The family audience that made 'Hop' the top movie of the last two weeks finally went south. To Brazil.
The macaws of 'Rio' can crow over the year's biggest opening weekend so far, debuting with an estimated $40 million. Belated horror sequel 'Scream 4,' which some experts thought would give 'Rio' a run for its money, settled for about half as much, premiering with an estimated $19.3 million.
Some pundits expected 'Rio' to fly even higher than it did, as high as $45 or even $50 million. After all, it's from Blue Sky (the animation house behind the 'Ice Age' franchise and 'Horton Hears a Who'), it got excellent reviews, it has a family-friendly G rating, it opened on more than 3,800 screens, and it's getting 3D ticket prices. On the other hand, it wasn't based on a familiar property, and it was competing against 'Hop,' which still has a few jumps left in it during its third week. Still, 'Rio' edged out another talking-critter cartoon, 'Rango' (which opened at $38.1 million) as the year's biggest debut, and its per-screen average (an impressive $10,455 per venue) suggests that these birds will be nesting at the upper reaches of the box office for a while.
There had been a lot of anticipation for 'Scream 4,' which reunited the director, writer, and principal cast of the franchise for the first time in 11 years. Reviews were decent, and there was little other horror competition this weekend. But would the latest installment of the landmark horror/comedy series draw young audiences as well as viewers old enough to remember the original films? As it turned out, the Weinstein Company (which predicted a more modest mid-$20s take than the overly optimistic $40-million-plus predictions some industry watchers made) reports that 'Scream 4' drew an audience that was 54 percent under age 25. That's pretty good, considering that the R rating kept a lot of younger viewers out. But there weren't enough younger viewers to replace the older ones who've abandoned the Ghostface chillers. If 'Scream 4' had sold as many tickets as 'Scream 3' did when it opened in 2000, it would have grossed $50 million (due to inflation). At least its per-screen average (a strong $5,833) and the relative dearth of horror films due out in the coming weeks suggest that 'Scream 4' could have some staying power.
'Hop' lost about 48 percent of last week's business and fell to third place with an estimated $11.2 million. That was about what was expected, given the arrival of 'Rio.' Still, that was enough for the bunny feature to leap to a three-weekend total of $82.6 million.
Displaying very strong legs was 'Soul Surfer,' which lost just 30 percent of last week's business to come in at No. 4 with an estimated $7.4 million. The family drama may have taken a hit from 'Rio' as well, but it still has earned a hair shy of $20 million in ten days.
Riding 'Soul Surfer's' tail was 'Hanna,' down 40 percent to an estimated $7.3 million. That's close enough to 'Soul Surfer' that the two may switch ranks when final numbers are released on Monday. In ten days, the teen-assassin thriller has earned $23.3 million.
Also new in the top 10 was 'The Conspirator.' Robert Redford's indie drama about the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination opened on just 707 screens, but it earned an average $5,550 on each of them, good for an estimated total of $3.9 million and ninth place. That's a healthy showing for a limited-release drama in the doldrums of April, and it bodes well for the movie's wider release.
The other new indie drama that earned a lot of buzz this weekend, 'Atlas Shrugged: Part I,' boasted a similar per-screen average ($5,590). Opening on just 300 screens, the long-awaited Ayn Rand adaptation took in an estimated $1.7 million, debuting in 14th place. Whether that's enough for the film to earn back its reported $10 million budget (and ensure that the other two parts of the projected trilogy get made) is unclear. After all, if everyone who'd purchased a copy of Rand's popular novel just in the last two years had bought a ticket, the movie would have earned $4 million.
Total box office for 2011 is still down about 20 percent over the same period last year, but this was one of the first 2011 weekends that saw higher sales (about 10 percent) than the same weekend last year. With summer blockbuster season right around the corner, Hollywood is crossing its fingers that these fallow first four months may have finally finished.
The full top 10:
1. 'Rio,' $40.0 million (3,826 screens), new release
2. 'Scream 4,' $19.3 million (3,305), new release
3. 'Hop,' $11.2 million (3,608 screens), $82.6 million total
4. 'Soul Surfer,' $7.4 million (2,214), $20.0 million
5. 'Hanna,' $7.3 million (2,545), $23.3 million
6. 'Arthur,' $6.94 million (3,276), $22.3 million
7. 'Insidious,' $6.86 million (2,233), $36.0 million
8. 'Source Code,' $6.30 million (2,557), $37.0 million
9. 'The Conspirator,' $3.92 million (707), new release
10. 'Your Highness,' $3.90 million (2,772), $16.0 million
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.