Jennifer Aniston and Jude Law were roughed up at the box office this weekend by a middle schooler.
In a surprise victory that demonstrated the recent strength of well-known brands over well-known stars in movies, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" opened to a studio-estimated $21.8 million in the U.S. and Canada, ahead of the $21 million for the romantic comedy "The Bounty Hunter," which stars Aniston and Gerard Butler. Law's science-fiction action film "Repo Men" bombed, premiering to just $6.2 million.
But it was "Alice in Wonderland" that topped the charts, showing continued strength on its third weekend, particularly overseas. Director Tim Burton's 3-D blockbuster hit dropped 45% domestically to $34.5 million and 41% internationally to $47 million, bringing its worldwide ticket sales total to a massive $565.8 million.
The strong overall weekend boosted total box office receipts this year 10% higher than at the same point last year, according to Hollywood.com.
Easily the least expensive of the weekend's new pictures, the $15-million "Wimpy Kid" benefited from some children on spring break Friday and ended up drawing a mostly family audience well above what pre-release polling had indicated. With no big-name stars, it used the appeal of the books on which it is based to generate a healthy opening.
"To pull off a number like this is pretty remarkable," said Chris Aronson, Fox's executive vice president of domestic distribution, adding, "There's no doubt that spring break helped our Friday to really pop."
Audiences gave "Wimpy Kid" an average grade of A-, according to the market research firm CinemaScore. That augurs good word of mouth in the coming weeks and a final gross of at least $60 million.
Since theaters keep about half of box office receipts, Fox should cover most or all of its production and marketing expenses based on theatrical revenue alone before DVD and other markets kick in.
"Bounty Hunter" had a decent but far from fantastic debut given its budget of a little more than $40 million, financed by distributor Sony Pictures and Relativity Media. While it's better than the last romantic comedy featuring Aniston in a lead role, 2009's flop "Love Happens," "Bounty" opened well below 2008's "Marley and Me" or 2006's "The Break-Up."
"Bounty Hunter" got a B-, indicating that word of mouth will be mixed in the coming weeks.
"Repo Men" is the latest in a string of disappointments from Universal Pictures and its frequent partner Relativity, including "The Wolfman" and last week's "Green Zone." Although it garnered a B from the mostly male audience that saw it, the anemic opening for the $32-million film, which has been on the shelf for about two years, means it will end up a money loser.
Summit Entertainment expanded director Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" nationwide, but it didn't fare nearly as well as it had in limited release. The political drama took in just $2.1 million, bringing its total to $6.8 million.
Of last weekend's new movies, only the romantic comedy "She's Out of My League" showed staying power, dropping a modest 38% to $6 million. The political action film "Green Zone" was down 58% to $6 million, while the comedy "Our Family Wedding" dropped off 50% to $3.8 million and the drama "Remember Me" fell 59% to $3.3 million.