DreamWorks animated film nets $17.5 mill Friday

There was no escaping the strength of DreamWorks Animation-Paramount’s “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” which opened Friday in 4,056 theaters to gross a hefty $17.5 million.

But the biggest surprise of the day was Universal’s R-rated comedy “Role Models,” which exceeded expectations in debuting to $6.7 million from 2,792 runs to come in second. U had been looking for a total weekend gross of $10 million-$12 million but, based on Friday’s haul, the laffer should come in higher.

Conversely, Dimension-MGM’s African-American comedy “Soul Men,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac, was weaker than expected. Pic opened to $1.8 million from 2,044 locations to place No. 6.

On the specialty side, Miramax’s Holocaust drama “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” based on John Boyne’s book, made its Stateside debut with $61,000 at 17 theaters for a per-engagement average of $3,565. Pic has already grossed $20 million overseas in the U.K. and Spain.

The success of the “Madagascar” toon sequel solidifies DreamWorks Animation’s second film franchise after “Shrek.” The pic’s opening-day haul of $17.5 million is the best ever for a nonholiday DreamWorks toon.

Being a known brand clearly did the trick. Last year, DreamWorks-Par’s nonsequel toon “Bee Movie” bowed to $10.2 million on its way to an opening weekend gross of $38 million.

Theater count for “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” is the biggest ever for a post-Labor Day bow. Friday average was $4,303 per engagement. Among all DreamWorks Animation’s releases, “Escape 2 Africa’s” opening day ranks third behind those of last year’s “Shrek the Third” ($38.4 million) and last June’s “Kung Fu Panda” ($20.3 million).

“Role Models” proved stiff competition for holdover laffer “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” which grossed $2.2 million on Friday for the Weinstein Co. Although that’s on par with “Zack and Miri’s” opening-day haul a week ago, that pic opened on Halloween, when theater traffic slowed dramatically. The R-rated “Zack and Miri” placed No. 4 on Friday.

The No. 3 spot went to Disney powerhouse “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” which was up more than 47% from Oct. 31 in grossing $2.5 million from 3,464 runs for a cume of $68.9 million.

Universal’s “Changeling,” directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie, came in No. 5. Period drama dipped 7% from Oct. 31 to $2.1 million for a cume of $15.4 million.

In other specialty news, Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures’ futuristic rock tuner “Repo! The Genetic Opera” grossed $26,000 at eight venues for a per-theater average of $3,247.  Roadside Attractions’ horror pic “House,” based on the tome by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, drew $118,000 at 363 locales for a $325 per-location average.

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