Weekend Box Office (July 22 - 24, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND The fourth and final super hero film of the summer arrived and like its predecessors, Captain America: The First Avenger also debuted at number one although this one had to defeat the Harry Potter juggernaut in the process. Fellow freshman entry Friends With Benefits, a new sex comedy starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, debuted in third place. In between was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 which suffered a steep fall in its second weekend but still posted a near-record ten-day cume. The overall box office was robust thanks to the recent wave of franchise films.

The final piece of the Avengers puzzle fell into its place as Captain America scored a muscular opening weekend with $65.1M from 3,715 locations for a powerful $17,719 average, according to final studio figures. It almost reached the $65.7M bow of the season's first comic book pic Thor from the first weekend of May. Both were Marvel films distributed by Paramount and presented in 3D. The extra dimension did not prove to be too popular for Captain America as only 38% of the weekend take came from 3D screens whereas Thor's rate was a much higher 60%. With Captain being the ninth 3D film this summer alone, with more still to come, audiences have been growing tired of the format and have become more choosy in selecting which films truly warrant the extra cost.

The super soldier easily beat out the $53.2M opening of last month's Green Lantern which was also in 3D as well as the $55.1M of the 2D pic X-Men: First Class which like Captain was a period film. Studios took a big risk programming four super hero origin films into a three-month period. Thor has done the best with $180.1M to date and over $445M worldwide while X-Men performed moderately well with $144.2M. Captain America should approach Thor's domestic tally although it could be less popular overseas. All three are Marvel projects. The big-budget Green Lantern from DC Comics was the sole casualty with $113.9M to date and little traction from its international openings so far. Next summer is sure to be a record breaker for comic book movies with top characters like Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and The Hulk all returning to the big screen in The Dark Knight Rises (July 20), The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3), and The Avengers (May 4).

Directed by Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III) and starring Chris Evans (Fantastic Four), Captain America skewed to adult men as expected with exit polls showing that the audience was 64% male and 58% over 25. The PG-13 film scored generally positive reviews from critics. Friday kicked off with $25.7M including $4M from Thursday night's midnight grosses and all-day showings Thursday at a San Diego theater during Comic-Con. Saturday dropped 15% to $21.9M and Paramount saw a 21% Sunday slide to $17.4M. An encouraging A- CinemaScore could be good news for the days and weeks ahead. Thor and X-Men, which both did better with critics, each earned a B+ while Green Lantern scored a B.

After breaking almost every box office record in the industry, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 took an understandable freefall in its second weekend since most fans came out already in the first week for the can't-miss franchise closer. The Warner Bros. title tumbled 72% to $47.4M boosting the ten-day total to $273.5M. Only studio stablemate The Dark Knight has ever grossed more in the first ten days with $313.8M in July 2008. The last Voldemort pic Part 1 fell 62% in its second weekend, but that tally was helped by Thanksgiving and a Friday that was a day off for most people.

Past July Potter films also saw large declines in the second weekend only to stabilize in subsequent weekends with 40-50% declines. The second Hallows is likely to be more front-loaded but the final domestic tally may still end up in the $360-380M range which would give it a shot at surpassing the newest Transformers to become the highest-grossing film of 2011.

Overseas, the wizard film was still doing gangbusters. The international weekend brought in an astounding $120.2M, down 62%, boosting the cume to a jaw-dropping $559M That puts the 12-day global haul at a mesmerizing $832.5M. With China still to open on August 4, the final Potter may be able to reach the $1.2 billion mark by the end of its run.

The R-rated romantic comedy Friends With Benefits opened in third place with $18.6M following a long line of raunchy laughers this summer. Though a commendable debut, the figure did not reach the levels of this season's past offerings like Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher, and Horrible Bosses which all bowed in the $26-32M range. Averaging $6,364 from 2,926 theaters, the Justin Timberlake-Mila Kunis pic about pals that try to keep feelings out of a sex-only relationship may have seen some of its target audience stay away thanks to its similarity to No Strings Attached with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher which basically offered the same story six months ago. That R-rated film bowed to $19.7M on its way to $70.7M. The Friends debut was still good though and reviews were better with many critics highlighting the chemistry between the two leads.

Adult women made up the primary audience as studio research showed that 62% of the crowd was female while 56% was over 25. The CinemaScore grade was a decent B+. Strong word-of-mouth will be needed as each of the next three weekends will see a new comedy contender for adults enter the marketplace with Steve Carell's Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Change-Up starring Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, and the Ben Stiller-produced 30 Minutes or Less.

Placing fourth with $12.1M was the year's top-grossing film Transformers: Dark of the Moon which declined by 44% in its fourth battle. The Paramount release has now grossed a brawny $325.8M and is on course to end its domestic run with $350-360M. Shooting with actual 3D cameras has helped it win over more audiences than action films converted in post-production as 3D shares of this weekend's grosses were 50% for the latest Autobots pic compared to 42% for Potter and 38% for Captain America.

With China re-opening its doors to American films this weekend, Transformers scored a record $40M debut - the best ever for a U.S. picture there. That led the international frame which delivered an estimated $62M allowing the overseas total to climb to $556.6M which represented a new company high for Paramount outside of North America. The latest Michael Bay effort has now grossed a stunning $882.4M worldwide and has Japan opening this coming weekend which will help it pass the billion dollar barrier.

Despite the arrival of a new R-rated comedy, the workplace laugher Horrible Bosses held up well again in its third frame dipping only 33% to $11.9M for a 17-day cume of $82.6M. Warner Bros. will probably see a larger gross with this title than it will with its big-budget gamble Green Lantern which is heading for a $115M final.

Three kidpics with small declines followed. The Kevin James comedy Zookeeper dipped only 29% to $8.7M and has banked $59.2M in 17 days for Sony. The Disney/Pixar vehicle Cars 2 followed with $5.7M, off just 33%, for a $176.4M cume. In its sophomore frame, the G-rated toon Winnie the Pooh slipped only 34% and grabbed $5.2M. The ten-day total for Disney is $17.6M.

Adults looking for laughs rounded out the top ten with a pair of popular comedies. The Cameron Diaz pic Bad Teacher fell 49% to $2.6M bumping its tally to $94.4M for Sony. Sony Classics continued its phenomenal run for Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris which eased just 4% to $1.8M despite losing 85 theaters. Cume is at $44.8M and will easily break the $50M mark.

The top ten films grossed $179M which was up 19% from last year when Inception remained in the top spot with $42.7M; and up 30% from 2009 when G-Force debuted at number one with $31.7M.

Compared to projections, Captain America opened above my $52M projection while Friends With Benefits came in under my $22M forecast.

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Check the UPDATED box office chart for the Top July Openings and which now includes Captain America.

For a NEW review of Captain America visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Cowboys & Aliens, The Smurfs, and Crazy, Stupid, Love all open.

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# Title Jul 22 - 24 Jul 15 - 17 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Captain America: The First Avenger $ 65,058,524 3,715 1 $ 17,512 $ 65,058,524 Paramount
2 Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows Part 2 47,422,212 169,189,427 -72.0 4,375 2 10,839 273,539,281 Warner Bros.
3 Friends With Benefits 18,622,150 2,926 1 6,364 18,622,150 Sony
4 Transformers: Dark of the Moon 12,051,735 21,328,545 -43.5 3,375 4 3,571 325,841,185 Paramount
5 Horrible Bosses 11,884,319 17,777,464 -33.1 3,104 3 3,829 82,566,703 Warner Bros.
6 Zookeeper 8,702,055 12,330,512 -29.4 3,215 3 2,707 59,206,255 Sony
7 Cars 2 5,655,857 8,407,529 -32.7 2,668 5 2,120 176,375,295 Disney
8 Winnie the Pooh 5,162,046 7,857,076 -34.3 2,405 2 2,146 17,594,297 Disney
9 Bad Teacher 2,610,925 5,152,447 -49.3 2,034 5 1,284 94,365,688 Sony
10 Midnight in Paris 1,804,662 1,876,588 -3.8 621 10 2,906 44,783,206 Sony Classics
11 Bridesmaids 1,325,985 1,722,205 -23.0 680 11 1,950 163,832,870 Universal
12 Larry Crowne 1,019,475 2,664,550 -61.7 1,035 4 985 34,327,405 Universal
13 Mr. Popper's Penguins 935,068 1,368,355 -31.7 591 6 1,582 63,500,820 Fox
14 Super 8 760,042 1,970,377 -61.4 658 7 1,155 124,235,102 Paramount
15 Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara 670,258 960,548 -30.2 100 2 6,703 2,003,930 Eros
16 The Tree of Life 555,573 626,723 -11.4 230 8 2,416 11,038,150 Fox Searchlight
17 Monte Carlo 475,973 1,318,448 -63.9 360 4 1,322 21,772,588 Fox
18 Beginners 425,205 432,814 -1.8 157 8 2,708 4,607,418 Focus
19 Green Lantern 381,612 1,359,133 -71.9 421 6 906 113,920,209 Warner Bros.
20 X-Men: First Class 348,046 635,586 -45.2 295 8 1,180 144,210,364 Fox
Top 5 $ 155,038,940 $ 229,033,477 -32.3
Top 10 178,974,485 248,554,515 -28.0
Top 20 185,871,722 258,004,226 -28.0
Top 20 vs. 2010 185,871,722 159,143,156 16.8

Last Updated: July 25, 2011 at 11:40PM ET

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