‘Shrek’ tops slow holiday weekend

3D stalwart bests 'Sex and the City,' 'Prince'

A gender-diverse slate wasn’t enough to rouse moviegoers this Memorial Day Weekend as light launches characterized a trim weekend at the domestic B.O.

Instead, audiences opted for Paramount and DreamWorks Animation’s family-friendly 3D fourquel “Shrek Forever After,” which topped the weekend with an estimated $55.7 million at 4,367 locations during the four-day holiday frame.

Toon’s take easily overpowered the weekend’s wide releases: Disney’s guy-centric “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” earned $37.8 million at 3,646 locations, while Warner Bros.’ femme romp “Sex and the City 2” opened below studio expectations with an estimated $37.1 million at 3,445.

Overall, the longer weekend took in 19% less than last year’s four-day Memorial Day box office and ranks as one of the weakest performances for that holiday.

Overseas auds shelled out more royal returns as Disney’s “Prince” topped with $61 million in 47 markets for a global haul of $133.3 million. “Prince” helped push 2010 overseas revenues for Disney Intl. past the $1 billion mark.

In limited U.S. release, Sony Pictures Classics’ Jean-Pierre Jeunet-directed “Micmacs” earned an estimated $41,621 at two locations over the long weekend for a healthy per-screen average of $21,811.

“Shrek” benefited from what is typically a family-driven holiday, with a 53%-47% female-male split. Both “Prince” and “SATC 2” acted as counterprogramming to the 3D toon; “Prince” skewed 60% male, while “SATC 2” drew a 90% female aud.

DWA head of worldwide marketing Anne Globe credited the “Shrek” franchise’s staying power among families as the toon’s primary B.O. draw.

“When you have a holiday weekend, often you want to do something with the entire family,” Globe said. “Fans have been invested in the ‘Shrek’ story for many years, and families want to see how the last chapter ends.”

Last weekend, the 3D toon launched with a less-than-expected $70.8 million, but as the only major 3D title in the market until Disney’s “Toy Story 3” bows June 18, Par said it expected “Shrek” to hold well in subsequent frames. “Shrek,” which dropped 39% in its soph sesh, reps the market’s newest addition on the kidpic front. Studio’s fellow 3D toon “How to Train Your Dragon,” which has cumed an estimated $213.1 million domestically, also has profited from being the biggest draw among moppet auds.

Among adult moviegoers, the New Line-produced “SATC 2” became the highest-grossing R-rated opener over a Memorial Day weekend. Pic beat long-standing record holder “Beverly Hills Cop II,” which Par released in 1987 for a three-day total of $26.3 million.

“This has been a tough weekend, traditionally, for R-rated movies,” said Warner prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman. “But by diffusing the opening day, it gives us an opportunity to have a normal drop in week two.”

Warner decided to frontload the pic’s bow by launching “SATC 2” on Thursday for a five-day total of $51.4 million. The early bow, coupled with an R rating, may have watered down the pic’s cocktail-soaked debut.

Pic earned $3 million in midnight screenings, adding to Thursday’s $14.2 million take. And while the early launch wasn’t able to kickstart the sequel’s weekend gross past its predecessor’s $57 million debut, Fellman said midweek figures, along with a B CinemaScore rating among its core aud, should help lift overall totals. The first “Sex” installment cumed $152.6 million domestically in 2008, with a global haul of $374.1 million.

“The revenue is there,” Fellman said. “It’s just going to come from a different pattern.”

Disney did a more traditional rollout of “Prince,” opening with $10.2 million on Friday for a slight uptick on Saturday. Studio’s domestic distrib topper Chuck Viane credited the film’s opening, which was in line with studio expectations, to a broader demo base. “Prince” played evenly among the age groups, with a B CinemaScore rating.

“I think this film was much more balanced than people gave it credit for,” Viane said, noting its overseas potency. “The sword-and-sandal genre also plays really well in the international marketplace.”

Based on a popular vidgame, “Prince” toplines Jake Gyllenhaal as the film’s prince, with Brit thesp Gemma Arterton as a fellow regent, who team up to save the world. Pic reps a possible franchise-starter for the Mouse House.

Among the frame’s holdovers, Par’s “Iron Man 2” fared best, grossing a four-day estimate of $20.6 million, slipping 38% in its fourth frame. Domestic cume for the comicbook sequel stands at $279.2 million behind the first film’s $318.4 million total. Trailing “Iron Man 2,” Universal’s Russell Crowe starrer “Robin Hood” took in an estimated $13.6 million during the long weekend, down 45%, bringing its cume to $86.3 million in its third frame.

Indie distrib Newmarket launched historic epic “Agora” Stateside at two locations, earning an estimated four-day total of $43,262 for a per-screen average of $21,631.

While “Agora” was a major hit in Spain, where it has cumed $31.4 million, pic struggled to find U.S. distribution after its North American debut last year at the Toronto Film Festival. Film stars Rachel Weisz as the female philosopher Hypatia and is directed by Spanish helmer Alejandro Amenabar.

Led by Disney’s “Prince,” the international fray saw prominent returns, with “SATC 2” contributing a shapely $27.6 million during its day-and-date debut in 17 markets.

The U.K. repped the pic’s top market, with $9.2 million on 529 screens, besting the first film by 24% in that territory. In Germany, the sequel’s $7.3 million debut on 982 screens, including previews, now reps the market’s highest-grossing opening this year.

“SATC 2” will expand to several key markets next weekend, such as Australia, Spain, Japan and France, where the pic has generated substantial buzz.

“Shrek,” which has cumed $53.5 million overseas, has yet to open in many major markets. Russia stands as the 3D toon’s top territory, where it grossed a standout $12.2 million in its soph sesh, accounting for the majority of “Shrek’s” $18.5 million weekend take. Toon is set to launch in Australia on June 17.

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