DreamWorks' 'Shrek' decks competish with boffo $42 mil

“Shrek” scratched its unusual name in the animation annals this weekend, as DreamWorks’ laffer grossed an estimated $42.1 million in the best non-sequel toon opening ever and the studio’s biggest bow to date.

If the estimate holds up, the children’s book adaptation would best the $40.9 million opening weekend for Disney’s “The Lion King” in June 1994 and fall short only of the $57.4 wide bow of “Toy Story 2″ over three days of the 1999 Thanksgiving frame.

At DreamWorks, perf outpaced last May’s $34.8 million debut for live actioner “Gladiator,” a previous high point for the studio.

This weekend’s only other wide bow, the Jennifer Lopez starrer “Angel Eyes” from Warner Bros. and Franchise Pictures, managed only a middling $9.5 million at No. 4.

But 20th Century Fox touted sell-out crowds in one theater each in Gotham and L.A. for the Nicole Kidman musical “Moulin Rouge” as boding well for that pic’s wide release on June 1.

Distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said Fox didn’t conduct exit interviews on “Rouge,” but he added auds featured visibly broad demos, as pic grossed an estimated $165,086 for an average $82,543 per theater.

Industrywide, the weekend’s $103 million in total box office repped an 11% decline from grosses for the same frame last year.

Disney’s toon fantasy “Dinosaur” opened at $38.9 million to top the 2000 weekend. Also last year, a third sesh for “Gladiator” took in $19.7 million at No. 2, and DreamWorks laffer “Road Trip” peeled out with $15.5 million in third place.

Bottoming out

But the real difference a year ago came in the bottom half of the top 10, where grosses were consistently stronger than in the latest frame. For instance, the $2.5 million for Universal’s “The Flintstones in Viva Las Vegas” in the year-ago No. 10 spot would have been good enough for sixth place this frame.

In a year-to-date comparison, 2001 is still 8% ahead of last year, despite mixed weekly comparisons in recent months. That’s mostly because of the quick start for the current year due to long-playing holdovers from holiday 2000.

This week’s “Shrek” perf was powered by a colossal 3,587 engagements, the second-widest bow ever after last May’s 3,653-location opening for “Mission: Impossible 2.”

Studio exit polling showed auds evenly split among family and non-family patrons, with mothers comprising 57% of the parents in family contingents. Non-family auds were said to split evenly male and female, and above and below age 25.

Ninety percent of all patrons rated “Shrek” “excellent” or “very good,” and a similar percentage said they would recommend pic to others, DreamWorks distrib topper Jim Tharp said.

“You have to think it will play most of the summer based on the exit research,” Tharp said.

More than four years in the making at the DreamWorks/PDI computer-ani house in Palo Alto, highly marketed pic had a total production budget of $48 million, according to DreamWorks. Tale of a lovable ogre features vocal perfs by Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and John Lithgow.

‘Mummy’ money

U’s “The Mummy Returns” finished No. 2 this weekend, unwrapping $20.5 million in its third frame, and Sony’s “A Knight’s Tale” rode to third place after lancing $10.7 million in its soph sesh.

As with the Franchise racing pic “Driven,” which drove to No. 7 this weekend with $1.9 million in its fourth frame, Warners will only get a distrib fee for “Angel Eyes,” a cop romancer skewing to young femmes.

“Our estimate prior to the weekend was $9 million to $10 million, so we’re right in that range,” Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman said. “If we had any shortfalls, it was in the smaller markets.”

But pic played well in urban theaters, and distrib hopes “Eyes” will have good legs over the coming Memorial Day weekend and subsequent frames.

On deck

Of course, Disney’s B.O. behemoth “Pearl Harbor” is set to hit theaters in a big way over the holiday frame. Rivals are giving Michael Bay-helmed actioner so wide a berth that no other major releases have been skedded for next weekend.

Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake expressed pleasure in the hold for jousting actioner “Knight’s Tale” in the latest frame. Pic’s B.O. armor was chinked by a relatively modest 35% drop from its opening weekend as it reached a 10-day cume of $32.2 million.

“We’re on a path to somewhere between $60 million and $70 million — which is a profitable path,” Blake said.

Pic has an estimated negative cost of $40 million.

In the specialty market, Artisan’s “Startup.com” posted another strong frame. Dotcom docu grossed an estimated $86,000 in nine theaters for an average $9,556 per venue a week before expanding to 15 markets from a current four.

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