BOX OFFICE: Thor Is The Best Man, Bridesmaids Finishes Strong For Second

When a studio sees that another blockbuster property is occupying the spot for the weekend they want to open, they usually try to angle for a different weekend. Preferably a week or so after. So what happened this weekend? There wasn’t a single bonafide summer blockbuster scheduled a week after the release of Marvel’s Thor. Both Universal and Screen Gems scheduled the releases of Bridesmaids and Priest on the heels of the comic book feature, but you can’t honestly say that either fits into the concept of a summer blockbuster. They just look to be placeholders until Pirates of the Caribbean arrives in theaters.

So if you see advertisements that tout Thor as being number one at the box office for two consecutive weeks, don’t be fooled into thinking it had to fight off the new releases to make it happen. Basically what it amounted to was an unproven talent (Chris Hemsworth) in a tent pole attraction going up against a Saturday Night Live cast member (Kristin Wiig in Bridesmaids) and Russell Crowe’s first mate in Master & Commander (Paul Bettany in Priest).

Marvel may have had big plans for Thor (translation: a sequel), but even with inflated ticket prices and 3D surcharges, it’s opening weekend was good, but no where near the numbers as seen by Iron Man. Maybe it needed a better trailer with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” added in for good measure. If “Back in Black” can work for a red and gold suit of armor for Iron Man, then “Thunderstruck” and Thor seems like a no-brainer. On the bright side, it had a second week drop of less than 50%, but it didn’t have direct competition this weekend, so it was able to retain its core viewership. As it stands now, the feature has made $317 million worldwide. If it can make between $400 to $500 and add the cross-marketing of toys and other Thor accessories, then it will become a profitable success for Marvel Studios and Paramount. While a Thor sequel isn’t a guaranteed lock, we already know that the God of Thunder will be featured in next summer’s The Avengers.

For a while there it was looking as if Universal wouldn’t have any substantial hits in 2011. And for four months it was pretty dicey. Then it did well when it released Hop, a heartwarming tale about a CG rabbit that can poop jelly beans. Even better was its pre-summer blockbuster release of Fast Five, which has shown substantial legs (or is that wheels?) since being released in the U.S. theaters three weeks ago. Overseas, it’s performing even better with more than $270 million in ticket sales.

The weekend release of Bridesmaids is a bit of a wild card. Having had its world premiere as a midnight showing at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March, it got a mostly positive response from those in attendance. Then came the marketing campaign which was just dreadful. At least four five different trailers were cut as a means to attract the right audience. Sorry, but they didn’t do much to entice viewership. So at the very least a $15 million looked to be an approximate opening number. Few considered a $20 million opening, even for a project produced by Judd Apatow, who has a proven track record as a producer with at least eight films opening north of $20 million their opening weekend. Bridesmaids finished the weekend with an estimated $24.4 million, far above industry expectations and a figure that is likely to have Deadline’s Nikki Finke eat crow, as it was she who had put on a crusade against the comedy, even going as far as to comment on the advertising by embedding a trailer with the headline “Is This 2nd Trailer Any Better?”

The numbers for Bridesmaids isn’t an indication that the comedy connected that strongly, or that Kristin Wiig is liable to upstage Kate Hudson for rom-com gigs, but this is a big success for Universal, especially when you consider that its budget is listed at $32.5 million. With strong critical approval (Bridesmaids is currently 90% fresh at RT) and good word-of-mouth advertising the comedy could threaten $100 million domestically.

Fast Five has made box office history. Not only has it surpassed The Fast and the Furious to become the highest grossing film in the series domestically, it has also become the first fourth sequel to be the highest-grossing in a franchise. Granted most fourth sequels are horror-related franchises where the creators are drawing straws in trying to determine how the victims will be killed off and in what type of situation. Fast Five is holding well three weeks into its run and is $30 million away from $200 million. Even with the upcoming releases of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and The Hangover Part II, that number is still a strong possibility.

The only other new wide release in theaters this weekend, Priest, pretty much crashed and burned. Scott Stewart, who debuted last year as a director with the D-movie Legion – that’s two grade levels below that of a B-movie – is actually the founder of The Orphanage, one of the biggest special effects houses in Hollywood. having worked on everything from Iron Man to Jackass The Movie. Stewart’s thought process must have went something like this: “If Greg and Colin Strause (founders of SFX house Hydraulx) can direct Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, why shouldn’t I be able to direct my own feature?” For the second-straight time Screen Gems gave him the keys to the kingdom and again he delivered something that Kubryk described as being “aggressively horrible in nearly every way.” Again it does nothing for Paul Bettany’s growth as an actor, but I’m sure he enjoyed cashing the check. Why Priest was pushed for the summer is a mystery, as it would have performed better in the off-season (think September or February).

Rio continues to perform well as the only family choice in wide release at the moment. Having picked up a little steam as its box office run slows down, the animated release is on pace to earn more than $450 million worldwide. It has at least one more week of family film dominance until Kung-Fu Panda 2 releases on May 26th.

I don’t know what’s more disappointing, that a rom-com based on a series of novels (Something Borrowed) isn’t a bigger success or that it is being outperformed by another rom-com (Jumping the Broom) that’s playing on a thousand less screens. Both should finish around $35 million which is good money considering the production and marketing costs for both features. As for Something Borrowed not being able to attract its core readership to the theaters it may be on account that its reading audience would rather spend more time with their Kindles than go to the movies.

Water For Elephants is just a few million away from crossing $50 million. Tyler Perry met that goal this weekend with Madea’s Big Happy Family and in the process has now had seven features cross that mark domestically. It was an arduous task to reach that number with this Madea comedy, so don’t expect to see Tyler Perry in drag any time soon. Besides, he’s currently making the romantic comedy Good Deeds with Thandie Newton, Gabrielle Union and Rebecca Romijn (lucky dog) and Jamie Kennedy. Guess it’ll be the Jamie Kennedy Experience meeting the Tyler Perry Experience. Aside from directing, he’s also got that I, Alex Cross feature where he’ll be playing James Patterson’s famous literary protagonist Alex Cross. Finishing out the top ten, FilmDistrict’s Soul Surfer catches one last wave of box office success where it’ll likely end its run north of $40 million. Its success along with Insidious has already made FilmDistrict one of the most profitable labels of 2011.

1. Thor – $34.5 million ($119 million overall)
2. Bridesmaids – $24.4 million
3. Fast Five – $19.5 million ($169 million overall)
4. Priest – $14.5 million
5. Rio – $8 million ($125 million overall)
6. Jumping The Broom – $7.3 million ($26 million overall)
7. Something Borrowed – $7 million ($26 million overall)
8. Water For Elephants – $4.1 million ($48 million overall)
9. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family – $2.2 million ($50 million overall)
10. Soul Surfer – $1.8 million ($39 million overall)

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