Girl power and Good Friday combined to propel "Hannah Montana: The Movie" to the top of the weekend box office with $34 million in ticket sales.
The better-than-expected opening, along with a number of well-performing holdovers, continued the movie industry's solid box office results in 2009. So far this year, box office revenue is up 17% and attendance is up 15%, thanks to a string of strong debuts.
"Outside of animated product, people never used to think we could do this well in the first three-plus months of the year," observed Universal Studios president of marketing Adam Fogelson.
"Hannah Montana" is Disney's second movie based on its mega-hit TV and music franchise starring Miley Cyrus. The first, 2008's "Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour," opened to $31.1 million. Though the total was lower, last year's movie actually did significantly better on a per-theater basis, helped by the fact that it played entirely in 3-D and thus had higher average ticket prices.
Nonetheless, "Hannah Montana: The Movie" had an undeniably strong first weekend, especially given its relatively low budget. Most Hollywood insiders had pegged it to open in the $20-million range.
Although the audience was overwhelmingly made up of Cyrus' preteen girl fan base accompanied by their parents, Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Group President Mark Zoradi noted that the film also attracted an older segment than expected, with a surprising number of teenagers coming to evening shows.
"That's what really drove this movie over $30 million," he said. "Montana's" Friday was particularly strong, as many kids and parents were off for the holiday.
Since many students are on spring break this week, Disney is counting on strong weekday grosses before "17 Again," starring "High School Musical" heartthrob Zac Efron, opens Friday and probably steals much of "Hannah Montana's" audience.
Last weekend's big opener, "Fast & Furious," declined 59% to $28.8 million, a typical drop for an action film. It continues to perform particularly well overseas, where it debuted at No. 1 in Britain and Russia and stayed No. 1 in Germany, Mexico and Brazil for the second weekend in a row.
Universal's gambit to open a traditional summer film in early April has paid off handsomely, driven by young male and Latino audiences. After just 10 days, the domestic total for the fourth entry in the studio's action racing franchise is $118 million, and the worldwide total is over $200 million.
Fogelson said he now expected "Fast & Furious" to reach a total worldwide gross of about $400 million, a very healthy sum given its $85-million budget. The series' high was previously set by 2003's "2 Fast 2 Furious," which grossed $236 million.
Fox's "Dragonball: Evolution," which targeted young boys who wouldn't be caught dead at a "Hannah Montana" showing, didn't fare nearly as well. After receiving withering reviews and online disdain from fans of the Japanese anime series on which the movie was based, it opened to a very weak $4.7 million.
Fox co-financed the film with Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Partners, limiting its exposure on the roughly $25-million budget. "Dragonball" has performed better overseas, especially in Japan and China.
The weekend's third new film, "Observe and Report," also didn't make any waves. The R-rated dark comedy starring Seth Rogen opened to $11.1 million, on the low end of what was expected. Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures co-financed the $18-million movie, which just barely beat R-rated "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" to avoid being Rogen's lowest-ever opening.
Several films that have been in the market awhile experienced very modest declines, thanks in large part to the Good Friday holiday. DreamWorks Animation's "Monsters vs. Aliens" fell just 31% on its third weekend, bringing its cumulative gross to $141 million. The Nicolas Cage thriller "Knowing," from Summit Entertainment, and Paramount's buddy comedy "I Love You, Man" declined 18% and 17%, respectively, on their fourth weekends.
In limited release, the metal band documentary "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" had a decent debut. The 2008 Sundance favorite, which struggled for more than a year to find a distributor, made $34,802 from three theaters. Its best performance came from West L.A.'s Nuart, where it is projected to have made $16,472. Distributor Abramorama will expand the strongly reviewed picture to San Francisco and Seattle on Friday.
Another 2008 Sundance entry, "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," also finally saw a limited release this weekend, albeit with no fanfare and little critical support. Distributor Peace Arch Entertainment didn't even report grosses, despite the pedigree of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, on whose novel the film was based, and production company Groundswell Productions, which also made "The Visitor" and "Milk."