Weekend Box Office (July 29 - 31, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Following Sunday estimates that showed a tie for the top spot between two big-budget new releases, Universal's action entry Cowboys & Aliens pulled ahead of Sony's 3D kidpic The Smurfs when final grosses were reported. But the former fell below industry expectations while the latter flew past them.

Taking in $36.4M from the wallets of ticket buyers this weekend, according to final studio figures, was Cowboys & Aliens which averaged $9,715 from 3,750 locations. The PG-13 film starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford was directed by Iron Man's Jon Favreau and was expected to debut in the $40-50M range. Hollywood has always found it difficult to mix Westerns with science fiction as audiences do not readily buy into the result. Reviews were more negative than positive which hurt since the film was always expected to skew older. Also the late July slot presented challenges since Cowboys was the eleventh action movie released this summer. Though based on a popular graphic novel, Cowboys & Aliens was not connected to a property known widely enough to make it into a must-see for a sizable audience as Captain America did last weekend.

Cowboys performed much like another period sci-fi film produced by Steven Spielberg this summer, Super 8, which debuted to $35.5M in early June and also played to an older male crowd. The pricey Craig-Ford vehicle drew an audience that was 63% 30 and older and 53% male. A CinemaScore grade of B does not bode too well for the future. With Universal, DreamWorks, Relativity Media, Paramount, and Imagine Entertainment all involved in the worldwide financing and distribution, Cowboys & Aliens had a lot of chefs in the kitchen. A glitzy star-studded premiere last week at Comic-Con was well-received by that crowd, but did little to excite audiences across the 50 states.

Chart positions are more about bragging rights though and do not necessarily reflect a film's financial success. The Smurfs proved to be a winner as well in the number two spot with $35.6M thanks to a smaller budget, larger per-theater average, better exit polls, and no major profit participants. Sony's PG-rated family film bowed in 3,395 theaters with a strong $10,489 average and beat out industry forecasts that pegged the opening in the mid-to-high 20s. Based on the popular 1980s cartoon series, the story of the little blue people that find themselves in modern-day New York City was backed by an extensive and highly effective marketing push that truly made it an event film for parents and kids alike.

It follows recent hits from the brand-based live-action/animation genre like last winter's Yogi Bear which grossed over $100M and the two Alvin and the Chipmunks films that each topped $200M. None of these films impressed film critics, but were embraced by families looking to have some mindless fun together. A third Chipmunks is on tap for this December.

Production budgets were $110M for Smurfs and a much higher $163M for Cowboys, plus tens of millions more in marketing.

Papa Smurf and company scored an encouraging A- grade from CinemaScore and with no major competitors taking away families over the next two weeks, the film is well-positioned to become Sony's top-grossing film of 2011 to date. As with most extra-dimensional movies these days, audiences preferred 2D over 3D as 45% of the weekend take ($16.3M) came from the 3D screens. 35% of the crowd was non-family so the brand successfully reached beyond kids and parents to connect with some teens and young adults which certainly helped in generating the large gross.

Following its stellar debut, Captain America: The First Avenger fell sharply in its second weekend tumbling 61% to $25.6M bringing the ten-day sum to $117.4M. Fellow summer super hero flicks Thor and X-Men: First Class fared better in their second rounds dropping by 47% and 56%, respectively. Green Lantern tumbled by 66%. With the upfront fan base out of the way and more action titles to come like this Friday's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America could be on course to end its domestic run in the $170M area. The Paramount film had its first major launch overseas this weekend with an estimated $48.5M from 31 territories, 30 of which were new. Totals now stand at $53.5M international and $171M global for Marvel's third entry of the season.

It was a monumental weekend for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 which shattered the $300M domestic and $1 billion worldwide marks. In North America, the final wizard flick fell 54% to $22M boosting the 17-day cume to $318.5M. That makes it the top-grossing Harry Potter film ever surpassing the $317.6M of the first installment from 2001. Higher ticket prices and 3D surcharges led to the new franchise record, but the Hogwarts clan will take it. The domestic trajectory seems to be heading to the vicinity of $370M.

Overseas brought in a hearty $66.6M this weekend, down 47%, lifting the international haul to $690.4M and the worldwide gross to date to a mammoth $1.009 billion. With the powerful Chinese market to open this Thursday, the epic finale should easily surpass $1.2 billion and could even reach $1.3 billion making it the top-grossing non-James Cameron blockbuster of all time.

A trio of comedies followed all the big action flicks. The divorce comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love debuted in fifth place with respectable numbers grossing $19.1M from 3,020 theaters for a $6,326 average. Starring Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Kevin Bacon, the PG-13 film played to a mature audience and skewed female. Reviews were mostly good for the story of a man trying to reinvent himself in the single world after his wife of 25 years leaves him. The opening was about even with the $18.6M debut of last weekend's relationship comedy Friends With Benefits which boasted younger stars and an R rating. Crazy scored a B+ grade from CinemaScore which was good but not terrific and also opened below Carell's live-action comedies from last year - Date Night ($25.2M) and Dinner For Schmucks ($23.5M).

The Sony release Friends With Benefits dropped 50% to $9.3M while the Warner Bros. hit Horrible Bosses was the only holdover in the top ten to lose less than half of its audience slipping only 40% to $7.2M. Totals stand at a decent $38.2M for the Justin Timberlake-Mila Kunis pic and a sturdy $96.3M for the Jason Bateman flick which will hit $100M by Friday, the same day his next comedy The Change-Up opens.

The global juggernaut Transformers: Dark of the Moon followed with $6.1M, off 50%, raising Paramount's domestic haul to $338M putting it at number 19 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters ahead of Spider-Man 3's $336.5M from 2007. Of course, the third webslinger had lower ticket prices and no 3D surcharges. The third Autobots film continued its loud assault around the world with an estimated $42M haul overseas lifting the international tally to a stellar $645M making the global gross soar to $983M. The film finally opened in Japan - its last major territory - taking in $9.5M with a very high 82% coming from the 3D screens. But China remains the leader with $22.8M in its second weekend boosting the local cume to an eye-popping $113.7M making it the second biggest U.S. film of all-time there after Avatar. Dark of the Moon will shatter the $1 billion mark in the coming days joining the latest Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter films in the billion-dollar VIP lounge. All three are effects-driven 3D action sequels.

The Kevin James comedy Zookeeper fell 51% to $4.3M putting Sony's total at $68.8M. Disney and Pixar rounded out the top ten with Cars 2 which collected $2.3M, down a steep 59%, giving the toon sequel $182.1M to date. The 3D pic will end Pixar's streak of nine consecutive $200M+ domestic grossers and will sell the fewest tickets of any of the company's dozen films.

It was a fragmented frame in the specialty marketplace with a handful of films generating solid debuts, though none stood out as astounding. The offbeat drama The Future from Roadside Attractions bowed to $27,137 from one solo New York house. The Brendan Gleeson-Don Cheadle blackmail comedy The Guard took in $76,834 from four sites for a $19,209 average for Sony Classics. Both earned strong reviews.

Critics were mixed on the Saddam Hussein pic The Devil's Double from Lionsgate which bowed in five theaters to $96,414 averaging $19,283 per location. Sony's Screen Gems unit released the well-reviewed British sci-fi pic Attack the Block and saw a $137,580 opening from eight playdates for a $17,198 average.

The top ten films grossed $167.9M which was up 30% from last year when Inception remained in the top spot for a third time with $27.5M; and up 57% from 2009 when Funny People debuted at number one with $22.7M.

Compared to projections, Cowboys & Aliens opened below my $40M forecast while The Smurfs charged well ahead of my $20M prediction. Crazy, Stupid, Love was on target with my $18M projection.

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Watch the NEW Trailer for Battleship. For a 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 Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Change-Up both open.

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

# Title Jul 29 - 31 Jul 22 - 24 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Cowboys & Aliens $ 36,431,290 3,750 1 $ 9,715 $ 36,431,290 Universal
2 The Smurfs 35,611,637 3,395 1 10,489 35,611,637 Sony
3 Captain America: The First Avenger 25,554,303 65,058,524 -60.7 3,715 2 6,879 117,421,571 Paramount
4 Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows Part 2 21,977,093 47,422,212 -53.7 4,145 3 5,302 318,511,602 Warner Bros.
5 Crazy, Stupid, Love 19,104,303 3,020 1 6,326 19,104,303 Warner Bros.
6 Friends With Benefits 9,275,692 18,622,150 -50.2 2,926 2 3,170 38,175,973 Sony
7 Horrible Bosses 7,189,365 11,884,319 -39.5 2,510 4 2,864 96,290,917 Warner Bros.
8 Transformers: Dark of the Moon 6,086,311 12,051,735 -49.5 2,604 5 2,337 338,007,725 Paramount
9 Zookeeper 4,301,893 8,702,055 -50.6 2,418 4 1,779 68,832,733 Sony
10 Cars 2 2,349,142 5,655,857 -58.5 1,763 6 1,332 182,118,690 Disney
11 Winnie the Pooh 1,777,625 5,162,046 -65.6 1,632 3 1,089 22,435,490 Disney
12 Midnight in Paris 1,156,947 1,804,662 -35.9 471 11 2,456 46,851,966 Sony Classics
13 Bridesmaids 859,095 1,325,985 -35.2 484 12 1,775 165,457,080 Universal
14 Bad Teacher 842,740 2,610,925 -67.7 765 6 1,102 96,718,147 Sony
15 Kung Fu Panda 2 662,153 317,481 108.6 319 10 2,076 161,681,667 Paramount
16 Mr. Popper's Penguins 467,542 935,068 -50.0 412 7 1,135 64,625,469 Fox
17 The Hangover Part II 399,026 298,592 33.6 346 10 1,153 253,027,043 Warner Bros.
18 Sarah's Key 366,690 115,708 216.9 33 2 11,112 536,650 Weinstein Co.
19 Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara 348,092 670,258 -48.1 100 3 3,481 2,562,458 Eros
20 The Tree of Life 332,997 555,573 -40.1 196 9 1,699 11,685,371 Fox Searchlight
Top 5 $ 138,678,626 $ 155,038,940 -10.6
Top 10 167,881,029 178,974,485 -6.2
Top 20 175,093,936 185,871,722 -5.8
Top 20 vs. 2010 175,093,936 141,988,565 23.3

Last Updated: August 1, 2011 at 5:35PM ET

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