‘Aliens’ lands at top of box office

'Monsters' crushes competition with $58.2 mil

Moviegoers found nothing alien about paying a few dollars more for a 3-D viewing of DreamWorks Animation/Paramount’s “Monsters vs. Aliens,” which enjoyed the best opening of the year, grossing $58.2 million.

“Monsters’ ” bow was good news for other 3-D tentpoles waiting in the wings. The 1,550 3-D screens playing the toon ponied up 58% of the entire gross, although those runs made up just 28% of the total theater count of 4,104. The only downer for pic was that Jeffrey Katzenberg and Par had wanted many more 3-D screens in place by this time.

The domestic B.O. was up a whopping 40% over the same frame last year, thanks to “Monsters” and Lionsgate’s horror entry “The Haunting in Connecticut.”

“Haunting” grossed an estimated $23 million from 2,732 screens to come in No. 2 after “Monsters” on the strength of teenagers, and particularly teen girls, taking advantage of the friendlier PG-13 rating. Of the four Lionsgate pics released this year, three have opened north of $20 million.

Weekend’s third new release, “12 Rounds,” fell short. Distributed by Fox and produced/financed by World Wrestling Entertainment’s film division, the John Cena starrer grossed an estimated $5.3 million from 2,331 runs to come in No. 7.

Summit’s Nicolas Cage sci-fi actioner “Knowing” held well. In North America, pic dropped 40% in its second sesh to an estimated $14.7 million for a cume of $46.2 million.

Thanks to Cage’s popularity overseas, preliminary results show “Knowing” winning the weekend race at the international B.O., grossing $9.8 million at 1,711 runs in 10 markets. “Knowing” opened No. 1 in the U.K with $3.55 million, matching the bow of “National Treasure 2.” Foreign cume is $14.7 million for a worldwide total of $51.7 million.

Par’s DreamWorks laffer “I Love You, Man” placed No. 4 domestically, declining just 29% in its second weekend to an estimated $12.6 million from 2,717 runs for a cume of $37 million.

Universal’s “Duplicity” didn’t fare as well in its second outing, declining 46% to an estimated $7.6 million from 2,579 theaters for a domestic cume of $25.6 million. Overseas, it did moderate business, grossing $6.9 million at 1,809 in 19 markets, led by a $2.5 million French launch. Foreign total is $12.7 million for a worldwide gross of $38.3 million.

“Watchmen” continued to fade worldwide. Domestically, it fell 59% in its fourth weekend to an estimated $2.8 million from 2,010 runs for a cume of $103.3 million. Overseas, it grossed $4.6 million for the weekend, led by a moderate $1.2 million Japanese opening. Foreign cume is $68 million for a worldwide cume of $171 million.

That is well short of what Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures and Paramount had hoped for, considering “Watchmen” cost roughly $150 million to produce and likely north of $70 million to market worldwide. Warners and Legendary put up the lion’s share, with Paramount taking a 25% stake. Warners is distributing domestically; Paramount, overseas. Posing a further drain, Fox is owed 8% of the gross as part of a legal settlement with Warners, plus development costs.

But it’s “Monsters” more than any other film that will be the topic of conversation as theater owners and studios meet up in Las Vegas this week for ShoWest. 3-D has been promised as a way to fatten the theatrical revenue stream, as well as allow filmmakers to explore new ground. “Monsters” is the widest 3-D bow to date.

“Monsters” nabbed the third-best March opening ever, behind Warner Bros.’ “300” ($70.9 million) and 20th Century Fox sequel “Ice Age: The Meltdown” ($68 million). Also, it’s the second-best opening for a DreamWorks Animation pic after “Kung Fu Panda” ($60.2 million), which had the advantage of opening in summer.

“Certainly, it shows us that audiences are very excited about the 3-D experience. We’re off to a monstrous start,” said DreamWorks Animation worldwide marketing topper Anne Globe, adding that the 3-D runs attracted more adults than an average family film.

“Monsters” also is on a winning streak overseas, although it is rolling out slowly to coincide with varied spring vacations. Pic grossed $4.6 million from only eight markets for the weekend, bringing its foreign cume to $13 million for a worldwide tally of $71.2 million.

Katzenberg, who has become the public face of the 3-D movement, has promised to make every one of his pics in 3-D, beginning with “Monsters.” Yet he had expected there to be 2,500 3-D locations by the time “Monsters” bowed.

His hand was forced in terms of deciding to open “Monsters” in March, a time of year that DreamWorks Animation usually avoids. Toon was set to have opened in May, but then Fox slated “Avatar” to open then as well. Both studios knew there wouldn’t be enough screens to support two big pics. But after “Monsters” moved, Fox pushed back the release of “Avatar” to December. By that time, DreamWorks was locked into the March date.

Until now, the average theater owner has charged $2 more for a 3-D ticket, outside the biggest markets. DreamWorks Animation and Paramount urged circuits to up that amount to at least $3. Imax tickets to see “Monsters” are running $5 more than a regular theater ticket.

“Monsters” played in only 143 Imax locations, yet Imax grosses accounted for 9% of the $58.2 bow.

As with DreamWorks Animation, Lionsgate happily touted the debut of “Haunting.” Of the audience, a full 62% were female, while 44% of the aud was under age 17.

“We’re on a nice streak,” said Lionsgate prexy of distribution Steve Rothenberg. “We were debating whether to go out with an R or a PG-13 rating. Going with a PG-13 really paid off.”

While “12 Rounds” came in on the low end of expectations, Fox senior VP of distribution Bert Livingston said the pic did appeal beyond just the wrestling fan base. He said of the audience, 57% were male. The WWE’s film division hasn’t been able to make a strong play since entering the film biz.

Fox had much better luck over the weekend internationally, where “Dragonball: Evolution” continues to do boffo biz in Asia in advance of its domestic launch in early April. Film’s foreign cume through Sunday was $21.4 million.

In North America, the specialty box office made inroads.

Overture’s “Sunshine Cleaning” came in No. 11 overall for the weekend, grossing $1.3 million as it expanded to 167 locations in its third week for a cume of $2.5 million, and a per-location average of $8,048.

“Valentino: The Last Emperor” nabbed the best per-location average at the domestic box office — $15,107 (“Monsters” was $14,181). The Truly Indie release grossed an estimated $30,034 from two locations in its second weekend for a cume of $88,401.

Roadside Attractions’ “Goodbye Solo” nabbed a per-location average of $13,412 in its debut, grossing $40,540 from two runs in New York and Chicago.

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