One-hundred-million-dollar mega-openings are now long ago and “far, far away” for Shrek and pals.
“Shrek Forever After,” the fourth and purportedly final chapter in the most successful animated film series of all time, opened to $71.3 million, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures.
That’s 41% less than the opening weekend grosses of “Shrek the Third,” which also had a mid-May release date in 2007. The actual number of people who saw the new film from DreamWorks Animation tumbled by more than half from its predecessor, when ticket-price inflation and 3-D surcharges are considered.
“Shrek” wasn’t the only disappointment this weekend as “MacGruber,” based on the “Saturday Night Live” skit parodying 1980s television series “MacGyver,” posted the worst opening -- $4.1 million -- for any movie in wide release this year.
While bigger than most animated features, the launch of “Shrek Forever After” was below even the most conservative estimates going into the weekend, based on pre-release surveys. It wasn’t immediately clear what led to the softer-than-expected start for the picture, which once again featured the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz and was heavily promoted by DreamWorks as “the final chapter” in the 9-year-old “Shrek” saga.
Possibilities include audience fatigue with sequels and with fast-rising ticket prices, particularly for 3-D pictures.
Those who saw “Shrek Forever After” gave it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. DreamWorks is hoping that means good buzz will drive the film to play well at least until June 18, when the hugely anticipated “Toy Story 3" will take nearly all of its 3-D screens.
But after its weak start, “Forever After” has a tough climb just to reach the $323-million domestic total of “Shrek the Third.”
Internationally, the story may be different. Though it won’t open in most foreign markets until late June and July, after soccer’s World Cup, the new “Shrek” movie launched in Russia this weekend, where it squeaked past “Avatar” to post the biggest-ever opening there with $20 million. It still could end up coming close to or exceeding the $476-million international total of “Shrek the Third” and ultimately make a healthy profit on its production budget of about $165 million.
“This was on the low end for a ‘Shrek’ film,” DreamWorks Animation worldwide marketing chief Anne Globe said of the domestic start. “But we’re very optimistic that [‘Forever After’ is] on its way to becoming a worldwide hit.”
DreamWorks executives are likely glad they have developed other franchises such as “Kung Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon” that can replace Myers’ green ogre, though the studio does have a “Shrek” spinoff featuring the character Puss in Boots in the works.
“MacGruber,” meanwhile, set a low in the undistinguished commercial history of movies based on “Saturday Night Live” skits. Even “The Blues Brothers” had a bigger opening in 1980, when ticket prices were a fraction of today’s.
Financed by Relativity Media through its Rogue Pictures label for less than $10 million, “MacGruber” garnered an average audience grade of C-minus.
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‘Prince’ pales in comparisons
“Prince of Persia” didn’t exactly get a royal reception overseas this weekend. Walt Disney Studios’ big-budget video game adaptation opened in 19 foreign markets, including every major European country except France, one week ahead of its debut in the U.S. and the rest of the world.
The film sold an estimated $18 million in tickets, 5% more than the opening of “National Treasure” in the same countries in 2004 but 13% less than the original “Iron Man” in 2008 and 24% less than 2005’s epic “Kingdom of Heaven,” among the pictures that Disney is using as benchmarks for “Persia.”
-- Ben Fritz
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*--* Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada: *--*
*--* Movie 3-day gross Percentage Total Days in (Studio) (millions) change from (millions) release last wknd 1 Shrek Forever After $71.3 NA $71.3 3 (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount )
2 Iron Man 2 $26.6 -49% $251.3 17 (Marvel/Paramount)
3 Robin Hood $18.7 -48% $66.1 10 (Universal/Relativi ty)
4 Letters to Juliet $9.1 33% $27.4 10 (Summit)
5 Just Wright (Fox $4.2 49% $14.6 10 Searchlight)
6 MacGruber $4.1 NA $4.1 3 (Rogue/Universal)
7 Date Night $2.8 -26% $90.7 45 (Fox/Dune)
8 A Nightmare on Elm $2.3 -51% $59.9 24 Street (Warner Bros./New Line)
9 How to Train Your $1.9 -63% $210.9 59 Dragon (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount )
10 Kites (Reliance Big) $1 NA $1 3 *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change from Year-to-date Change from (in millions) 2009 gross(in billions) 2009 $150 -15% $4.04 4.8% *--*
*--* Sources: Times research and Hollywood.com Box Office Los Angeles Times *--*