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'Green Lantern' is No. 1 at the box office but hardly superpowered

The latest comic-book adaptation falls short of the openings of 'Thor' and 'X-Men: First Class,' and of studio and industry estimates.

June 20, 2011|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

Of all the superhero films to fly into theaters so far this summer, "Green Lantern" wielded the least power over moviegoers in its opening weekend.

The 3-D film starring Ryan Reynolds as the popular DC Comics character opened to $52.7 million in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, according to an estimate from its distributor, Warner Bros. That figure fell below even the studio's modest expectations of $55 million, as well as industry projections, which indicated the film would make up to $65 million upon its debut.

The weekend's other new film in wide release, the PG-rated "Mr. Popper's Penguins," had an $18.2-million opening, which was slightly above 20th Century Fox's earlier prediction of $15 million.

Both "Thor" and "X-Men: First Class," also based on comic books and released earlier this summer, performed better than "Green Lantern" on their first weekends in theaters. "Thor" collected $65.7 million when it bowed domestically, and "First Class" — which did not have the benefit of 3-D ticket surcharges — opened to $55.1 million.

Those films also were not as expensive to make as "Green Lantern." Warner Bros. spent more than $200 million to produce the movie and north of $125 million on worldwide marketing.

But Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for the studio, insisted the film's opening was "not a big miss at all."

"Nobody here is upset. It's within the range of where we were looking," he said. "The question is now where we go. Any dollars that we left on the table over the weekend can certainly be made up mid-week, as all schools are out."

The movie was panned by critics, but weekend audiences gave the film an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore. As of Friday, only a small percentage of those who saw "Green Lantern" were younger than 25 — 20% — and 64% of the crowd was male. Going forward, the studio is hoping the film will be able to gain traction with young moviegoers, as word of mouth among that segment of the audience will be critical to the film's ultimate success.

With the eighth and final installment in the "Harry Potter" film series coming out in a few weeks, Warner Bros. has been seeking new franchises to replicate the success of the boy wizard. Green Lantern was one of the properties that the studio had hoped would have that ability, following in the footsteps of more recognizable DC Comics superhero brands like Batman and Superman, which have been lucrative for Warner Bros. over the years. But Fellman would only say that it was "too early to tell" how the opening of "Green Lantern" would affect its sequel potential.

Overseas, "Green Lantern" debuted in 15 foreign markets and grossed a so-so $17 million, performing best in the United Kingdom.

"Mr. Popper's Penguins," based on the classic 1930s children's book and starring Jim Carrey, attracted a slightly younger audience, with 58% younger than 25 and 56% female. Those who saw the film liked it, giving it an average grade of A-.

The movie will need to capitalize on word of mouth among the family crowd in the coming weeks if it is to be profitable for the studio. Fox spent about $68 million to make the movie, according to one person connected to the production. The studio, however, said the cost was actually $57 million.

Despite the fact that the kid-friendly "Cars 2" is opening stateside next weekend, Bert Livingston, general sales manager for 20th Century Fox, said he thought the Carrey picture would hold up well.

"This is going to play for a while," he said. "There are times when there are two pictures in the marketplace that appeal to the same audience — but we stand on our own."

Although "Mr. Popper's Penguins" had a smaller first weekend than Carrey's last film in wide release — 2009's 3-D motion-capture animated "A Christmas Carol," which opened to $30 million — it was on par with most of the comedian's other recent live-action film openings. His 2008 movie "Yes Man," 2007's "The Number 23" and 2005's "Fun With Dick and Jane" all bowed to less than $19 million.

Still, the actor's films typically do good business internationally, meaning "Mr. Popper's Penguins" could make up some of its costs overseas.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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