Who would have guessed that an R-rated comedy about a bachelor party gone awry would more than double the opening of a PG-13 flick based on a well-known TV show and starring Will Ferrell?
Almost nobody in Hollywood until this weekend, when Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' "The Hangover" surpassed all expectations at the box office by grossing $43.3 million, while Universal Pictures and Relativity Media's "Land of the Lost" sold an anemic $19.5 million worth of tickets, according to studio estimates.
The top movie was Disney and Pixar's "Up," which fell a remarkably modest 35% on its second weekend.
The fates of "Land of the Lost" and "The Hangover" contrast directly with their budgets. Universal's effects-heavy film cost about $100 million to produce, while "The Hangover," which has no big stars, cost only $35 million.
Warner's comedy benefited from a hefty marketing campaign for a film of its size, around $40 million. Universal didn't spend much more to sell "Land of the Lost" despite the higher stakes for its movie. The studio depended in large part on promotion that included appearances by Ferrell on "The Tonight Show" and "Today" (both aired by Universal's sibling network NBC), as well as a campaign by fast-food chain Subway.
The only audience Universal didn't go after was young children, apparently leaving them to two successful PG-rated pictures: "Up" and Fox's "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."
In the end, the demographics for the PG-13-rated "Land of the Lost" were fairly evenly spread out, according to polling data provided by the studio. "Land of the Lost" didn't fail to reach any one particular audience; it failed to reach enough of all of them.
Warner Bros., by contrast, started with a movie that seemed tailor-made for younger men but ended up drawing a surprisingly diverse crowd that was 48% female. Marketing President Sue Kroll said the studio consciously decided to cast its net wider in recent weeks.
"We started off thinking it was very male, but as soon as people saw it, we knew it could work for women," she said. "So we avoided presenting the debauchery and focused on the premise that these guys are trying to figure out what happened."
Confident in the movie's appeal, Warner also screened "The Hangover" very broadly to journalists and industry insiders for the last few weeks, building buzz and soliciting positive early reviews that it used in advertisements.
Partly because it wasn't completed until the last minute, "Land of the Lost" wasn't seen by nearly as many people before release. Universal didn't hide the film -- there was a premiere and it was shown to critics recently.
But, obviously aware it had a movie that would not be well-liked, the studio didn't attempt to build word of mouth.
It's now almost certain "Land of the Lost" will end up a money loser. It will probably gross less than $50 million domestically and, if it follows the track record of past Will Ferrell films, won't make much money in international markets.
"The Hangover," by contrast, has already earned back a sizable chunk of its production budget -- studios typically get about half the revenue from ticket sales -- and could be in the black even before finishing its run at the domestic box office, where it probably will gross more than $100 million and may even exceed $150 million if it has a long run. Like most American comedies, its prospects overseas are less certain.
The international box office has proved lucrative this summer for several films, however, including "Terminator Salvation," which Sony opened this weekend in 61 countries. Combined with the nine markets where it was already playing, the sci-fi action sequel grossed a healthy $67.5 million, bringing its total foreign ticket sales to $97.2 million.
That's already almost as much as the Christian Bale vehicle, which cost $200 million to produce, has earned in the U.S. and Canada over three weekends.
Sony acquired foreign distribution rights from Halcyon Co., which financed "Salvation," for about $100 million.
The biggest movie internationally this year has been Sony's "Angels & Demons," which has grossed $293 million in foreign markets. Combined with its more modest $116-million domestic total, "Angels & Demons" is thus far 2009's most successful film at the box office on a worldwide basis.
If early tracking is any indication, however, that crown could soon be stolen by Paramount and DreamWorks' "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," which opens June 24.
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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE
Sales in the U.S. and Canada:
*--* -- Movie 3-day gross % change from Total Days -- (studio) (millions) last weekend (millions) in release 1 Up $44.2 -35% $137.3 10 -- (Disney/P ixar) 2 The $43.3 n/a $43.3 3 Hangover -- (Warner Bros./Leg endary) 3 Land of $19.5 n/a $19.5 3 the Lost (Unive rsal/R elativ ity) 4 Night at $14.7 -40% $127.3 17 the Museum: -- Battle of the Smithsoni an -- (Fox) 5 Star Trek $8.4 -33% $222.8 31 -- (Paramoun t) 6 Terminato $8.2 -50% $105.5 18 r Salvation -- (Warner Bros./Hal cyon) 7 Drag Me $7.3 -54% $28.5 10 to Hell -- (Universa l/Ghost House) 8 Angels $6.5 -43% $116.1 24 & Demons -- (Sony) 9 My Life $3.2 n/a $3.2 3 in Ruins -- (Fox Searchlig ht) 10 Dance $2.0 -58% $22.7 17 Flick -- (Paramoun t) *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $164 -6.1% $4.3 +12.5% *--*
Note: A movie may be shown on more than one screen at each theater.
Sources: Times research and Hollywood.com Box Office