Steve Carell and Tina Fey fought the "Titans" to a virtual dead heat atop the box office this weekend, but "How to Train Your Dragon" came out the biggest winner.
Demonstrating that the latest release from DreamWorks Animation is benefiting more from strong word of mouth than the ad campaign at launch, ticket sales for "Dragon" declined a mere 13% on the film's third weekend, putting it on the way to success despite a tepid opening.
"Date Night," which stars "The Office's" Carell and "30 Rock's" Fey, opened to a solid $27.1 million. The estimated three-day total from distributor 20th Century Fox was just $225,000 higher than Warner Bros.' estimated $26.9-million second weekend take for "Clash of the Titans," essentially putting the films in a tie as final weekend grosses were tallied late Sunday.
At least two major studios not associated with either movie estimated on Sunday that "Titans" had grossed slightly more than its competitors. More people saw "Date Night," however, since unlike its competitor, it didn't get a revenue boost from ticket-price surcharges at 3-D screens.
Regardless of the ranking, "Date Night" turned in a fairly good opening above estimates based on pre-release tracking. Fox and co-financier Dune Entertainment spent $55 million to produce the film. "It really doesn't matter whether it's first place, it's still a terrific number," said Bert Livingston, senior vice president of domestic distribution for Fox.
It remains to be seen, however, whether "Date Night" will have enough momentum from adults over 25, who made up 60% of opening-weekend ticket buyers, to end up a hit. Audiences gave it a so-so average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
Post-opening momentum has proved potent for "Dragon," which has overcome a disappointing first weekend to become a full-fledged hit. Despite opening to just $43.7 million, $16 million less than "Monsters vs. Aliens" on the same weekend last year, it dropped only 34% on its second weekend and, now, 13% (to $25.4 million) on its third. "Monsters" dropped 45% and 33%, respectively, on its second and third weekends.
Its total domestic gross of $133.9 million is just $6.3 million behind "Monsters" at the same point. The new film looks likely to exceed $200 million, a mark DreamWorks generally uses to determine success.
"We have really kept the heat up in advertising for the last couple of weeks, and we plan to do so going forward because the audience response has been so terrific," said Anne Globe, DreamWorks Animation head of worldwide marketing.
"Dragon" has also taken in a solid $148 million internationally. Digital 3-D screens continue to account for the vast majority of its revenue, representing 65% domestically and 69% overseas the past weekend.
Although its opening was significantly bigger, "Clash of the Titans" appears likely to end up with a lower domestic total than "Dragon" after its ticket sales dropped 56% this weekend. Though not disastrous, the sizable decline indicates that word of mouth is as soft as reviews were and the film's total domestic ticket sales, now at $110.5 million, will likely end up at around $150 million.
Overseas, however, "Clash" took in a hefty $54 million over the weekend thanks to strong openings in Russia, France and Germany. Its international take of $119.2 million to date is likely to far exceed the movie's domestic total when all is said and done, because it has yet to launch in major markets such as Italy, Mexico and Japan.