With his remake of "Arthur," Russell Brand set out to prove that he can play a leading man. But over the weekend, moviegoers seemed to prefer him as a cartoon.
"Hop," in which the comedian voices a computer-animated bunny, grabbed the No. 1 spot at the box office for the second consecutive weekend with $21.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor Universal Pictures. Brand's new picture, a fresh take on the 1981 comedy "Arthur," debuted to a soft $12.6 million and was nearly topped by the action film "Hanna," which collected $12.3 million.
"Soul Surfer," about a teenage surfer whose arm is bitten off by a shark, got off to a good start with $11.1 million. The weekend's biggest disappointment was "Your Highness," a stoner comedy set in medieval times, which grossed only $9.5 million.
"Hop" continued to dominate the competition, dropping only 42% from last weekend. But "Arthur," which was produced by Warner Bros. for around $40 million, came in below industry expectations. Those who did show up to see the film about the booze-loving millionaire gave it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore. To improve the film's financial prospects in the coming weeks, the studio is hoping to capture the interest of the under-18 crowd, which indicated it enjoyed the film over the weekend, giving it an A-minus. Older moviegoers, who made up 64% of the weekend audience, did not like the film as much, perhaps because they were comparing it with the original version.
"I think the older audience was a little taken aback by the change in tone from the original," acknowledged Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.
Brand has yet to prove that he can successfully open a live-action movie. "Get Him to the Greek," in which he played an over-the-top rock star, opened last summer to a decent $17.6 million and went on to gross $91.4 million worldwide. But Brand was not the marquee name in that movie, which also featured Jonah Hill.
Fellman said "Arthur's" performance was not fully indicative of the actor's box-office clout.
"I think that Russell is a movie star. It's only a matter of time until he breaks through, and it's just a question of what the big one will be," he said.
The earlier "Arthur," which earned actor Dudley Moore an Oscar nomination, was a sleeper hit 30 years ago, when it made $95.5 million domestically. Based on the new version's poor opening, it seems unlikely that the film will end up grossing anywhere close to that amount.
Meanwhile, "Hanna," which stars Saoirse Ronan as a teenage girl raised in the wilderness and trained to be an assassin, drew a younger audience, 64% of which was younger than 35. The film played well to a diverse crowd in both big cities and small towns, but those who saw it did not love it. Audiences gave the film an average grade of C-plus, indicating it could disappear from theaters quickly because of bad word of mouth.
But the 80% female audience who turned up for "Soul Surfer" seemed enamored with the movie, giving it a rare A-plus. The movie, being distributed by Sony Pictures' TriStar and marketed by the studio's faith-based division Affirm Films and FilmDistrict, was made for $18 million. That means the film is off to a solid start, especially considering some of the teenage girls who propelled it to success are on spring break.
Because the movie has strong religious themes, much of the advertising campaign was aimed at Christian audiences in conservative parts of the country, including the South. Rory Bruer, Sony Pictures' distribution president, attributed the film's success to its targeted push as well as positive feedback from 350 advance screenings.
"It definitely had a strong start in the Midwest and the South, but the film has an uplifting message that speaks not only to the Christian contingency but to a broad audience as well," Bruer said.
This weekend's other comedy, the R-rated raunch-fest "Your Highness," flopped. Universal Pictures spent around $50 million to produce the movie starring Danny McBride, James Franco and Natalie Portman. The film was aimed at young males — and though they made up most of the film's audience, the movie still received a poor average grade of C-plus.
"We took a risk on a film that was original, bold, outrageous and had great talent. It was reasonably budgeted, so it's not a total disaster," said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution. "It just didn't fully connect with audiences, and so be it."