'Mars' misfires with dismal $6.8 mil opening

In a weekend of extremes at the domestic box office, Sony’s “Battle: Los Angeles” scored 2011’s second-highest three-day opening at $36 million (behind “Rango”), while the $150 million 3D toon “Mars Needs Moms” became one of Disney’s biggest misfires ever with a dismal $6.8 million.

Fighting against a mopey B.O. market, “Battle: Los Angeles” played at 3,417 locations and exceeded Sony’s expectations — but was in line with most other bizzers’ predictions.

Still, the weekend’s overall box office came in about 14% behind the same frame last year.

On the international front, much attention was focused on Japan, where turmoil in the wake of the devastating earthquake caused the market’s biggest studio release, Disney’s “Tangled,” to debut 60% below expectations. Pic’s Saturday-Sunday gross tallied $1.6 million on 156 screens for a per-screen average of $10,256.

Overall attendance was down an estimated 50% in Tokyo, according to local TV reports.

The weekend’s other two domestic wide releases, “Mars Needs Moms” and Warner Bros.’ “Red Riding Hood,” seemed to perpetuate the malaise among moviegoers. “Red Riding Hood,” with a less-than-expected $14.1 million, didn’t pop with its core “Twilight” crowd. But given the film’s manageable budget of just under $40 million (not including P&A costs), the femme-driven fairy tale retooling should still have Warners execs breathing easy.

The same can’t be said for the Mouse House, whose high-priced “Mars Needs Moms” — the final Disney outing from producer Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers production company — bowed with even less than what most industryites, including Disney execs, had projected.

The motion capture pic’s dismal opening leaves little hope of recouping its hefty pricetag, with an additional $60 million marketing spend, according to insiders. Disney will look to ancillary markets and overseas grosses to carry the burden, though even with the additional help, the toon is likely to fall short.

“Mars Needs Moms” opened day and date in 14 international markets (or 25% of the overseas marketplace) with an estimated $2.1 million.

Paramount’s toon holdover “Rango” held best in the U.S., down just 39% for an estimated weekend take of $23.1 million. Toon’s cume is $68.6 million after two weeks of release.

Focus Features’ “Jane Eyre” got off to a strong start in limited Stateside release, posting an estimated per-screen average of $45,579. Pic, which stars Mia Wasikowska, grossed $182,317 at four locations in New York and Los Angeles.

“If the market would have allowed it, we could have used more seats,” said Focus distribution exec Jack Foley, who referred to the film’s coastal success as a hopeful sign for broader attendance across America.

Sony’s had a strong start to 2011: “Battle: Los Angeles” makes the studio four-for-four on No. 1 openings. The alien invasion pic enjoyed heated tracking several weeks leading up to its release, especially with males, who made up 68% of the opening weekend audience. And despite its PG-13 rating, “Battle” still skewed more toward adults, with 55% of the aud over 25.

“I just think it was an incredible collision of the marketing and the film itself,” said Rory Bruer, prexy of worldwide distribution for Sony. “It’s a great result.”

“Battle” received mostly negative reviews but fared better in exit polls, with an overall B CinemaScore rating and an A- appraisal among moviegoers under 25. The film, which cost $70 million, according to insiders, was backed by an aggressive marketing campaign targeted mostly to men. Pic’s stars, led by Aaron Eckhart, promoted the film at U.S. armed services bases, including Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

“Mars Needs Moms” had been approached with skepticism from most bizzers, who questioned how well families would respond to ImageMover’s nonholiday CGI-performance capture toon. The toon shop’s two previous titles for the Mouse House, “The Polar Express” and “A Christmas Carol,” benefited from their literary origins and prime box office playtime through Christmas.

Based on a book by Berkeley Breathed, creator of the “Bloom County” comicstrip, “Mars Needs Moms” launched during a tougher season.

Toon, which came out of former Disney head Dick Cook’s regime, scored 68% of its opening gross from 2,400 3D locations, including 194 3D digital Imax screens.

“If some people had taken the time to see the movie, they would have seen some exceptional 3D,” said Disney distrib topper Chuck Viane. Toon received a B CinemaScore rating.

“Some filmmakers like Bob Zemeckis and his entire team, including Simon Wells, put a couple years of their lives into this movie, and that’s where my disappointment lies: with them,” Viane added.

“Mars Needs Moms” is a rare misstep for Disney, which guided the year’s first toon, “Gnomeo and Juliet,” to nearly $90 million at the domestic box office. Even with “Mars” and “Rango” competing for family attention, “Gnomeo” dropped only 51% this weekend — its fifth frame — for a take of $3.5 million.

Meanwhile, Warners opener “Red Riding Hood” faced some unexpected competition as the drop for CBS Films’ similarly targeted “Beastly” was a better-than-expected 48% in its second outing, with an estimated $5.1 million; cume is almost $17 million. Even “Battle: Los Angeles” attracted more femmes than bizzers anticipated.

Jeff Goldstein, Warners exec VP of domestic distribution, attributed “Red Riding Hood’s” soft opening in part to the depressed box office. “The tracking was there, and I think the marketing was solid,” Goldstein said. “It’s just a tough market right now.”

According to Warners, the film played to a 64% female audience, with 56% under 24.

Among the weekend’s holdover crop, Universal’s “The Adjustment Bureau” grossed an estimated $11.5 million, down 46% in its soph sesh, with a Stateside cume of $38.5 million. The Weinstein Co.’s Oscar winner “The King’s Speech” saw its biggest drop (42%) since its release on Nov. 26. Pic has cumed a resilient $129 million domestically.

At the specialty B.O., IFC Films bowed Juliette Binoche starrer “Certified Copy” at five locations, averaging a fine $16,800 per screen for a weekend total of $84,000. Pic will expand to the top 20 U.S. markets over the next two weeks.

“Rango” nabbed the weekend’s overseas crown, with an estimated $23 million from 46 markets, bringing its cume to $46 million, while “Battle: Los Angeles” debuted day and date in 33 markets with an estimated $16.7 million. “Battle” scored top ranking in Russia with $4.6 million, followed by a $3.6 million bow in South Korea.

In the U.K., “Rango” was down a mere 5%, grossing $2.6 million, which trailed slightly “Battle’s” weekend gross there at $3 million.

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