All the pieces connected for “The Lego Movie” at the box office this weekend, as the 3-D animated release far exceeded industry expectations to post the biggest opening of the year.
The family film debuted with a robust $69.1 million, according to an estimate from distributor Warner Bros. Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience surveys indicated the picture would start off with about $50 million. Instead, the movie ended up collecting almost $30-million more than did “Ride Along” — previously 2014’s biggest hit — when it opened last month.
Meanwhile, George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, the World War II-set “The Monuments Men,” had a respectable debut of $22.7 million. The only other film that debuted nationwide this weekend, the teen fantasy “Vampire Academy,” showed no signs of life with a dismal $4.1 opening.
Before “The Lego Movie” hit theaters, it was clear the film was resonating with critics — the film currently has a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But those who saw the film this weekend loved it too, assigning the picture an average grade of A, according to market-research firm CinemaScore. With word-of-mouth likely to prove positive, the movie could end up grossing close to $200 million — especially given that the next family film due out, Disney’s “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” isn’t being released until March.
The success of “The Lego Movie” is a major win for Warner Bros., which isn’t a huge player in the animated space. The studio financed the film for just under $70 million, a sum considered cheap for a genre in which most movies cost upwards of $150 million to produce. Warner’s hasn’t released an animated film since 2011, when its “Happy Feet Two” only ended up with a lackluster $64 million domestically.
Dan Fellman, the studio’s president of domestic distribution, said the strong performance of “The Lego Movie” all but guaranteed a sequel — one that could even prove competitive enough to open in the summer or holiday season.
“Animation is a big part of our business, and as a market leader in the industry we should be in that footprint,” said Fellman. “The Lego brand is cherished all over the world, and you’ll see a lot more from us down the road.”
Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller — creators of the “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” franchise — “The Lego Movie” was made with full cooperation from the world’s second-biggest toy company. The film follows an upbeat construction worker (voiced by Chris Pratt) who is whisked away from his humdrum job by a nonconformist mini-figure (Elizabeth Banks) to embark on an adventure.
This weekend, the movie attracted slightly more males than females, as men comprised 55% of the audience. Roughly 35% of those who saw the film were willing to shell out a few extra bucks to watch it in 3-D.
While children and their parents flocked to “The Lego Movie,” an older crowd settled in for “Monuments Men.” About 75% of those who showed up for the Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox co-production were over the age of 35, though the film attracted both genders in nearly equal measure. The film earned a B+ CinemaScore, and will need to generate strong buzz in the weeks to come if it is to make up for its $70-million budget.
The movie’s opening is the best by far for Clooney, who co-wrote the script with his producing partner Grant Heslov. Of the four films the actor directed previously, the biggest hit was the political thriller “The Ides of March,” which launched with $10.5 million in 2011 and went on to gross $41 million.
“Adults have a lot of love for George in terms of what he represents and the films he has chosen to embrace,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution president. “He has the whole package going for him.”
Like with “Ides,” Clooney also acts in “Monuments Men,” which follows a motley crew of older, out-of-shape gentleman trying to recover famous art stolen by the Nazis. Despite boasting an all-star cast that includes Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray, the picture has largely been panned by critics. Initially thought to be a potential awards contender, the movie was first set for release in December, but last October Sony pushed the film’s opening to a less competitive time of year. Shot in Germany, the movie debuted Saturday at the Berlin Film Festival.
As for “Vampire Academy,” the film based on the 2007 young-adult novel about a high school filled with blood-sucking students failed to interest teen moviegoers in big numbers. The few who did see the Weinstein Co. release this weekend were, not surprisingly, young and female: 77% of the audience were women, and 53% were under the age of 25. Still, in its first weekend in theaters the film was unable to gross even the modest $10 million industry tracking had predicted.