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No escape yet from year's box office slump

Ticket sales are down 21% despite good debuts for 'Rango' and 'Adjustment Bureau.'

March 07, 2011|Amy Kaufman

A diverse crop of four new movies premiering this weekend wasn't enough to bring the box office out of its recent slump.

Despite decent openings for both the computer-animated film "Rango" and the adult drama "The Adjustment Bureau," total ticket sales were down 31% from the same weekend in 2010, when the mega-hit "Alice in Wonderland" dominated the weekend. That worsened a severe downward trend, with box office receipts down 21% year to date, according to

"Rango," which features a chameleon voiced by Johnny Depp, drew the most crowds and took in $38 million, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures.

"The Adjustment Bureau," a science-fiction romance starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, collected $20.9 million for a decent second-place finish. But the weekend's two other new releases did not sell nearly as many tickets. "Beastly," a modern retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" set in high school, grossed $10.1 million, while the '80s romp "Take Me Home Tonight" barely registered at the box office with only $3.5 million.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, March 08, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Movie box office: An article in the March 7 Calendar section about movie box office results said that "The Adjustment Bureau" grossed $21.5 million overseas over the weekend. It grossed $10.5 million overseas.

"Rango" now has the highest-opening weekend gross of any film this year, though not a great one given the amount Paramount spent making it. Two people close to the production said the computer-animated western cost close to $150 million to produce, while a studio spokeswoman said the budget was $135 million.

But "Rango" did not have the benefit of 3-D ticket surcharges. In the same month in 2009, the 3-D "Monsters vs. Aliens" opened to $59.3 million, while March's 3-D "How to Train Your Dragon" debuted to $43.7 million.

"If you take out the impact of higher ticket prices, the number of people who saw 'Rango' is somewhat comparable," said Rob Moore, Paramount's vice chairman.

Moore said the film's overwhelmingly positive reviews and the upcoming spring break led him to believe that a large number of families would still turn up to see "Rango."

But it remains to be seen how strong the film's word of mouth is. Receipts jumped 73% from Friday to Saturday, a good sign, but early audiences gave it a weak grade of C+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That indicates that people over age 13 who participated in the polling weren't enamored with "Rango." (In comparison, "Monsters vs. Aliens" received a grade of A-, and "How to Train Your Dragon" got an A.)

"Rango" opened in 33 foreign markets, taking in $16.5 million. "The Adjustment Bureau" also opened in 21 foreign territories, where it grossed $21.5 million.

The moderate debut for "The Adjustment Bureau" came from an overwhelmingly adult audience, 73% of whom were older than 30. The movie was produced and financed by Media Rights Capital, and Universal Pictures acquired its worldwide distribution rights for $62 million. Audiences gave it an average grade of B.

The film was initially slated to be released last September but was pushed to March because Damon had to promote his two award-season entries, "True Grit" and "Hereafter." Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said she hoped the film's performance would show that release date switches weren't always indicative of troubled projects.

"Beastly" also was shifted around on the calendar. The movie was supposed to come out in July but was moved because it would have debuted on the same weekend as "Charlie St. Cloud." That movie starred Zac Efron, the former flame of "Beastly" lead Vanessa Hudgens, and both the actress and the studio did not think it wise for the young stars' fans to have to choose between competing films.

The audience that went to see "Beastly" consisted almost entirely of women, whom distributor CBS Films courted heavily in advertisements.

Steven Friedlander, the company's executive vice president, theatrical distribution, said he had spent much of the weekend observing audience reaction in theaters across Los Angeles.

"As an old fuddy duddy, usually I'd be angry at all the kids texting and tweeting during the movie, but in this case, I was glad they were doing it," he said, explaining that he thought filmgoers were telling their friends to see the picture.

The film was produced for just under $20 million before tax rebates, but a studio representative said much of that cost had already been covered through sales to foreign distributors. And despite middling reviews, audiences gave the movie a B+.

Few, meanwhile, wanted to spend a night at "Take Me Home Tonight," making it another flop for Relativity Media's fledgling film-distribution business.

The film starring Topher Grace was the fourth wide release from Relativity since the company began distributing its own movies last summer.

"Take Me Home Tonight" cost about $19 million to make, though Relativity bought the U.S. distribution rights from Universal Pictures for $10 million. With audiences giving the movie an average grade of C, the picture is likely to fizzle fast.





Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada:

-- Movie (Studio) 3-day gross(millions) Percentage change from last weekend Total (millions) Days in release

1 Rango (Paramount) $38 NA $38 3

2 The Adjustment Bureau (MRC/Universal) $20.9 NA $20.9 3

3 Beastly (CBS Films) $10.1 NA $10.1 3

4 Hall Pass (Warner Bros.) $9 -33% $27 10

5 Gnomeo & Juliet (Disney) $6.9 -48% $83.7 24

6 Unknown (Warner Bros.) $6.6 -47% $53.1 17

7 The King's Speech (Weinstein Co.) $6.5 -11% $123.8 101

8 Just Go With It (Sony) $6.5 -38% $88.2 24

9 I Am Number Four (DreamWorks/Disney) $5.7 -48% $46.4 17

10 Never Say Never (Paramount Insurge) $4.3 -54% $68.9 24

Industry totals

3-day gross (in millions) Change from 2010 Year-to-date gross(in billions) Change from 2010 Change in attendance from 2010

$135 -31% $1.7 -21% -22%

Sources: Times research and Box Office

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