Never underestimate the power of a talking bunny.
In case Jake Gyllenhaal hadn't learned that lesson a decade ago in 'Donnie Darko,' he was schooled again as 'Hop' jumped higher than all expectations and opened with a stunning $38.2 million, according to studio estimates, marking the best opening of 2011. Gyllenhaal's own 'Source Code' debuted a distant second with an estimated $15.1 million.
Predictions for 'Hop' guessed that the kids' movie, starring the voice of Russell Brand as the Easter Bunny's hare apparent, would open at around $27 million, given the film's poor reviews and the fact that Easter is still three weeks away. Then again, poor reviews didn't stop 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' (a movie that was, like 'Hop,' a live-action/animation hybrid directed by Tim Hill) from becoming a huge hit. Also, saturation marketing and a basketful of cross-promotional partners made the movie inescapable. And Brand proved, as he did in 'Bedtime Stories,' that his usually blue act can be toned down for children. As a result, its opening edged out that of the year's previous record holder, fellow talking-animal flick 'Rango,' which debuted with $38.1 million a month ago.
'Source Code' did about as well as expected, considering its tricky premise, distributor Summit's hit-or-miss record for wide releases without the word "Twilight" in the title, Gyllenhaal's mixed track record as a leading man and the continued strength of similar adult-skewing thrillers ('Limitless,' 'The Adjustment Bureau') in theaters. Still, the time-travel drama was helped by some of the year's best reviews, and it should have no trouble earning back its modest $32 million production budget.
The week's third new wide release, 'Insidious,' did surprisingly well. The star-free, low-budget ($1 million) horror chiller, the first release from new distributor FilmDistrict, opened on just 2,408 screens and was expected to earn around $10 million. Instead, it scared up an estimated $13.5 million, largely on the strength of marketing that emphasized the film's bloodlines, the first collaboration between the makers of the 'Saw' and 'Paranormal Activity' franchises. Since it'll be another two weekends before 'Insidious' has any horror competition (from April 15's 'Scream 4'), the movie should have some legs at the box office.
Last week's winner, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,' suffered a steep drop of 57 percent and fell to fourth place, earning an estimated $10.2 million. The family film was hurt by weak word-of-mouth (kids didn't like it as much as the first 'Wimpy Kid' movie last year) and the novelty of 'Hop.' In ten days, it's earned $38.4 million, about what 'Hop' earned in three days.
'Limitless' continued to hold up well, falling just 38 percent this week to an estimated $9.4 million, good for fifth place. Its three-weekend total is $55.6 million.
The full top 10:
1. 'Hop,' $38.2 million (3,579 screens), new release
2. 'Source Code,' $15.1 million (2,961), new release
3. 'Insidious,' $13.5 million (2,408), new release
4. 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,' $10.2 million (3,169), $38.4 million total
5. 'Limitless,' $9.4 million (2,838), $55.6 million
6. 'The Lincoln Lawyer,' $7.1 million (2,606), $39.6 million
7. 'Sucker Punch,' $6.1 million (3,033), $29.9 million
8. 'Rango,' $4.6 million (3,134), $113.8 million
9. 'Paul,' $4.3 million (2,550), $31.9 million
10. 'Battle: Los Angeles,' $3.5 million (2,263), $78.5 million
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.