Audiences wild about ‘Madagascar’

'Role Models' exceeds box office expectations

There was no escaping the strength of “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” as it bowed domestically to an estimated $63.5 million from 4,056 theaters.

Family pic, from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount, narrowly scored the best opening of the year for an animated title, besting the $63 million for Disney-Pixar’s “Wall-E,” according to the preliminary results.

“Escape 2 Africa” — which also the saw the seventh best opening of all time for a toon — marked a rollicking start for the holiday box office. But the biggest surprise of the weekend was Universal’s Seann William Scott-Paul Rudd laffer “Role Models,” which grossed an estimated $19.3 million from 2,792 runs, according to Rentrak.

Most, including U, thought the raunchy R-rated comedy would gross $10 million-$12 million, given that the Weinstein Co.’s R-rated “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” debuted to $10 million the week before. The Kevin Smith pic held up well in its second week with $6.5 million.

The other new release of the weekend, “Soul Men,” was the odd man out. The MGM/Dimension Films comedy, starring Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac, underperformed in grossing an estimated $5.6 million from 2,044 runs to come in No. 6 for the sesh.

Among new specialty releases, Miramax’s Holocaust drama “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” based on John Boyne’s book, posted a per-screen average of $15,000 in grossing an estimated $225,000 from 17 theaters in eight markets.

Led by the “Madagascar” sequel, the weekend was up roughly 30% over the same frame last year.

“I think we exceeded expectations. It’s a great entry for the ‘Madagascar’ franchise and for the box office overall,” DWA prexy of worldwide marketing Anne Globe said. “I think we succeeded in broadening the audience.”

Sequel opened ahead of the first “Madagascar,” which debuted to roughly $61 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend in 2005.

It wasn’t only families and kids in the seats, either, as tweens and teenagers — mostly female — turned up. There was some evidence that “Escape 2 Africa” was something of a date movie, according to Globe.

Families made up only half the audience on Friday and two-thirds on Saturday.

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” also points to the success of the DreamWorks Animation/Paramount relationship, and it’s the fifth Par release of the year to open north of $40 million. Sequel’s theater count of 4,056 was the widest ever for a post-Labor Day bow.

Of the toon’s total gross, $3.6 million — a full 6% — came from 130 Imax theaters, reflecting the importance of Imax and the higher ticket prices at its venues.

Directed by David Wain, the $19.6 million bow of “Role Models” caught Hollywood by surprise.

“I think the marketing campaign told people they were going to have a good time,” Universal prexy of distribution Nikki Rocco said.

Some 51% of the laffer’s aud were under age 25, while 53% were male.

Rocco also noted the playability of Universal’s “Changeling,” the Angelina Jolie starrer directed by Clint Eastwood. Pic placed No. 4 for the frame, dipping 22% to an estimated $7.3 million from 1,855 theaters; cume is $20.6 million in its second weekend in wide release.

Among other holdovers, Disney’s “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” remained a powerhouse in its third weekend, coming in No. 3 and declining 39% to an estimated $9.3 million for a cume of $75.7 million.

Lionsgate’s “Saw V” placed No. 7 in its third frame, declining 57% to an estimated $4.2 million for a cume of $52.3 million.

Up next, Fox Searchlight’s “The Secret Life of Bees” also continued its hit run, declining 22% to an estimated $3.1 million from 1,481; cume is $30 million in its fourth frame. “Bees” was No. 8 for the weekend.

Freestyle’s “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” stayed on the top 10 chart in its second sesh, declining 43% to an estimated $3.1 million from 2,576 runs for a cume of $10 million.

In its seventh frame, DreamWorks/Paramount’s thriller “Eagle Eye” came in No. 10, bumping its cume to $96.4 million.

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