U pic trails far behind 'Avengers' in opening domestic weekend

Universal’s “Battleship” might as well have washed up on shore this weekend for all the momentum its feeble $25.3 million domestic opening will give the pic over the long haul.

The U-Hasbro tentpole has accumulated $226.8 million in overseas grosses so far. But the studio was counting on major Stateside support to keep the $200 million-plus pic (not including a costly marketing spend) from sinking financially — as well as kickstart a “Transformers”-sized sequels-and-merch franchise.

As it stands, the prospect of a three-figure domestic cume for “Battleship” is all but dead in the water.

“Avengers” gets some credit for that: Disney’s mammoth hit cruised to its third consecutive domestic win, dropping just 47% for a weekend take of $55.1 million. With an estimated $457.1 million Stateside, added to $723.3 million internationally, the Disney-Marvel blockbuster now ranks as the Mouse’s biggest-grossing global release ever and the fourth-highest industrywide, totaling $1.18 billion.

This weekend marks the second in which “Avengers” has wrecked major openings (the other victim was “Dark Shadows”). “Battleship” was expected to gross this weekend $35 million-$40 million — a paltry projection to begin with for an expensive project.

“Yes, it’s a disappointing opening,” admitted U distribution prexy Nikki Rocco. “But with the holiday weekend approaching, we do think ‘Battleship’ will be a choice for moviegoers.”

This weekend’s remaining wide openers represent safer investments comparatively: Paramount’s “The Dictator,” which earned $55 million worldwide this weekend, cost a reported $65 million (not including marketing), while Lionsgate’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” budgeted in the high-$30 millions, debuted to $10.5 million domestically. Lionsgate is at risk for less than $30 million, however.

“Dictator” bowed Wednesday in the U.S., collecting $17.4 million in three days and $24.5 million in five days; pic grossed an estimated $30.3 million from 29 day-and-date international territories.

“The movie plays great in the Northeast and West but soft in the South and Midwest,” said Par vice chairman Rob Moore, who added that many overseas territories similarly found auds split on the often polarizing Sacha Baron Cohen humor. “As you drill down in the grosses, there’s a big gap in those regions domestically.”

Overseas box office for “Dictator” could feasibly double domestic grosses with more than half of the world’s top 20 markets yet to open. Par, however, did pay for a pricey marketing campaign.

At the specialty B.O., Fox Searchlight’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” continued to play well to adult auds, grossing $3.2 million from 354 locations, up from 178 last weekend. Domestic cume is $8.2 million, with close to $80 million overseas.

Sony Pictures Classics’ Brit period film “Hysteria” fared OK at five locations, averaging $8,166 for an estimated weekend total of $40,829.

Steam wanted for ‘Battleship’

Universal hoped to get a head start on a busy overseas summer schedule by launching “Battleship” internationally more than a month before the U.S. The tactic appeared to work — at first.

During its world tour, “Battleship” surpassed overseas tallies of “John Carter” ($210 million) and “Wrath of the Titans” ($217 million) and stands as the year’s fifth-highest grossing international release. But “Battleship” was blindsided by Fox’s “Titanic” 3D, which grossed more than $284 million became overseas. Of that, China contributed $143 million vs. $47.4 million for “Battleship.”

Now, having bowed throughout most of the world (63 territories), “Battleship” has little to no steam left internationally.

In North America, the film should benefit from increased moviegoing over Memorial Day weekend, though two factors could dampen its holiday prospects: “Men In Black III,” which launches Friday, has been gaining considerable momentum in tracking, and “Battleship” skewed over 30, at 55%, which is less helpful this week as more teens and tweens go on summer vacation.

In favor of the U tentpole, under-18 auds liked it best, giving the pic an A- CinemaScore vs. its overall B appraisal. Adult men also rated the pic above average, according to U.

U’s glass half full?

While Disney took an enormous amount of grief (and a $200 million writedown) earlier this year for “John Carter,” that ill-fated sci-fier opened stronger than “Battleship” at $31 million and went on to cume $280 million worldwide.

But Disney bounced back with “Avengers.”

“Battleship” bears painful parallels for U to the summer of 1995, when the studio suffered a similar nautical-themed disaster in “Waterworld,” which cost a record-setting $175 million and cumed just $264 million worldwide. But Universal went on to earn that year’s second-highest domestic gross (“Apollo 13’s” $172 million) and ’95’s third-best domestic market share.

U has several opportunities to redeem itself yet this year with such pics as “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “The Bourne Legacy,” “Ted” and “Les Miserables.”

U and Hasbro are planning to release a number of branded consumer products for “Battleship” — from apparel to cellphone covers, videogames and action figures — but downstream revenues are now questionable since younger auds failed to show up in large numbers.

Also in distress is the future franchise prospects of Taylor Kitsch, who has now starred in two of the year’s biggest bombs. The “Friday Night Lights” star has a shot at redemption later this summer in Oliver Stone’s “Savages” — but don’t expect to see Kitsch on anyone’s shortlist for blockbuster lead roles anytime soon.

Beyond “Battleship,” Lionsgate’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” played 64% over-25, with an overwhelming — but not surprising — 70% female turnout. Par’s “Dictator” skewed mostly to men under 25. Auds gave “Expecting” a B- CinemaScore; “Dictator” received a C.

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