiences who felt that the pic basically looked like Transformers at sea without Michael Bay at the helm. The cast included Liam Neeson, pop singer Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, and Taylor Kitsch who after John Carter now enjoys the distinction of starring in the year's two biggest flops. The more expensive Carter opened to $30.2M including 3D surcharges and has stalled at $283M worldwide for Disney.

Battleship set sail over a month ago in international waters where it found more success. Entering most markets at least two weeks before Avengers it was able to scoop up a decent amount of cash before getting pummeled by a superior action film. This weekend saw an estimated $6.5M bumping the offshore take to $226.8M and the global sum to $252M. But given its current grosses and the calendar ahead, the worldwide figure looks to finish in the neighborhood of $325M which will be a big disappointment given the massive production and marketing investments which add up to nearly the same amount.

Also underperforming and costing a lot (for its genre) was Sacha Baron Cohen's latest comedy vehicle The Dictator which bowed to $17.4M over the weekend and $24.5M since debuting on Wednesday. The three-day average was $5,796 from 3,008 locations. Over five days, the R-rated film grossed less than the three-day openings of the last two films the funnyman anchored. 2006's sleeper hit Borat opened to $26.5M from just 837 theaters while 2009's Brüno bowed to $30.6M from 2,756 locations. Both R-rated comedies landed at number one and were based on popular characters that Cohen had developed on his television series. Dictator brought some of the same brand of raunchy satire to a new character, an eccentric tyrant that ruled a fictitious North African oil-rich nation.

Reviews were generally good, however audiences were not pleased with what they paid for as the Paramount release earned a troubling C grade from CinemaScore. Brüno scored the same grade and quickly eroded away at the box office tumbling 73% in its sophomore frame. Cohen has been promoting his film in character on numerous talk shows and at prestigious film events like the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Awards in an attempt to make his product stand out as something buzzworthy. But American audiences may be getting tired of the same humor from the British comedian. And the budget of $65M was high for a comedy not driven by special effects or having a proven star like Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell.

Studio research showed that a steep 65% of the crowd was male and 56% was under 25. The Dictator had extremely limited female appeal and males had two huge effects-driven action films to go and see so competition took its toll. Political comedies usually skew older but Cohen's bold humor led to a young adult crowd taking interest. But with low customer satisfaction ratings and Men in Black 3 opening Friday, the domestic road ahead looks grim.

However, The Dictator fared well elsewhere in the world. The Wadiya pic debuted to an estimated $30.3M overseas from 29 markets - most of which are not among the world's top-grossing territories - taking the number one spot in 25 of them. Cohen's home market of the U.K. led with $7.2M over five days followed by Australia with $5.7M in five days. Both opened smaller than Brüno, though. Germany debuted to $4.5M which was bigger than the fashionista pic. The underwhelming American response may end up meaning little in the long run if international markets continue to embrace the film and perform well. With $54.8M globally in its first extended weekend, and France, Italy and Japan still to come over the months ahead, The Dictator seems positioned to recover its costs.

Johnny Depp and Tim Burton saw their fans flee this weekend as their latest project Dark Shadows tumbled 58% in its sophomore round to $12.6M. Word-of-mouth has not been very good for the pricey film which cost an estimated $150M+ to produce. Warner Bros. has collected a disappointing $50.7M in ten days and looks headed for a $70-75M domestic finish putting tremendous pressure on international markets to deliver. Overseas, Shadows grossed an estimated $31M this weekend from 52 markets including a $5.1M debut in Japan boosting the international cume to $81.8M and the worldwide gross to $132.5M.

Lionsgate tried to offer counter-programming for adult women not interested in testosterone action tentpoles by releasing the all-star pregnancy comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting but was met with modest results. The PG-13 film starring Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Chris Rock, Dennis Quaid, and Brooklyn Decker in her second new film of the weekend bowed to $10.5M from 3,021 theaters for a sluggish $3,491 average. Reviews were more negative than positive but often times with these comedies starpower can trump bad buzz from critics. That wasn't the case here. With men being repelled by the subject matter, Johnny Depp taking in more money from adult women, and Avengers still sucking up all business from broad audiences, What to Expect failed to generate much excitement with its intended audience despite being based on a best-selling book. A B- CinemaScore for the $30M film indicates that the film should exit theaters soon.

The indie comedy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel expanded once again by doubling its run from 178 to 354 theaters and climbed up two spots to number six with $3.2M. The Fox Searchlight release averaged a solid $9,126 per location raising its total to $8.2M. Hotel is connecting with a crowd not interested in big studio tentpoles (all films above it on the chart are playing in 3000+ theaters) and is carving out its own piece of the box office pie. The ensemble hit will go nationwide on Friday for the long Memorial Day holiday frame reaching more than 1,100 playdates.

Lionsgate's franchise flick The Hunger Games held up well again dropping only 35% to $3M putting the stellar cume at $391.6M as it inches closer to the quadruple-century mark. Sony's hit comedy Think Like a Man followed with $2.7M, off 54%, for a $85.8M cume.

Falling 57% was the romance The Lucky One with $1.8M while Sony's 3D toon The Pirates! Band of Misfits dropped 50% to $1.6M. Totals stand at $56.9M and $25.5M, respectively.

The top ten films grossed $133.9M which was down 15% from last year when Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opened at number one with $90.2M; and down 5% from 2010 when Shrek Forever After debuted on top with $70.8M.

Compared to projections, Battleship bowed well below my $42M forecast, The Dictator was very close to my $23M five-day prediction, and What to Expect When You're Expecting came in below my $16M projection.

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

Watch the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises.

For a NEW review of The Dictator visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend Men in Black 3 and Chernobyl Diaries both open over the long holiday weekend.

# Title May 18 - 20 May 11 - 13 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Avengers $ 55,644,102 $ 103,052,274 -46.0 4,249 3 $ 13,096 $ 457,665,517 Disney
2 Battleship 25,534,825 3,690 1 6,920 25,534,825 Universal
3 The Dictator 17,435,092 3,008 1 5,796 24,476,173 Paramount
4 Dark Shadows 12,583,338 29,685,274 -57.6 3,755 2 3,351 50,721,759 Warner Bros.
5 What to Expect When You're Expecting 10,547,068 3,021 1 3,491 10,547,068 Lionsgate
6 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 3,230,584 2,672,140 20.9 354 3 9,126 8,228,025 Fox Searchlight
7 The Hunger Games 2,950,331 4,505,362 -34.5 2,064 9 1,429 391,581,441 Lionsgate
8 Think Like a Man 2,650,549 5,816,108 -54.4 1,722 5 1,539 85,838,460 Sony
9 The Lucky One 1,778,453 4,107,492 -56.7 2,005 5 887 56,934,628 Warner Bros.
10 The Pirates! Band of Misfits 1,578,632 3,143,442 -49.8 1,840 4 858 25,490,136 Sony
11 The Five-Year Engagement 1,110,375 3,314,010 -66.5 1,175 4 945 27,103,010 Universal
12 Chimpanzee 667,528 1,755,507 -62.0 895 5 746 27,008,515 Disney
13 Bernie 491,436 219,412 124.0 95 4 5,173 1,124,572 Millennium
14 Wrath of the Titans 476,327 214,933 121.6 360 8 1,323 82,520,290 Warner Bros.
15 Girl in Progress 459,357 1,384,078 -66.8 322 2 1,427 2,137,371 Lionsgate
16 The Lorax 458,595 432,245 6.1 379 12 1,210 210,191,325 Universal
17 The Three Stooges 436,495 1,078,339 -59.5 594 7 735 41,830,632 Fox
18 Mirror Mirror 403,814 599,617 -32.7 407 8 992 61,551,236 Relativity
19 The Cabin in the Woods 381,566 971,465 -60.7 448 6 852 40,551,639 Lionsgate
20 John Carter 368,994 766,217 -51.8 114 11 3,237 72,157,379 Disney
Top 5 $ 121,744,425 $ 147,166,510 -17.3
Top 10 133,932,974 159,498,783 -16.0
Top 20 139,187,461 167,423,264 -16.9
Top 20 vs. 2011 139,187,461 162,400,002 -14.3

Last Updated: May 21, 2012 at 10:55PM ET

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