Among Dreamworks animated features, the only fall release to have a bigger second weekend was Madagascar 2, which opened on this weekend back in 2008 with $63 million and fell 44 percent to $35 million in weekend two. Among all Dreamworks animated films, the only bigger second weekends are the Shrek films, the aforementioned Madagascar 2, and Kung Fu Panda ($33.6 million coming off a $60-million debut). So what we're seeing is a Dreamworks cartoon that had one of the lower opening weekends in recent history but had among the bigger second weekends ever for the studio. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what legs are. And that is what can happen when you make a surprisingly good movie. The picture has $76 million in 10 days, which doesn't set any records among the Dreamworks catalog. But it should hold up just fine next weekend, too, as the new releases (Jack and Jill and Immortals) are not quite as family-friendly. It should crack $100 million next weekend, while how it fares against Happy Feet 2 and the onslaught of family fare over Thanksgiving (Muppets, Hugo, Arthur Christmas) will determine if it's a $150-million domestic grosser or a $200-million domestic grosser. Regardless, this is a shockingly good second weekend number and a testament to good-old-fashioned word of mouth.
Coming in at second place was the weekend's expected champion, Tower Heist (review and trailer). The Ben Stiller/Eddie Murphy caper comedy scored $25 million, which was indeed slightly below expectations. The film famously was supposed to be a guinea pig for a three-weeks-after-opening-day VOD plan, which was junked after theater owners threatened to boycott the film. Whether it was a case of the marketing not being all that appealing (more on that in a second) or audiences merely opting to check out Puss in Boots, the $85-million Brett Ratner film may face an uphill battle for profitability. The marketing was basically a victim of the movie's quality. In that I mean the film works surprisingly well as a low-key, character-driven comedic drama. Yes, Murphy's shtick is amusing, but it's never allowed to dominate the picture nor undermine the reality of the narrative. While that's good for the movie (Ben Stiller's scenes with Alan Alda and the entire first act are terrific), it presented Universal with a lack of "buzz-worthy" moments or lines to market. Confession: I passed on the press screening and had to force myself to go to a Friday morning matinee, only to enjoy myself far more than expected.
The relatively flat trailers were the culprit, but the truth is that Ratner's picture works because it doesn't force the comedy or the action to places it doesn't belong. As far as Ben Stiller debuts that aren't in the kid-friendly realm, this rates eighth, right below Tropic Thunder, which also opened lower than some expected but displayed genuine legs at the end of summer 2008. Among Eddie Murphy debuts that aren't overtly kid-friendly, this is fifth, just below his comeback Nutty Professor remake back in 1996 (of course, that $25.4-million debut would be around $45 million today). Point being, this is a solid opening for both of the actual box office draws, squarely in their comfort zone but not reaching for the record books. Just for fun, it's the second biggest opener for Alan Alda (What Women Want opened to $33 million in December 2000), Matthew Broderick's second biggest debut behind Godzilla, and Tea Leoni's third biggest debut (behind Jurassic Park III and Deep Impact). And it's clearly Gabourey Sidibe's top opening, although the per-screen average for Precious' opening weekend ($108,000 per screen on 18 screens two years ago this weekend!) was a bit bigger. The plus side is that the film should get decent word of mouth and will be the grownup movie-going alternative for pretty much the next month. Next weekend will tell the tale.
In the category of genuinely disappointing, you have A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas (review and trailer). The mediocre third installment of the John Cho/Kal Penn comedy franchise earned $13 million, which is actually just below the $14.9 million earned by Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay back in April 2008 without the 3D price-bump (95 percent of tickets were for the 3D version, which makes sense, as there were few 2D screens made available). The film earned generally positive reviews (not from me, though), but the franchise may have run out of steam. The picture received a B from Cinemascore and only cost $20 million, so New Line/Warner Bros should make money once it comes to DVD (the only reason we got a sequel is because the original did crazy DVD business). Like the Austin Powers series (also from New Line), I think the original Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is a masterpiece, my favorite comedy of its respective decade, while I kind of hate both sequels in both respective franchises. This new one felt cheaper and more contained than the prior installments, which implied that the third film probably would have gone straight to DVD if not for the 3D gimmick. Even if the film collapses and tops out under $30 million (an open question at this point, of course), this series is cheap enough to merit another installment if the participants so choose. But this time, with all due respect to Elias Koteas (whom I adore), try to find a place in your schedule to accommodate Christopher Meloni.
The above numbers are estimates, and this article continues at Mendelson's Memos.