Dreamworks seems to have paid a price for their risky release date, as Puss in Boots (review) debuted with a comparatively soft $34 million over the weekend. We'll find out for sure on Monday if it broke the Halloween opening weekend record (Saw III grossed $33 million on this weekend in 2006), but it's still a pretty disappointing number and well below the norm for major Dreamworks cartoons. The studio has had a healthy run on the first weekend in November for the last several years (Megamind, Madagascar 2, Bee Movie, Flushed Away), but the decision was made recently to move the film up one weekend right into the heart of the kid-friendly holiday known as Halloween. As it stands for the $130-million production, the debut is the lowest opening for a Dreamworks cartoon since Flushed Away, which debuted with just $18.8 million in November 2006 (an Aardman Animations production, it nearly doubled its $64-million U.S. gross overseas). While a massive snowstorm on the East Coast likely kept moviegoers indoors on Saturday and possibly Sunday, the film's $9.6-million opening day was below par, as well. As it is, the film played 59-percent female and 55-percent over-25. It also played to a 35-percent Hispanic audience, while 51 percent of the tickets were in 3D and 7 percent were in IMAX. The comparative uptick in 3D sales makes sense, since it's some of the better 3D we've seen to date.
Perhaps they wanted an extra week before the deluge of kid-friendly competition starting Nov. 18 (Happy Feet 2, Hugo, Arthur Christmas, The Muppets, Alvin and the Chipmunks 3, The Adventures of Tintin). Maybe they hoped the genuinely good movie could parlay word of mouth into two solid weekends instead of one massive debut. But whatever the case, they now have to counter the sense of disappointment, at least stateside (Kung Fu Panda 2 made a somewhat underwhelming $165 million domestic but $663 million worldwide). At the risk of speculating, this may be a case of a "no, no... wait, it really is good!" movie. In that sense, it was marketed as an overly jokey spin-off, the kind of cheap, seemingly throw-away product that might have otherwise gone straight to DVD without the 3D element. In fact, it's a pretty terrific cartoon, full of the studio's usual technical polish and a stand-alone narrative free of dated pop-culture references or up-to-the-minute soundtrack choices. The mostly positive reviews reflected that (and most of the negative reviews probably came from dog people). If the film has solid legs and holds strong next weekend, the new release date will be vindicated. If not, expect Rise of the Guardians to move from its Thanksgiving berth right back to Nov. 2.
There were two major openers and one limited 200-screen release of note this weekend. None of them performed all that well. Fox's Andrew Niccol sci-fi chase picture In Time debuted with $12 million, which isn't a disaster (the film only cost $35 million), but was slightly under expectations. The unexpectedly timely thriller (it serves as a parable for the current Occupy Wall Street movements) was a test for Justin Timberlake as a leading man. He didn't quite pass. If this were a low-budget drama or something less overtly commercial, $12 million would be fine. But that number for a sci-fi action picture suggests that Timberlake didn't add anything to the opening weekend gross. Amanda Seyfried, as the token hostage/love interest, isn't helped, either. This one is actually lower than the $14 million that Red Riding Hood opened to with only Seyfried to sell it. Most of the reviews seemed to criticize her for daring to change her hair. Still, Fox seems almost dismissive of domestic box office these days, as they have an unparalleled overseas track record. Don't be too surprised if this one fizzles at $25 million but takes in double or triple that in foreign markets.
Johnny Depp's third foray into the world of Hunter S. Thompson (he narrated a terrific documentary about the man back in 2008) yielded unsurprisingly mediocre results. The Rum Diary opened with $5 million, which is about what should be expected of an adaption of a lesser-known Thompson story distributed by an upstart like FilmDistrict. This is actually the kind of offbeat project that got Johnny Depp labeled as box office poison all through the 1990s (ah, the days when Tim Burton had to beg to cast Depp...), so it's refreshing to see him diving back into that pool after reaping the copious box office rewards of Jack Sparrow. The only real harm is that this picture somehow cost $45 million to produce. I've said this before in one form or another, but if studios can't make cheap movies cheaply anymore, then we are all in a lot of trouble. On just over 250 screens, Roland Emmerich's Shakespeare conspiracy thriller Anonymous grossed $1 million. It was a surprisingly limited debut for a film that Sony is clearly hoping will garner positive word of mouth (it received an A- from Cinemascore). The big news, however, was overseas, as Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson's The Adventures of Tintin debuted with an eye-popping $55 million in 19 overseas markets. The motion-capture 3D action adventure debuts in America on Dec. 23, by which point it will already be a huge smash hit.
This article continues at Mendelson's Memos.