Weekend Box Office (May 25 - 28, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Will Smith made his long-awaited return to multiplexes and seized the number one spot at the North American box office with his new sci-fi sequel Men in Black 3 which booted The Avengers down to second place in its fourth weekend. But fewer people came out to greet the 3D alien comedy compared to the two previous installments prompting the top ten to fall by a troubling 30% from last year's four-day Memorial Day holiday session.

Sony topped the box office with Men in Black 3 which opened to $69.3M over the long Friday-to-Monday weekend, according to final studio figures, and $54.6M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion. Boosted by higher ticket prices for 3D and IMAX screens, the PG-13 film averaged $12,851 over three days and $16,303 over four days from an ultrawide 4,248 theaters. Comparisons to the first two Men in Black films are uneven since those both debuted mid-week ahead of the Fourth of July holiday frames. Plus they did not have 3D surcharges and ticket prices were significantly lower back in 1997 for the original film and 2002 for the first sequel. Still, those Friday-to-Sunday debuts were $51.1M and $52.1M respectively indicating a big drop in admissions this time around for the aging franchise.

Reviews were fairly good for MIB3 which reunited Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and director Barry Sonnenfeld with Josh Brolin added to the cast of the new time-travel story. The production cost is estimated to be $230M which is to be expected for a star-driven threequel. Smith has not had a film since the flop Seven Pounds from December 2008 and has not had a number one hit, or any action movie, since Hancock from July 2008. The new alien pic earned a good B+ grade from CinemaScore.

Rejuvenating a franchise after a decade-long absence was a challenge as was attracting audiences when The Avengers is doing so well with action-hungry moviegoers. The four-day opening does not even rank among the top ten best Memorial Day weekend debuts despite the help from 3D prices. Historically, sequels debuting over this holiday are very front-loaded putting Agents J and K on course to finish their third domestic trip in the $150-175M range which would be the lowest tally of the trilogy.

Sony reported that Men in Black opened at number one in 104 international territories this weekend too with an overseas bow of $133.2M and global launch of $203M. A series of red carpet premieres in Asia and Europe helped to drive excitement with the leading markets being China ($19.5M), Russia ($18.9M), Korea ($8.5M), and Japan ($8M). Thanks to growth overseas since the last MIB, domestic shortfalls could be made up from strong international sales.

Dropping out of the number one spot didn't stop The Avengers from racking up more impressive numbers and breaking additional records. The assembly of super heroes took in $47.2M in its fourth weekend with the three-day portion of $36.7M declining by only 34% making for a terrific hold as holiday moviegoers caught up on the most-talked-about movie of the year. With "see it again" ads hitting the marketplace for the long weekend, movie fans of all types are responding by seeing a blockbuster film that delivers the escapist entertainment people are looking for.

After 25 days, the amazing cume shot up to $523.9M and broke the half-billion domestic mark on Saturday in a record 23 days. Avatar previously held that record with 32 days so this was quite a fast achievement. Avengers is now on track to surpass The Dark Knight's $533.3M by next weekend to take over the number three spot on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters trailing the James Cameron double feature.

International crowds are still coming out spending an estimated $28.1M this weekend in the fifth round boosting the overseas haul to $781.9M and the global gross to $1.305 billion. Currently the fourth biggest worldwide grosser, the Marvel gang will soon surpass Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 to take the number three spot on a global basis too. Avengers may just end its run with close to $1.5 billion. Pleasing movie fans everywhere, the Disney juggernaut has been sucking the life out of the worldwide box office for a month now.

Following its weak launch, the mega-priced action tentpole Battleship just could not stay relevant with moviegoers and plunged 57% over the Friday-to-Sunday period to $11.1M which was a sizable drop given that Sunday was stronger than usual with a holiday following it. The four-day weekend was $13.9M. After 11 days, the board game pic has grossed only $47.4M and is on course to end its domestic run with a very disappointing $70M or so. With a production cost of at least $209M, that just isn't what the studio needed to turn it into a moneymaker, much less a franchise. Sandwiched in between Avengers and MIB3, Battleship did not become a must-see action pic for summer audiences this month. Overseas grosses rose slightly to $232.7M putting the worldwide total at $283M which is still lower than what a costly project like this needed. The final global tally won't go too much higher than $300M.

The Dictator, another big May offering from Hollywood that isn't exciting too many ticket buyers, fell in its second weekend to $11.5M over the long weekend putting the 13-day sum at $43.3M. Paramount will struggle to get its final domestic gross to match the $65M production cost. Overseas audiences also fled from the Sacha Baron Cohen political satire with an estimated $11.8M from 29 international markets, down 53%. With $50.3M from outside of North America, Dictator's worldwide total rose to $94M. Johnny Depp's vampire comedy Dark Shadows followed with $9.4M across four days for a total of only $64.9M for the expensive Warner Bros. release.

The new horror pic Chernobyl Diaries opened poorly with $9.4M over the long weekend from 2,433 theaters for a slow $3,845 average over four days. Audiences instantly disliked the Warner Bros. film as Saturday sales tumbled 33% from the opening day with the CinemaScore grade being a horrible D+. Fright films rarely succeed in the month of May when much bigger summer popcorn movies are rolling out for young adult audiences.

Lionsgate's underperforming all-star comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting dipped to $8.8M and has collected just $23.8M in 11 days. Expanding nationwide, Fox Searchlight's indie hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel climbed up to $8.4M over four days doubling its weekend gross after widening to 1,233 locations. The British pic averaged $6,781 per location and has banked $18.6M so far.

The blockbuster The Hunger Games placed ninth with $3M remaining a popular choice for fans in its tenth weekend. With $396M to date, the Lionsgate smash looks set to break the $400M mark. Sony's hit comedy Think Like a Man rounded out the top ten with $1.8M over four days for a $88.7M total.

Focus generated a spectacular platform debut for Wes Anderson's latest film Moonrise Kingdom which opened in just four theaters with $686,179 over four days for a jaw-dropping average of $171,545. Generating buzz from its opening night slot at the Cannes Film Festival, the quirky dramedy was loved by critics and will expand in the weeks ahead becoming a major force on the indie scene. The filmmaker's loyal fans in New York and Los Angeles routinely come out for his latest stories and soon it will test the waters in more parts of the country.

The top ten films grossed $182.7M over the Friday-to-Monday period which was down 31% from last year when The Hangover Part II opened at number one with $103.4M over the long weekend; but even with 2010 when Shrek Forever After stayed on top in its second frame with $57.1M.

Compared to four-day projections, Men in Black 3 and Chernobyl Diaries both debuted below my respective forecasts of $77M and $12M.

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

Watch the NEW teaser trailer for Anchorman 2. For a review of The Dictator visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Snow White and the Huntsman opens.

# Title May 25 - 28 May 18 - 20 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Men in Black 3 $ 69,254,717 4,248 1 $ 16,303 $ 69,254,717 Sony
2 The Avengers 47,222,414 55,644,102 -15.1 3,918 4 12,053 523,907,202 Disney
3 Battleship 13,938,030 25,534,825 -45.4 3,702 2 3,765 47,443,375 Universal
4 The Dictator 11,465,417 17,435,092 -34.2 3,014 2 3,804 43,313,521 Paramount
5 Dark Shadows 9,439,246 12,583,338 -25.0 3,404 3 2,773 64,922,142 Warner Bros.
6 Chernobyl Diaries 9,355,124 2,433 1 3,845 9,355,124 Warner Bros.
7 What to Expect When You're Expecting 8,805,565 10,547,068 -16.5 3,021 2 2,915 23,826,813 Lionsgate
8 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 8,360,743 3,230,584 158.8 1,233 4 6,781 18,564,239 Fox Searchlight
9 The Hunger Games 3,013,383 2,950,331 2.1 1,421 10 2,121 396,022,168 Lionsgate
10 Think Like a Man 1,814,607 2,650,549 -31.5 786 6 2,309 88,686,548 Sony
11 The Pirates! Band of Misfits 1,437,821 1,578,632 -8.9 884 5 1,626 27,642,125 Sony
12 Bernie 1,128,168 491,436 129.6 194 5 5,815 2,479,974 Millenium
13 21 Jump Street 769,036 342,953 124.2 364 11 2,113 136,611,763 Sony
14 The Lucky One 704,279 1,778,453 -60.4 615 6 1,145 58,417,112 Warner Bros.
15 Moonrise Kingdom 686,179 4 1 171,545 686,179 Focus
16 Mirror Mirror 637,994 403,814 58.0 422 9 1,512 62,356,251 Relativity
17 The Lorax 622,035 458,595 35.6 390 13 1,595 210,985,805 Universal
18 Chimpanzee 442,161 667,528 -33.8 368 6 1,202 27,815,807 Disney
19 The Three Stooges 403,866 436,495 -7.5 325 8 1,243 42,385,220 Fox
20 The Five-Year Engagement 357,575 1,110,375 -67.8 274 5 1,305 28,012,860 Universal
Top 5 $ 151,319,824 $ 121,744,425 24.3
Top 10 182,669,246 133,932,974 36.4
Top 20 189,858,360 139,187,461 36.4
Top 20 vs. Memorial Day 2011 189,858,360 271,809,753 -30.2

Last Updated: May 29, 2012 at 10:20PM ET

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