What looked like a tight race on Friday turned out to not really be much of a competition, as Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted handily defeated Prometheus over the three-day weekend. That being said, even if it didn't quite reach the astronomical levels some had been expecting, director Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi still had one of the best second place debuts in history. The Top 12 earned $174.2 million this weekend, which is up 32 percent from the same frame last year when Super 8 and Judy Moody both underperformed.
Madagascar 3 debuted to a strong $60.3 million at 4,258 locations, which is the fourth-highest opening of the year and the seventh-highest ever in June. It was a tad lower than Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa's $63.1 million, but was about in line with the first Madagascar's $61 million four-day Memorial weekend debut. It's also right on par with DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda, which earned $60.2 million at about the same time in 2008.
The fact that Madagascar 3 retained 96 percent of Madagascar 2's opening revenue is a minor miracle considering how family-skewing sequels have been getting punished lately. Just last year, DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda 2 was off 21 percent from its predecessor, and Happy Feet Two and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked both opened to about half as much as their previous entries.
Madagascar 3 overcame this sequel-itis issue for two main reasons. First, it had a great spot on the schedule: the last animated hit was The Lorax over three months ago, and there hasn't been anything specifically targeted at families yet this Summer. Paramount/DreamWorks also did a great job differentiating this entry from the previous ones with the vibrant new setting (Europe, instead of Africa), and the much-maligned but very effective "Wig Out" campaign (sure, Chris Rock's "circus afro" song is grating, but it's also insanely catchy).
The audience skewed female (56 percent) and younger (54 percent under the age of 25), and they awarded the movie a strong "A" CinemaScore. 3D ticket sales accounted for 45 percent of the box office, which is identical to the 3D share for Kung Fu Panda 2 last year.
While it had to settle for second place, Prometheus still earned an impressive $51.05 million in its opening weekend. That's off from Inception's $62.8 million, though it's a significant improvement over Super 8's $35.5 million from the same weekend last year. It's the second-highest opening of director Ridley Scott's career behind 2001's Hannibal ($58 million), and it's also a new record for the Alien franchise ahead of Alien Vs. Predator's $38.3 million (though ticket sales were about on par with that entry).
Prometheus's debut ranks 10th all-time among R-rated movies, and among action-oriented ones it was behind The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8 million), 300 ($70.9 million) and Watchmen ($55.2 million).
This may not be the monumental opening many were hoping for, but by pretty much any measure it's an unqualified success. Dark, "original," R-rated sci-fi movies are a tough sell, and on paper Prometheus resembled recent duds Pandorum and Sunshine (total of $10.3 million and $3.7 million, respectively). Of course, Prometheus was a big-budget Ridley Scott movie getting a nationwide release from a major studio, so it was always going to be significantly bigger than those titles, but to get this high is really a tribute to 20th Century Fox's incredible marketing effort. When the attention-grabbing teaser trailer landed in December the movie immediately shot to the top of many must-see lists, and future material (including some cool viral videos) was equally enticing. Also, for most of the campaign there wasn't an explicit connection made to Alien, which made the movie feel like a must-see original movie event.
The audience was 57 percent male and 64 percent 25 year of age and older. 3D accounted for 54 percent of ticket sales, while IMAX contributed 18 percent (nearly all of which is included within that 3D figure).
While this is a great start for Prometheus, its ultimate success really comes to down to whether or not it holds up in the coming weeks. Without a CinemaScore available, and with a steep 25 percent drop from Friday-to-Saturday, the movie's long-term prospects are highly questionable. Sometimes discussion-ready movies develop must-see word-of-mouth (here's looking at you, Inception), but if the movie is frustrating enough (which anecdotally seems to be the case for some people with Prometheus) that doesn't necessarily happen.
After a strong first place start last weekend, Snow White and the Huntsman took a big hit in its second outing thanks to middling word-of-mouth and intense competition. The movie plummeted 59 percent to $23.06 million, and has now made $98.5 million.
MIB 3 fell 51 percent to $13.9 million, which brings its 17-day total to $135.9 million. It continues to trail Men in Black II ($148 million) through the same point in its release, and it has virtually no chance of catching up.
In fifth place, The Avengers was off 45 percent to $11.2 million. It's now earned $572.3 million, and if it can hold on to most of its screens for the next few weeks it still has a chance of reaching $600 million.
Moonrise Kingdom expanded to 96 locations and grossed an estimated $1.56 million, which was good for 10th place. The movie isn't hitting quite as well as last Summer's Midnight in Paris: in its third weekend, the Woody Allen comedy had a per-theater average of $18,843 at 147 locations, which is better than Moonrise's $16,247 at 96 theaters. So far, writer-director Wes Anderson's latest movie has earned $3.73 million.
The Hunger Games eased 32 percent to $1.07 million this weekend. On Sunday, its 80th day in theaters, the movie passed $400 million, making it the 14th title to ever reach that milestone.