Weekend Box Office (June 24 - 26, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Two new releases opened big as Pixar's 3D animated sequel Cars 2 and the raunchy Cameron Diaz comedy Bad Teacher both excited their target audiences pumping in nearly $100M worth of ticket sales at the North American box office.

Scoring its twelfth number one hit, Pixar's Cars 2 finished in first place by a mile with $66.1M during its opening weekend, according to final studio figures, making for the fourth biggest June debut ever behind Toy Story 3 ($110.3M), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($109M), and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ($93.7M). The Disney release raced into 4,115 theaters - a new high for a Pixar toon - and averaged a stellar $16,072. The strength of the Pixar brand and the Cars franchise meant more to audiences than the flood of negative reviews from critics who gave the animation studio what were by far its worst marks ever.

Audiences continued to show their distrust of 3D as those screens contributed just 40% of the gross. That follows opening weekend shares of 45% for Kung Fu Panda 2 last month and 56% for Rio in April despite the fact that Pixar has always been the leader of computer animation. Among Pixar films, the Cars 2 opening was close to the $68.1M of 2009's Up which was the first 3D offering from the studio but, as expected, well below the launch of Toy Story 3 from a year ago.

In the world of cartoons, Cars has been one of the most successful brands when it comes to merchandising consistently selling products long after the original film bowed to $60.1M in June 2006. That free in-home advertising helped the sequel. Film critics may have rejected Cars 2, but kids were truly excited and they - and their parents - are the ones who spend at the box office. And those customers liked the spy-themed sequel as the CinemaScore grade was an A-. With a hefty budget of $200M, Cars 2 has a long road ahead of it to make back the production and marketing costs. However since Pixar films usually reach about four times their opening weekend tallies, this one could match or exceed the $244.1M of its predecessor. Plus overseas grosses should get a major shot in the arm thanks to a strong international market for 3D and the film's global setting that takes the story to Tokyo, Paris, London, and the Italian Riviera.

Cameron Diaz enjoyed one of the best openings of her career with the raunchy school comedy Bad Teacher which powered well ahead of expectations to debut to $31.6M. The Sony release averaged a terrific $10,365 from only 3,049 locations and played best to adult women who have been underserved in recent weeks thanks to male-skewing action films topping the charts all month leading into this weekend. Reviews were mixed though more negative than positive, and audiences did not find it all that enjoyable either with the CinemaScore grade being a disappointing C+. But starpower from Diaz along with co-stars Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake helped to drive in business as did an interesting story involving a foul-mouthed and underachieving middle school teacher trying to score herself a sugar daddy. The studio's marketing push was effective too.

Films that Diaz has anchored solo have generally fared poorly at the box office while those with other famous co-stars have opened better but still below Teacher. Last summer's Knight & Day with Tom Cruise bowed to $20.1M (with $27.4M over 5 days) while 2008's What Happens in Vegas with Ashton Kutcher debuted to $20.2M. Her overall top openings have come from the Shrek and Charlie's Angels franchises which were much more expensive productions compared to her new R-rated comedy which reportedly cost only $20M. Exit polls showed that 63% of the crowd was female and 57% was 25 and older. With nothing similar to Bad Teacher opening over next weekend's Independence Day holiday session, the studio hopes to keep attendance high for at least another week so it can get on track to reach the $100M mark.

The big budget super hero pic Green Lantern collapsed in its second weekend tumbling 66% to $18M giving the studio a disappointing $89M in the first ten days. That was less than what past June comic book films have done in the same amount of time including 2005's Batman Begins ($103.2M), 2003's Hulk ($100.6M), 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer ($97.5M), and 2008's The Incredible Hulk ($97.1M). The Marvel heroes all finished in the $130-135M range while Christopher Nolan's Caped Crusader reboot had good legs and topped $200M. Given the public's rejection of Green Lantern, and Tuesday night's arrival of the newest Transformers film, a lackluster final domestic take of around $120-125M may result. Overseas results for Warner Bros. have not been too strong so far.

In its third weekend, the sci-fi thriller Super 8 collected $12M for fourth place. Off 44%, the $50M Paramount release has taken in a solid $95.1M and may end its run with an impressive $125-135M. Produced for one-fourth of the budget of Green Lantern and backed by a less costly marketing campaign, Super 8 should end up with a larger domestic gross.

Fox grabbed the next two spots with its latest summer titles. The Jim Carrey family comedy Mr. Popper's Penguins held up moderately well in its second weekend despite new competition for kids dropping 45% to $10.1M. With $39.3M in ten days, a $70M final seems likely. The super hero pic X-Men: First Class grossed $6.7M, down 44%, giving the studio $132.9M to date.

R-rated wedding comedies The Hangover Part II and Bridesmaids kept bringing in audiences with grosses of $5.6M and $5.3M, respectively. The Warner Bros. sequel fell 45% and has banked $243.7M to date while Universal's sleeper sensation eased by only 26% putting the remarkable total at $146.5M. Both Bridesmaids and Super 8 have displayed good legs and will be very profitable proving that good filmmaking can often trump lavish marketing at the box office.

Rounding out the top ten were two summer sequels aimed at broad audiences. Disney's pricey 3D fourquel Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides slipped only 26% to $4.9M boosting the domestic tally to $229.3M. Paramount's 3D toon Kung Fu Panda 2 fell 54% to an estimated $4.2M bumping the sum to $153.1M. Woody Allen's modestly priced runaway hit Midnight in Paris was a hair behind and dipped by a slim 15% to $4.2M giving Sony Classics $28.7M to date. A final gross topping $50M is not out of the question.

The top ten films grossed $164.6M which was up 7% from last year when Toy Story 3 stayed in the top spot with $59.3M in its second frame; but down 14% from 2009 when Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen opened at number one with $109M.

Compared to projections, Cars 2 opened very close to my $65M forecast while Bad Teacher powered well ahead of my $19M prediction.

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

Check the UPDATED charts for Pixar Films and Top June Openings.

Watch the NEW trailer for Captain America. For a NEW review of Cars 2 visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Larry Crowne, and Monte Carlo all open.

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

# Title Jun 24 - 26 Jun 17 - 19 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Cars 2 $ 66,135,507 4,115 1 $ 16,072 $ 66,135,507 Disney
2 Bad Teacher 31,603,106 3,049 1 10,365 31,603,106 Sony
3 Green Lantern 18,028,056 53,174,303 -66.1 3,816 2 4,724 88,989,477 Warner Bros.
4 Super 8 12,028,092 21,472,020 -44.0 3,424 3 3,513 95,114,324 Paramount
5 Mr. Popper's Penguins 10,145,662 18,445,355 -45.0 3,342 2 3,036 39,293,341 Fox
6 X-Men: First Class 6,680,480 11,933,524 -44.0 2,633 4 2,537 132,895,408 Fox
7 The Hangover Part II 5,574,179 10,071,339 -44.7 2,755 5 2,023 243,651,860 Warner Bros.
8 Bridesmaids 5,260,290 7,097,735 -25.9 2,031 7 2,590 146,547,315 Universal
9 Pirates of the Caribbean: OST 4,928,925 6,646,249 -25.8 2,244 6 2,196 229,287,226 Disney
10 Kung Fu Panda 2 4,173,144 9,027,671 -53.8 2,527 5 1,651 153,065,641 Paramount
11 Midnight in Paris 4,171,047 4,884,800 -14.6 951 6 4,386 28,706,637 Sony Classics
12 The Tree of Life 1,328,026 1,163,923 14.1 215 4 6,177 5,843,290 Fox Searchlight
13 Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer 617,578 2,103,465 -70.6 891 3 693 13,447,548 Relativity
14 Rio 532,180 517,653 2.8 344 10 1,547 139,633,163 Fox
15 Thor 511,300 1,145,076 -55.3 404 7 1,266 177,223,364 Paramount
16 Fast Five 508,335 872,160 -41.7 458 8 1,110 207,752,210 Universal
17 Beginners 470,981 354,948 32.7 73 4 6,452 1,550,055 Focus
18 Double Dhamaal 301,831 54 1 5,589 301,831 Reliance
19 Buck 291,503 67,548 331.5 54 2 5,398 386,749 IFC
20 Water for Elephants 255,630 305,177 -16.2 292 10 875 57,689,232 Fox
Top 5 $ 137,940,423 $ 115,096,541 19.8
Top 10 164,557,441 144,856,461 13.6
Top 20 173,545,852 150,598,670 15.2
Top 20 vs. 2010 173,545,852 161,133,690 7.7

Last Updated: June 27, 2011 at 4:20PM ET

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