'Home' run could help lift DreamWorks' batting average

DreamWorks scores a 'Home' run: A look at the studio's recent hits and misses

It was good to be "Home" this past weekend as DreamWorks Animation's new movie starring Rihanna and Jim Parsons claimed the No. 1 spot at the box office, debuting with an estimated $54 million in the U.S. and Canada.

In doing so, the film about a plucky teenage girl (Rihanna) and an outcast alien (Parsons) saving Earth gave the upstart studio a welcome success after a string of commercial misfires that led to a round of layoffs recently.

Although "Home" was by no means a hit with critics, many of whom found it overly familiar, the movie pleased audiences, who gave it a solid A grade, according to the polling firm CinemaScore. "Home" also became the latest film to underscore how attracting female (60% of "Home's" audience) and non-white (52%) moviegoers can pay dividends at the box office.

DreamWorks executives are likely pleased that "Home" won the weekend as a non-sequel or spinoff, notching the studio's third-highest opening for such a film (behind 2008's "Kung Fu Panda" and 2009's "Monsters vs. Aliens").

That's particularly notable because some of DreamWorks' popular franchises, like "Madagascar" and "How to Train Your Dragon," are showing signs of slowing at the domestic box office, and many of its non-sequel films have struggled of late.

DreamWorks' most recent film before "Home," for example, was "Penguins of Madagascar," a spinoff of the popular animal-centric cartoon series. Absent franchise stars Ben Stiller and Chris Rock, "Penguins" took in $83 million domestically, falling well short of its $132 million production budget. (It did fare well overseas, grossing $286 million, but studios see a smaller cut of international revenue.)

"How to Train Your Dragon 2" performed much better at the box office last summer, grossing $177 million domestically on a $145 million budget and adding $442 million overseas. Although the sequel was a solid hit, it took in about $40 million less than its predecessor in North America. (Granted, "Dragon 2" cost about $20 million less to produce.)

Meanwhile, DreamWorks' non-follow-up films have mostly underperformed in recent years. "Mr. Peabody & Sherman," based on the "Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" characters and released in March 2014, took in $111 million domestically on a $145 million budget, prompting a $57-million write-down.

DreamWorks also took a $13.5-million write-down for 2013's speedy-snail tale "Turbo" and an $87-million write-down for 2012's folklore fantasy "Rise of the Guardians."

The studio did, however, find success in 2013's caveman family adventure "The Croods," which could see "Home" following in its footsteps. "Croods" cost about $5 million more than "Home" (which cost $130 million) and opened $10 million lower; it went on to tally $187 million in North America and $400 million overseas over its theatrical run.

"Home" still has a ways to go to match or surpass those numbers, but it's off to a strong start. As for DreamWorks' movies going forward, time will tell if the studio can go "Home" again after all.

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