Toon hybrid beats expecations to win frame

After last year’s global toon success “Despicable Me,” Chris Meladandri, via his toon shop Illumination Entertainment, has proven a much-needed inhouse hitmaker for Universal. Illumination’s live action-toon hybrid “Hop” far exceeded industrywide expectations, bowing this weekend to an estimated $45.1 million worldwide.

“Hop,” which had been expected to land near $25 million at Stateside plexes, grossed $38.1 million at the domestic box office, while an additional estimated $7 million came from 26 day-and-date overseas territories.

Toon played nicely with parents and children under 13, repping 73% of the film’s U.S. opening, and solidified the current strength of the family aud. If U’s estimates hold, “Hop” will rank as 2011’s highest domestic opener so far, narrowly besting another family-driven film, Paramount’s “Rango,” whichopened to $38 million domestic during the March 4-6 weekend.

“Once again, (Meladandri) gives audiences something that he knows they’re going to enjoy,” said U prexy of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco. “And because of that right now, we’re the highest opening for the year and certainly Universal’s highest so far this year.”

Meanwhile, the weekend’s other, modestly budgeted openers, Summit’s “Source Code” and FilmDistrict’s “Insidious,” are both well on their way to profitability thanks to bows on the high end of pre-release projections. “Source Code” tallied an estimated $15 million through Sunday; “Insidious,” $13.5 million.

Trio of wide openers were followed at the domestic B.O. by 20th Century Fox’s soph player “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,” which dropped 57% in grossing $10.2 million. Decline is comparable to that of the first “Wimpy Kid,” which fell 54% in its second outing.

Specialty biz just ok

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics bowed Oscar-winning Danish film “In a Better World” at four locations in New York and L.A., with an estimated weekend take of $35,379 for a per-screen average of $8,845. That’s an OK start for the film, especially a foreign-lingo pic. But it’s still less than last year’s Oscar winner in the foreign-language category, “The Secret in Their Eyes,” which had an opening per of $16,787 from 10 locations on April 16.

The Weinstein Co.’s PG-13 re-release of Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech” held fine, down 23% on 55 fewer runs vs. last weekend for an estimated weekend gross of $1.2 million at 1,007 locations.

Between virtual print fees and P&A costs, TWC spent several million dollars on the newly rated relaunch; how well the film holds will determine if the move proves profitable for the company. Domestic cumed is an estimated $136.6 million.

Despite some impressive openers and solid holdovers, the Stateside box office was still down approximately 30% compared to the same weekend last year, according to studio sources. That’s mostly because of 2010’s $61 million debut of “Clash of the Titans,” as well as Easter, which fell during this frame last year. This year Easter falls on Sunday, April 24.

U’s Rocco insisted that “Hop” will still be a viable choice for families by the time Easter rolls around. The long lead-up allows “Hop” to benefit from tykes already on spring break.

“Hop,” budgeted at a reported $63 million, received an A- CinemaScore rating, which bodes well for the film as it looks to play through to the holiday. Pic also skewed mostly female (63% of those over 13), another hopeful sign since women are typically the primary decisionmakers for a household.

Lacking the summer boost of “Despicable Me,” Meladandri’s “Hop,” from director Tim Hill, was never expected to reach the heights of the inaugural Illumination pic, though U did employ on “Hop” a few marketing tricks that worked for “Despicable Me.”

Studio started promoting the personalities of the film’s chicks in its marketing materials, much as it did with the minion characters from “Despicable Me.” Universal also rolled out exclusive merchandise for “Hop” at Walmart stores, where customers could design their own Easter baskets with “Hop”-themed candy and other products.

Pic’s stellar start (and a promising one-two punch from Illumination) should be welcome news to the newly merged NBCUniversal: Universal Pictures was on shaky ground after several 2010 misfires.

Summit’s Jake Gyllenhaal mystery-thriller “Source Code” landed on the high end of studio predictions. Pic, financed by Vendome Pictures for $32 million, fared slightly less well than “Hop” in exit polls, with a B CinemaScore rating, though an even male-female demo split is good news for potential playability.

“We got everybody we were looking to advertise to,” said Richie Fay, Summit prexy of domestic distribution. “We look to live well in the holdover world.”

The film’s complex plot, about a soldier (Gyllenhaal) who unknowingly participates in a futuristic mission to stop a disaster by inhabiting another man’s body, could also drive repeat business, Fay said, especially among adult audiences who usually don’t rush out opening weekend. Pic’s debut gross came 64% from moviegoers over 30.

The world loves Jake

Internationally, “Source Code” had a strong opening, with $5.6 million in seven territories led by the U.K. and Russia. Blighty looks to contribute $2.1 million of the film’s overseas weekend gross, behind “Hop,” which drew $2.5 million.

Back in the U.S., low-budgeted pickup “Insidious” marked a promising start for FilmDistrict.

The company got off on the right foot considering that “Insidious” cost a mere $1 million (Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions acquired it for less than $2 million) and FilmDistrict reportedly spent just north of $20 million marketing the film. “Insidious” is yet another example of inexpensive horror pickups cashing in at the box office after Paramount’s “Paranormal Activity” phenom.

The film’s “Paranormal” pedigree of producers Oren Peli and Jason Blum hinted at potential startup success. James Wan (“Saw”) directed.

“Whatever that magic is, people definitely came to the box office,” said Bob Berney, prexy of theatrical distribution for FilmDistrict.

Latinos boost horror

Berney noted that a strong turnout among Latino auds helped prop the pic’s debut perf. That demo made up 38% of the opening gross, according to a targeted exit poll sampling. The second-highest gross for the scarer came from the Tinsel Town 20 multiplex in El Paso, Texas. “Latino audiences typically are strong entertainment spenders, and I think they responded well to the genre, too,” Berney said.

A sizable Friday-Saturday uptick of 14% also bodes well for “Insidious” as horror films are usually frontloaded during opening weekend.

Warner Bros.’ “Sucker Punch” dropping a substantial 68% in its second outing after the pic’s average opening last weekend of $19 million. “Sucker Punch” grossed an estimated $6.1 million in its soph sesh, bringing its cume to $29.9 million domestically. The film’s worldwide totals through Sunday reached $51.1 million.

Adult-skewing fare to hold more favorably included “Limitless” and “The Lincoln Lawyer,” both in their third outings. “Limitless,” from Relativity Media, dropped 38%, with a weekend gross of $9.4 million, while Lionsgate’s “Lincoln Lawyer” held best of the top 10, down 34%, with $7.1 million over the weekend. “Limitless” has cumed $55.6 million; “Lincoln Lawyer,” $39.6 million.

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