Happy auds a good sign for summer

In a rare coincidence, the weekend’s trio of nationwide releases — “Water for Elephants,” “Madea’s Big Happy Family” and “African Cats” — all scored CinemaScore ratings of A- or better, making it one of the best received weekends so far this year.

Even better, the widespread audience approval points augurs well for summer.

“That’s the kind of impetus we need to set up the summer,” said Disney distrib topper Chuck Viane, who described positive exit polls as essentially fostering goodwill among moviegoers.

Lionsgate’s “Happy Family” was rated best of the bunch with an A appraisal, while the other two openers both received A- CinemaScore ratings. Fox’s “Rio” also scored an A rating during its opening weekend last week.

The positive ratings are good news after some box office observers said that a dearth of well-received films was a primary reason for the depressed box office in the first few months of the year.

While good CinemaScore ratings are always a plus, however, they’re not always helpful indicators of box office performance. Earlier this month a quartet of wide openers (“Arthur,” “Your Highness,” “Hanna” and “Soul Surfer”) debuted to disparate audience opinions, ranging from an A+ for “Soul Surfer” to a C+ for both “Hanna” and “Your Highness”; “Arthur” received an overall B rating. Now in their third frame, both “Hanna” and “Soul Surfer” continue to rank in the top 10, while the other two dropped out this weekend.

An independent research company run by Ed and Harold Mintz out of Las Vegas, CinemaScore is only one factor in predicting box office.

For instance, exit polls are taken only on opening night in a random sampling of theaters, which could negatively affect adult-skewing films whose core over-25 aud typically avoids opening night. Also, ratings can be broken down by demographic, which can be more accurate than a pic’s overall score among all demos.

Still, CinemaScore has become the benchmark in recent years for rating films, and in the case of this weekend, a hopeful barometer of an improved mood going into the summer.

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