Toon trumps sci-fier with $60 mil; pics lift totals near 30% more than last year

The one-two punch from “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” which grossed an estimated $60.4 million, and “Prometheus,” with $50 million, gave the summer’s domestic box office a welcome jolt, lifting totals by 30% over the comparable frame last year.

Overseas B.O. also impressed with four pics earning more than $20 million — led by “Madagascar,” which easily won the foreign crowd with nearly $136 million globally, including $75.5 million from outside the U.S. In two weeks, “Prometheus” has cumed north of $140 million internationally.

The weekend’s pair of openers had been tracking neck-and-neck since Friday afternoon, though “Madagascar 3,” from Paramount and DreamWorks Animation, pulled ahead of Fox’s 3D sci-fier, thanks to a mostly family-driven Sunday box office.

This time last year domestically only Par’s “Super 8″ opened nationwide with $35 million, a modest bow for what bizzers hoped would become one of 2011′s summer juggernauts. The bows for “Madagascar” and “Prometheus” position the films solidly in the States, even with major competition coming from “The Amazing Spider-Man” (July 3) and family films “Brave” (June 22) and “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (July 13).

“There are certainly big competitors,” said DWA worldwide marketing maven Anne Globe, “but we’re really excited for the next two weeks.”

The weekend’s holdovers, led by Universal’s soph-sesh pic “Snow White and the Huntsman,” held well considering the debut power of both new entries: “Huntsman” dropped 59% for an estimated $23 million, while Sony’s “Men in Black 3″ projected $13.5 million in its third frame, down 52%. “Huntsman” has cumed $98 million domestically; “MIB 3,” $135 million.

As the year’s most resilient holdover, meanwhile, “The Hunger Games” crossed $400 million domestically in its 12th frame.

While “Games” benefited from a less-crowded springtime play period, weekend-to-weekend drops during the summer become less make-or-break because of increased mid-week business.

“What you lose during the weekend because of the usual new releases, you make up for in mid-weeks,” noted Fox prexy of domestic distribution Chris Aronson. That bodes well for big-budget tentpoles like “Prometheus” and “Huntsman,” of which the latter fell comparable to $146 million-domestic grosser “X-Men: First Class” this weekend last year.

Focus Features, expanded specialty VIP “Moonrise Kingdom” to 96 Stateside locations, landing in the top 10 with an estimated $1.6 million. Pic has grossed so far $3.7 million.

Elsewhere on the indie front, FilmDistrict’s “Safety Not Guaranteed” bowed at nine locations for a per-screen average of approximately $11,000, while Fox Searchlight’s “Lola Versus” averaged a meager $8,524 from four locations. “Safety” expands to 50 additional engagements next weekend.

Shallow 3D frame

The entry of “Madagascar” and “Prometheus” may have registered with auds overall, but 3D wound up being only a small contributor to both pics compared to other recent releases in the format.

In a surprising turn, “Madagascar” wound up doing better in 3D than “Prometheus,” excluding Imax screenings. “Madagascar,” which didn’t have an Imax berth, earned 45% of its opening from 3D. “Prometheus” grossed 54% from 3D, but that included 18% from the mega-screen exhib, leaving just 36% from non-Imax 3D plexes.

Imax scored a June record with “Prometheus” (at $9.1 million domestically), suggesting that the large-format presentation drew some business away from regular 3D houses.

Both “Madagascar” and “Prometheus” could leg out in stereo over the coming weeks, based on word-of-mouth and broadening demos.

“Madagascar,” for instance, earned 28% of its debut from kids under 12 — slightly younger than the DWA norm. But teens and tweens — supporters of 3D — may show up over the coming weeks as more schools vacate for the summer. Currently, 58% of school kids nationwide are on summer vacation, a figure that increases by next weekend to 78%.

Playability should be solid for both new entries, as they each received strong critical responses. “Madagascar” garnered an A CinemaScore rating across all demos, while “Prometheus,” which skewed mostly toward over-25 males, received an overall B. The sci-fier was given an A- rating from under-25 auds, which accounted for 36% of its opening.

Fox knew it would face a challenge in attracting female auds, but with a 43% femme turnout, Fox’s Aronson observed that “more women came out than we expected.”

‘Madagascar’ strong o’seas

Boosted by its No. 1-ranking international debut from 28 territories, “Madagascar 3″ marks the franchise’s biggest global opening. Leading the overseas charge was Russia, which contributed $16.4 million. Brazil and China followed, both with openings just north of $10 million, while in France, the film earned an estimated $7.6 million.

The start of the Euro Cup soccer tournament on Friday limited bows in Europe, though “Prometheus” continued to perform tops in the U.K., where it grossed $5.2 million in its second weekend. The film also debuted at No. 1 in Australia, grossing $6.8 million.

Sony’s “Men in Black 3,” which grossed $38.3 million this weekend internationally, became the biggest “MIB” overseas grosser with $352.1 million, surpassing the original at $338.7 million. The three-quel approaches the $500 million global mark after just three weekends.

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