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Shrek 4 Opens With $70 Million, While MacGruber Implodes

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By any normal standards, a movie opening with $70.8 million in three days would be a pretty big success. So, before we get into what this means for the Shrek franchise, let's talk that number in cold detail for a minute. First of all, it gives the fourth Shrek picture a pretty solid 3.4x weekend multiplier, which was superior to the 3.1x scored by Shrek the Third over its opening weekend. Second of all, in the grand scheme of animated films, it is still the fourth-biggest opening weekend for a cartoon, behind only Shrek 3 ($121 million), Shrek 2 ($108 million), and The Simpsons ($74 million). Also, for what it's worth, it's the fifth-biggest opening weekend for a 'fourth chapter' in box office history, behind Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ($102 million), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($101 million), X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($85 million), and Fast and Furious ($71 million). Of course, if you glance at the numbers posted by the previous two Shrek sequels, you start to see the reason for concern. Come what may, anytime a sequel opens with $50 million less than the prior installment, that's generally a bad thing. Shrek Forever After just made less on its opening weekend than Shrek 2 made on its second weekend ($72.1 million).

Despite bad press going into the weekend about the growing cost of 3D and IMAX 3D ticket prices in the midst of a recession (in New York City, IMAX 3D tickets ran $20 a pop), the majority of audience members still felt the need to splurge, with 61% of all tickets being sold in a 'premium' format. Demographically, the film played 59% female and 56% under 25 years old. For what it's worth, the film earned an 'A' from Cinema Score. This was obviously a franchise that had been burned by the prior mediocre entry. Of course, the confused marketing (which basically switched the title a month before release) didn't help either. The main tagline, 'What the Shrek just happened?' meant nothing to those who didn't already know the It's A Wonderful Life storyline of said sequel. Plus, the pun in said tagline probably wasn't a favorite for parents to explain (nice job advertising your PG-rated family-film with a pun-variation on the R-rated phrase 'what the f-ck just happened?'). While the previous Shrek films had long-legged runs ($42m opening weekend-to-$267m total and $108m opening weekend-to-$441m total respectively), the third picture made just 2.6x its opening weekend, ending up with $322 million. As I mentioned yesterday, the comparative franchise collapse on display is almost identical to Batman & Robin in June 1997. Adjusted for inflation, the Batman & Robin figures (original numbers - $42m opening, $107m domestic finish) would be scarily reminiscent of where Shrek Forever After could be headed (adjusted for inflation - $74m opening, $185m domestic finish).

Yes, it benefits from 3D and IMAX 3D ticket prices and the relative consistency of those screens (which Dreamworks will keep until June 18th), so a better multiplier than Shrek the Third is not out of the question. Still, all three prior Shrek pictures opened on the same weekend (which is in itself impressive), so they all had the holiday advantage. Shrek grossed more on its second weekend than its first, and Shrek 2 set a record for biggest non-opening weekend at the time. But there is no reason to presume that Shrek: The Final Chapter will perform significantly better than the prior sequels. The third picture had a 2.66x weekend-to-total multiplier, which would give the fourth Shrek picture just $189 million in domestic totals. That's no flop, but it would put the Dreamworks cartoon short of Monsters Vs. Aliens ($198 million), Madagascar ($193 million), How to Train Your Dragon ($210 million and counting), and Kung Fu Panda ($215 million). Obviously, the film could earn better word of mouth than the not-that-bad third film, and Marmaduke (June 4th) can only do so much damage before Toy Story 3 opens on the 18th of June. Still, in this day and age, even a $60 million+ opening will struggle to make it to $200 million, as Quantum of Solace, Madagascar 2, Twilight, and Fast and Furious demonstrate. Point being, unless overseas numbers explode, Shrek: The Final Chapter will live up to its name as a series finale.

The other major opening was a complete and utter loss. Even at a cost of just $10 million, the Saturday Night Live comedy MacGruber is a box office flop with just $4 million over opening weekend. The marketing was all over the map with this one. Universal marketing once again dropped the ball. Despite debuting at the SXSW Film Festival to rave reviews, Universal and Rogue hid this picture till the night before opening day, and then kicked themselves when the finished product did in fact garner satisfactory notices. As I wrote yesterday, why the hell did they hide this from critics? Once again, if your movie is good (or at least gets the job done), why not let those who read reviews know that? MacGruber isn't great , but it has solid laughs and doesn't overstay its welcome. It's not nearly as ambitious or disciplined as Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, can't decide whether its lead character is a master spy or a bumbling idiot, and it doesn't use Val Kilmer nearly enough. But I digress, I guess the big mystery, why did Universal, Rogue, and Relativity move this one into the heart of summer (which implied that it was good) and then more or less hide the movie (which implied that it was bad)? With an R-rating, the marketing team pretty much had to hide most of the punchlines, but the material that was released to non-online sources made the film feel like something aimed at twelve-year old boys, whom of course could not technically buy tickets to said comedy. Regardless, the film was pretty cheap and I imagine it will find a cult audience on DVD.

Enough about the newbies, how did the various holdovers do this weekend? Read the rest of this article at Mendelson's Memos to find out.