CATEGORIES Movies
As I often say, ranking is a relatively irrelevant stat that shouldn't be used as a barometer for box office success. Both wide releases opened rather well this weekend, and in this case the weekend gross of the second place film is arguably a more impressive achievement. Anyway, the number one film of the weekend was Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (review) which debuted with a pretty big $60 million. That's pretty close to the $63 million that Madagascar 2 opened with back in 2008 and the $61 million that the first film debuted with over its four-day Memorial Day 2005 opening weekend. I had theorized that the film might explode even higher due to the utter lack of kid pics this summer (a la The Lorax earning $70 million in March after months of no family films), but I'm not going to pretend that this debut is 'disappointing'. It's still a solid debut that's right in line with the previous entries of the series, give or take inflation and the 3D bump. It's almost identical to the $60 million debut of Kung Fu Panda in June 2008 and the $59 million debut of Dreamworks' Monsters vs. Aliens in March of 2009. The film earned an 'A' from Cinemascore and while it's not quite that good it is a lot of visually creative fun. That most kids are already out of school made the film's Friday ($20 million) play like a proverbial Saturday, meaning that there was no Saturday jump ($22 million) as is sometimes the case with animated films. The film played 45% 3D, 56 under 25 years old.

The picture pulled in a decent 2.9x weekend multiplier, or similar to Kung Fu Panda (3.0x) and Wall-E (2.7x) in June 2008 and Toy Story 3 (2.65x) in summer 2010. The film is quite entertaining and is pretty perfect casual family viewing (my 5-year-old rather enjoyed it in glorious 2D), so the film could very well clean up again next weekend. After that it's a question of how well it copes with direct competition, with Brave opening in two weeks and Ice Age 4 debuting on July 13. The first film ended up with $197 million domestic while the second film finished with $180 million, so this arguably more entertaining sequel (the second film has a superior story, natch) should approach or surpass those numbers. The last few non-Shrek Dreamworks cartoons (How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss In Boots) have earned $490-$665 million worldwide boosted by their sheer visual quality and global 3D interest. That's fitting as Dreamworks was doing the 3D-cartoon thing long before Avatar made 3D a 'fad'. And the two prior Madagascar films grossed $532 million and $602 million worldwide respectively. So, with $75 million in the overseas till already and a worldwide opening of $135 million, expect an equally big payday for the $145 million threequel and a part four in a few years.

Fox's would-be Alien prequel was a giant question mark going into the weekend. The $130 million sci-fi thriller was eagerly anticipated by geeks but it was unknown if general audiences would flock to a somewhat cryptically-marketed (which was in fact spoiler-heavy) R-rated film that seemed like a mega-budget version of The Thing. But Prometheus (review) rode decent (if not superlative) reviews and the legacy of a 33-year old franchise to a solid $50 million debut. The film has been in release overseas for a week prior to its U.S. debut and as such has already topped $91 million overseas for a $141 million worldwide total. No matter what I think of the film, Fox deserves kudos for marketing what for all intents-and-purposes was advertised as an original property to a solid debut. Like Paramount's work on Star Trek back in 2009, Fox took a film tied to a well-known but somewhat cult-ish sci-fi franchise and rebooted the series to quasi-blockbuster figures (a $79 million opening weekend). But while Star Trek cost $200 million (or more?) and didn't do very well overseas, Prometheus cost 'just' $130 million and thus doesn't have to set records to be profitable (what a novel concept...). This is actually the first weekend of summer thus far without a wide opener costing $150 million or more and depending on how much Brave, Ice Age 4, and/or The Amazing Spider-Man cost, it may be July 20 before we get another mega-budgeted film (The Dark Knight Rises cost $250 million, which it should earn back over its first worldwide weekend). The film played 57 percent male with a whopping 18 percent of its grosses coming from its 294 IMAX screens.

The highest-grossing film in the Alien series is Aliens with $85 million, so that unadjusted benchmark should be toppled by next weekend. This is Ridley Scott's second-biggest debut, behind the $58 million opening of Hannibal back in February 2001 and ahead of the $43 million debut of American Gangster in November 2007. Adjusted for inflation and the 3D bump means it sold fewer tickets than both. There is some gloomy news, as the film had a pretty awful 2.3x weekend multiplier and in fact did 7 percent of its business in midnight screenings alone. Normal for a geekish but not insanely-anticipated debut is 4-6 percent. The word of mouth is mixed-negative, and frankly they are correct. For what it's worth, the film earned a B from Cinemascore. Point being, all signs point to pretty heavy frontloading, meaning that we *may* see a weekend-to-total ratio similar to Green Lantern or Watchmen, which would give Prometheus a $111 million domestic finish, or right ahead of the $108 million finish of Black Hawk Down. Still, and this bears repeating, even if the film doesn't play well over the long haul, it's still cheap enough that it doesn't have to set the box office sky on fire to make money and/or spawn a sequel. With an R-rating and a reasonable and realistic budget, Prometheus stands as a solid example of how to make a tentpole without risking the whole tent. I didn't like the film and it may in fact be a quick-kill blockbuster, but there are still some positive lessons to be taken from this one.

This article continues, with box office info for holdovers in wide and limited release, at Mendelson's Memos.