Sunday, 10 June 2012

U.S Box Office Report - 8th - 10th June 2012

1.     Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted  - $60.3M - $60.3M
2.     Prometheus  - $50M - $50M
3.     Snow White and the Huntsman  - $23M - $98.4M  
4.     Men in Black III  - $13.5M - $135.5M  
5.     The Avengers  - $10.8M - $571.8M
6.     The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - $3.2M - $31M
7.     What to Expect When You're Expecting  - $2.7M - $35.7M   
8.     Battleship  - $2.2M - $59.8M
9.     The Dictator - $2.1M - $55.1M       
10.     Moonrise Kingdom - $1.5M - $3.7M

With summer season barely a month old, there are still plenty of major releases yet to grace our screens. This weekend it is the turn of Prometheus, director Ridley Scott's long awaited return to the science fiction genre. It's joined by the third entry in the Madagascar series: Europe's Most Wanted. Elsewhere, Snow White and The Huntsman will be hoping for a decent second frame hold while Men in Black 3 will be aiming to clear $130M. Looking ahead, next weekend sees the release of the musical Rock of Ages and Adam Sandler's That's My Boy, followed a week later by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pixar's Brave. Summer is just warming up.

The first Madagascar film was released in 2005. It featured a group of four Bronx zoo animals, who due to various complications after an escape attempt, found themselves being shipped to a Kenyan game reserve. However, en route, the crates in which the animals are being carried end up falling off the ship and winding up on the shores of the titular island. The film follows their attempts to adapt to life outside of their captivity comfort zone while trying to find a way back home. Madagascar featured the voice talent of Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Ben Stiller and Jada Pinkett-Smith, and while the film only recieved average notices, it went on to make $193M, with a further $339M abroad. A sequel was quickly put into production and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa was released in Novemer 2008. This time around the returning characters would find themselves in continental Africa when the plane on which they're travelling (which was being piloted by a group of Penguins, who were so popular in the original film that they earnt their own spin off) crash lands. This set up the new adventure as the animals discover their lost families and find many other creatures like themselves, finally feeling as if they are home. While not as strong domestically ($180M finish), overseas it would make almost $425M.

A second sequel was announced during a press tour in 2009, with Dreamworks' Jeffrey Katzenberg stating that work had begun on the third film with a view to release in the summer of 2012. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted would see the familiar team return, finding themselves in Monte Carlo after another attempt to get back to New York goes awry. Hunted by animal control (fronted by Captain Chantel DuBois, voiced by Frances McDormand), the group accidentally end up joining a travelling circus and embark on a series of Europe-wide adventures. As with the previous films, Rock, Stiller, Schwimmer and Pinkett Smith would all return to voice their characters, joined this time around by Bryan Cranston (as Siberian lion Vitaly) and Jessica Chastain playing Gia the Jaguar. According to sources, this third flick was produced for $145M, (compared to $150M for part 2 and $78M for the first film) but expectations of a good return were high. Madagascar 3 would be the first family friendly release since The Pirates!, and the Aardman flick had barely made a dent at the box office ($28M at the time of writring). In fact, to find a successful family movie (at least one aimed at the younger market) we need to go back to the early March release of The Lorax, which opened to $70M and currently sits on a $211M total. Furthermore, this new picture would command the higher priced surcharge for being in 3D, an option the studio hoped many families would take up. The original film opened to $47M while its sequel scored an even more impressive $63M 3-day total. Review-wise, this new entry is the best of the bunch, scoring a 76% approval rating with critics (that's versus 55% and 64% for the first film and sequel respectively). While it would be battling Prometheus, Madagascar 3 had the advantage of screen count (over 600 more locations) and the larger family demographic.

The weekend battle kicked off almost straight away. Thanks to Prometheus' midnight sneak figures (more below), Madagascar 3 was at a slight disadvantage, which led to it losing the first day race - but only by around $1M. The sequel chalked up a $20.4M Friday, which is a best for a non-Shrek Dreamworks animated release and comfortably becomes the best opening day for the Madagascar series. While things began close, Europe's Most Wanted pulled ahead on Saturday, thanks in no small part to the family matinee performances. With the no.1 spot secured, it was now a wait to see if this would become the best opening weekend of the series. It would need more than $63M to achieve this and while the film soared close, it ultimately fell short by around $3M. That $60.3M 3-day figure puts it at fifth on the Dreamworks Animation opening frame list, behind the three Shrek sequels and, of course, the second Madagascar film. Given the lack of family features of late, there would have been a hope that the picture would have opened above $70M but that's of little consequence. Madagascar 3 should see a solid hold next frame up against the new releases but after that it faces the potentially huge Pixar release, Brave, though by that time the picture should be well north of $120M and that's before we get to how well the film plays abroad (Both Shrek Forever After and Kung Fu Panda 2 made over half a billion dollars each overseas).

The idea for a fifth 'Alien' film began circulating as far back as 2002. Ridley Scott, director of the original film was said to be interested in returning to the series, with a view to investigating the origins and mythology surrounding the alien species. Scott and Aliens' director James Cameron met to discuss working on a prequel/sequel and the later began developing ideas with another writer. Later, Fox approached Cameron with the idea for a crossover movie which would involve the Predator creature from the self titled film (seeds of this were sewn during the final sequence of Predator 2). This turned out to be  something that the Avatar director was against, and ceased work on his alien script when the studio opted to push forward with the film that would become Alien Vs Predator. By 2006 he stated that he would not return to the series in any further capacity. Over time, Ridley Scott had continued to talk about a further alien film and indeed, Sigourney Weaver has mentioned discussing the idea of returning as Ellen Ripley with him on numerous occasions in the intervening years. However, it would take until 2009 before a proper entry into the long running franchise took its first solid steps towards the big screen.

In May of 2009, Fox discussed plans to reboot the Alien series, something that was quickly downplayed with the announcement that a new Alien film would act as a prequel to the original film. Scott was seemingly on board too, but clashed with the studio when he chose commercial director Carl Erik Rinsch to helm the new flick - Fox claiming that they would only move forward on the project if Scott returned as director. By July of the same year, Scott officially signed on board and began work with writer Jon Spaihts, who had been hired on the strength of a prequel treatment he had written. At that point, the film was scheduled for a December 2011 release. Spaihts and Scott worked on the then titled 'Paradise' throughout the remainder of the year, fleshing out the writer's idea of a connection between the human story and the existing alien franchise, while hopefully answering some of the long standing questions raised by the series. By April 2010, the duo were on their fourth draft  and two months later the director announced that the script was complete and shooting would commence January 2011. However, in what was to become a major directional change for the project, Lost writer Damon Lindelof was asked by Scott to appraise Spaihts' script. The writer felt the link to the original series, and Alien in particular, was too pronounced and advised the director on how a bigger, more original story could be created from what they already had. Keen to avoid rehashing cues from his first sci-fi epic, Scott liked Lindelof's take and the two set to work on what, by January 2011, would become known as Prometheus. Also pleased with the new direction were Fox, who were able to revise the budget down from $250M for Spaihts' screenplay, to around $160M for Lindelof's (the official shooting budget is said to be $120-130M). Around the time the film became Prometheus, there started a very public distancing of the picture from the Alien franchise and the connection between the two was now kept vague during open discussion. Both director and new writer were keen to point out that while the story now took place before Alien, it would not be a prequel to that film and would contain, in Scott's words "strands of Alien's DNA, so to speak". While Prometheus would continue to be an Alien prequel in the public's eye, all concerned continued to downplay its influence, but would go on to state the film took place in the same universe as the original series.

With a shooting script and budget finally in place, pre-production ramped up. In truth, work had been going on for over a year at that point, mainly related to conceptualizing the late 21st century. Secrecy was paramount, and all concerned were under strict non-disclosure agreements - potential cast members even had to read the script under supervision in Scott's production office. A decision was made to shoot footage using practical effects over CGI where ever possible, in an effort to keep costs down and to give the performers something 'real' to act against (Not to mention, speed up post-production).  Furthermore, cinematographer Darius Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean series, Dark City) convinced the director that filming in 3D would be no more difficult than conventional methods. Shooting took place on location in Iceland, Spain and Scotland, with extensive sound-stage work at Shepperton. Prometheus would occupy eight stages at one point and required the famous 007 stage to be extended by 30% in order to accommodated the expansive sets. Originally set to shoot from March until September 2011, the film finally wrapped December, with additional footage shot in January 2012. A fast paced post-production period(actually running almost parallel to filming, one assumes) would allow Scott to hand over the finished picture late March.

The plot behind the film would see archaeologists uncovering a star map in the works of several unrelated ancient cultures. They propose this to be an invitation left by man's creators, pinpointing  the distant moon LV-223. A scientific expedition to the planet is undertaken, but what begins as a journey that may finally reveal the origins of life on earth quickly descends into its potential destruction. Playing the central role of archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw would be Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who shot to fame in the original adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Anne Hathaway, Carey Mulligan and Abbie Cornish were also considered but as early as August 2010, Scott had Rapace in mind and she would officially join the cast in January 2011. At the same time, Michael Fassbender signed on to play David, a mysterious character who was revealed during the film's production cycle to be an android. Joining those two would be Idris Elba, as Janek, captain of the Prometheus, and Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, a Weyland representative sent to oversee the mission (one of a number of sly nods to the original series, it is Weylan-Yutani who owned the Nostromo in the original Alien film).

After a presence at the San Diego Comic-Con in July 2011, the first poster for Prometheus appeared mid-December. Prior to that, a bootlegged copy of the teaser showed up online in November but was quickly removed by the studio. The official teaser was unveiled just before Christmas, and did its best to keep things vague about the direction the film would be taking. A full trailer appeared in March 2012 revealing some of the backstory but a further international trailer felt like a step too far for many. In what seemed almost to be a crisis of confidence, Fox continued to reveal more and more footage, either via clips or TV spots. Without the Alien tag on which to sell the film, it appeared the studio wanted as many people as possible to know just what they were getting. While this isn't a new strategy, for a film built around so much secrecy, it seemed to go completely against the grain - indeed, people even joked that one could stitch the clips and trailers together and see the entire film. The studio also launched a number of viral campaigns for the film, featuring a fake keynote speech and adverts for the David 8 Android series, amongst others. With the flick's release date finally set, the only question that remained would be its rating. While Fox would have demanded a PG-13 cut if the original $250M budget had stayed in place, they seemed happy to go with Scott's uncut vision, even if it meant losing a percentage of the audience thanks to an R-rating. As with Battleship and The Avengers, numerous overseas territories would receive Prometheus before it made its North American debut - the apparent reason, at least in Europe, being to avoid the start of Euro 2012. Initial reviews turned out to be above average, though some of the more science fiction orientated websites deemed the picture a disappointment; it got off to a solid overseas opening of $35M.

Domestically it scored a strong 74% rating at Rotten Tomatoes but questions hung heavy as to how it would play with the general public. The  current top three films in the country would all impact it in one way or another, and while the Madagascar sequel played to a different demographic, it would still have some effect thanks to also being in 3D - theatre owners expecting to make more money from the family film than an R-rated sci-fi flick would be happy to take screens from one to give to the other. Prometheus got off to a great start, making $3.6M from midnight sneaks - better than both Men In Black 3 and Snow White and the Huntsman. That early boost allowed the film to best the Madagascar sequel and take the number one spot on Friday with an impressive $21.4M (almost as strong as Inception, which made $21.8M). As mentioned, Dreamwork's animated feature pulled ahead as the weekend began proper but Prometheus took a dip, thanks to Friday front-loading. By the close of play on Sunday, Ridley Scott's return to science fiction had earnt $50M - that puts it at twelfth on the R-rated openers chart, just below Jackass 3D (and makes it the second best debut for a Scott directed picture, after Hannibal's $58M). According to Box Office Prophets, this is only the second time that two films have made more than $50M during their opening weekends (the other being Wall-E and Wanted's opening frame). Some front-loading was present as the flick dropped 25% from Friday to Saturday, but Fox can't be anything but pleased with that opening figure. In the weeks running up to the film's release, the studio had let it be known that they were expecting an opening of somewhere around $30-35M, though as with Snow White last weekend, this could have been pre-emptive damage control. The only blip on the horizon is its cinemascore, which is becoming increasingly important to the undecided cinema-goer. Prometheus' came in with a 'B', the same as Snow White, and that may mean a slightly tougher second frame. Given its rating, genre and competition, the film has gotten off to a great start and all eyes will now look towards how it faces off against the new releases next weekend. Overseas Prometheus continues to play well, having made $91.5M as of Sunday.

With a $56M opening frame, Snow White and The Huntsman got off to a good start last weekend, and continued to play well through out the week, making $5.3M on Monday and $5.5M on Tuesday. As we entered the new frame and Huntsman's second Friday, the film had amassed a running total of $75.4M. Given the huge budget attached and the middling word of mouth its been receiving, Universal must be pleased with that figure and will have been looking for a decent hold against Prometheus. On Friday, Snow White dropped a harsh  63% on its opening day figure, a higher initial fall than it could have done with and in stark comparison to the 21% dip witnessed by Mirror Mirror (although Huntsman has already taken more money than Tarsem's flick did in its entire run...). The picture barely recovered over the remainder of the weekend to finish up with a $23M second frame total (an overall drop of 59% on last frame). With $100M assured over the next few days, Universal will still be cautiously optimistic going forward as it does somewhat point to a sub $150M domestic finish. That would leave the picture to rely on its growing international take ($46M and counting) to cover any short falls. Whatever happens next frame, the studio are already happy enough with the flick's performance to start work on a follow up.

Men In Black 3 only got to enjoy one week at the top and saw a frame to frame drop of 46% in its second weekend on release - almost something of a best case scenario according to some analysts. On its third Friday, with increased competition, MiB3 managed to add $4.2M to its total, finishing up Sunday night with $13.5M, that leaves the flick down 52% on last frame. There's no doubt the new competition impacted the movie and it'll only continue to get tougher. By this time, Day 17, the original film was up to $158M while the first sequel had managed $148M. Domestically, this third entry looks to be heading to a $160-170M finish but overseas, things are looking much healthier. The film opened incredibly well three weeks ago and had played well in its subsequent frame, enabling it to cross the $285M mark around day 12 of its release (pushing the global total above $400M in the same time frame). Even with Prometheus added into the international mix, the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones picture kept steady, allowing it to hit $352M this weekend. That's already put the film at no.3 in the worldwide grossing chart for 2012, behind only The Avengers and The Hunger Games.  [Interestingly, the fourth biggest film of 2012 is The Intouchables, the foreign language flick which has barely gained a release in North America despite making over $340M internationally].

With nothing left to prove at this point, The Avengers can rest upon its laurels. Having seen off Dark Shadows, Battleship and given Men in Black 3 something to think about (less than a million dollars separated the picture's Monday and Tuesday figures),  Marvel's warhorse added a further $10.8M this frame, to bring its domestic tally to $571M. Internationally the film remains popular, and crossed the $800M mark sometime in the last five days (Its current total is $824M international, $1.39B global total).

Still out at less than 1,300 locations, the comedy drama The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel manages yet another frame amongst the big flicks. It added a further $3.2M this weekend and while budget details aren't as yet available, it's safe to say its global return of over $100M leaves the Maggie Smith/Judi Dench picture well into profit.

What To Expect When You're Expecting  is up next. It managed to finally get past The Dictator this weekend, at least in terms of chart placing, adding $2.7M. Made for $40M, What To Expect has so far made $35.7M. Elsewhere, Battleship made only $2.2M this frame. Universal, while buoyant about Snow White's performance, must be stinging each time they see this picture appear further down the chart. Given what was spent bringing the film to the big screen, in terms of both production and promotion, even a global total above $300M will offer them little, if anything, in the way of profit.

The Dictator should just about surpass Bruno's $60M finish but will make little more on top. Despite Sacha Baron Cohen's best efforts, General Aladeen just hasn't clicked with audiences in the way he had hoped. It may fall short of recouping its $65M production budget domestically but is already above $60M overseas. Had the last few weeks been busier release-wise, the film might have struggled to manage a fourth weekend in the top ten.

Playing incredibly well in an extremely limited location count (just 96 screens at the time of writing) has allowed Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom to finally crack the top ten in its third weekend on general release. The Ed Norton/Bruce Willis comedy drama added a staggering $1.5M this frame, to give it a release total of $3.7M. Further expansion is on the cards and like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, may see it able to sit amongst the blockbusters for a few weeks.

One further note, this weekend saw The Hunger Games finally cross the $400M mark.

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