Thanks to an alien invasion of movie theaters, Hollywood scared up a strong weekend at the box office.
Ticket sales in North America reached an estimated $148 million this weekend, up nearly 40% from the same period last year in a further sign that consumers were still willing to shell out money to see films despite the bleak times.
After two consecutive weekends in which attendance was down from year-earlier numbers, ticket sales rebounded sharply and pushed overall attendance this year up 10%, according to Media by Numbers, a box-office tracking firm.
Leading the surge was the family comedy "Monsters vs. Aliens," which generated an estimated $58.2 million in ticket sales, the biggest opening weekend for a movie this year and the second-highest debut for an original DreamWorks Animation movie after the hit "Kung Fu Panda," which made $60.2 million in its opening weekend in 2008.
The computer-animated movie, which stars Reese Witherspoon and Seth Rogen, tells the story of a band of monsters that rallies to save the planet from invading aliens.
"Monsters" got a boost from higher-priced tickets at 3-D screens, which accounted for about 28% of the total 7,300 screens -- the widest-ever release of a 3-D film -- but 56%, or $32.6 million, of total box-office revenue, according to DreamWorks estimates.
"We're thrilled with the success of our 3-D program," said Anne Globe, head of worldwide marketing for DreamWorks Animation SKG. "This really proves the viability of the platform."
The movie's opening was being closely watched as a bellwether for 3-D, which is enjoying another revival in Hollywood as filmmakers experiment with the latest in digital technology to create more realism and as theater owners look for new ways to lure younger, tech-savvy audiences to the movies.
Despite the higher ticket prices, almost as many people watched the move in 3-D -- nearly 3.2 million people -- as those who viewed it on conventional screens, Media by Numbers President Paul Dergarabedian said.
"How rare is that in an economy where people aren't willing to pay extra for anything?" he said. "This shows that 3-D is here to stay."
Greg Foster, chairman of Imax Filmed Entertainment, said "Monsters vs. Aliens" generated $5.2 million in ticket sales from 143 Imax screens, making it "our largest 3-D opening ever."
Michael Lewis, chief executive of RealD in Beverly Hills, the leading supplier of 3-D systems, said he was "ecstatic."
About 40 movies will be released in 3-D over the next three years, including "Avatar," the much-anticipated science-fiction adventure film from director James Cameron, Disney/Pixar's "Up" and Steven Spielberg's "Tintin" films.
DreamWorks in particular has staked its future on the trend. Beginning with "Monsters vs. Aliens," the Glendale studio is releasing all of its movies in both 2-D and 3-D, which adds an extra $15 million to a film's budget because of the extra animation required. "Monsters" cost about $175 million to make.
Although the movie met Wall Street's expectations, the studio's returns were damped somewhat by the lower premium charged for 3-D screenings, about $3 compared with the $5 that DreamWorks had hoped for.
At the opposite end of the genre spectrum, Lionsgate pulled in $23 million from its latest horror flick, "The Haunting in Connecticut," which is based on the story of a family that claimed to experience supernatural events after moving into a home that was once a mortuary. Lionsgate, which built a lucrative franchise around the "Saw" films, enjoyed a similarly strong showing this year from another of its horror movies, "My Bloody Valentine."
The weekend's third major release, Fox's "12 Rounds," had a tepid showing by comparison. The crime drama starring World Wrestling Entertainment champion John Cena took in $5.3 million, placing seventh in the box-office tally.
Among the five top-grossing movies this weekend, three of them were in their second week: "Knowing," the Nicolas Cage science-fiction film produced by Summit Entertainment, which made $14.7 million; the Paramount comedy "I Love You, Man," which garnered $12.6 million; and Universal Pictures' "Duplicity," a thriller starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, which generated $7.6 million.
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Preliminary results in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks (studio) (millions) (millions)
1 Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks) $58.2 $58.2 1
2 The Haunting in Connecticut 23.0 23.0 1 (Lionsgate)
3 Knowing (Summit) 14.7 46.2 2
4 I Love You, Man (Paramount) 12.6 37 2
5 Duplicity (Universal) 7.6 25.6 2
6 Race to Witch Mountain (Disney) 5.6 53.3 3
7 12 Rounds (Fox) 5.3 5.3 1
8 Watchmen (Warner Bros.) 2.8 103.3 4
9 Taken (Fox) 2.8 137.1 9
10 The Last House on the Left 2.6 28.5 3 (Universal) *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) From 2008 $148 39.5% $2.38 +12.1% *--*
Note: A movie may be shown on more than one screen at each venue.
Source: Media by Numbers