Even with five scantily clad female protagonists and the name brand of director Zack Snyder, the much-hyped "Sucker Punch" was unable to lure the majority of moviegoers away from a mousy kid.
"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules," the second film in a series based on popular children's novels, grossed $24.4 million in ticket sales, according to an estimate from distributor 20th Century Fox. That was a major blow to the much more expensive "Sucker Punch," which cost Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures $82 million to produce but opened to a weak $19 million.
Even though the box office is beginning to show signs that it is bouncing back after months of decreased business, weekend receipts were off about 7% compared to the same three-day period last year. Overall attendance is down roughly 20%, according to Hollywood.com.
But it was good news for Fox, whose movie performed even better on its opening weekend than did the first installment in the franchise, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," which debuted last March to $22.1 million and went on to gross $64 million domestically.
The movie was produced by the studio for about $21 million, meaning its debut is strong for a relatively inexpensive film.
Bert Livingston, general sales manager for 20th Century Fox, said the success of the second film meant the studio had found a viable franchise in "Wimpy Kid," a series with five books so far.
"When you make a sequel, you don't know if it's going to be a franchise," Livingston said. "But when the sequel opens bigger than the first film, and you gross in the first three days more than it cost you to make the movie, you've created a franchise."
Not surprisingly, mostly families showed up to see "Rodrick Rules," and audiences who saw the film enjoyed it, giving it an average grade of A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
Even though fewer children were out on a spring break this year compared with last year because of staggered school district schedules, the movie saw a sizable 39% bump in ticket sales from Friday to Saturday. Last year, the movie had only an 18% increase over the same two-day period. As kids continue to trickle out of school over the coming weeks, the film should keep a good hold, especially since families don't always rush out to see new movies on their opening weekends.
"Wimpy Kid" will open in its first foreign market, Australia, in mid-April.
Meanwhile, "Sucker Punch's" poor debut could prove troublesome for filmmaker Snyder, who has already been tapped to direct the upcoming "Superman" film for Warner Bros. With "Harry Potter" coming to a close this summer, the studio is relying on the superhero film to become one of its next lucrative tent poles.
But Jeff Goldstein, the studio's executive vice president of distribution, said he was not worried about Snyder's ability to attract moviegoers, despite "Sucker Punch's" lackluster opening.
"A film like 'Sucker Punch' brought out his core fan base, but he has a lot of potential, and with a bigger, broader title, he can attract a wider audience, as he has in the past," Goldstein said of Snyder.
Snyder's biggest commercial success was "300," which became a surprise box office hit when it opened to $70.9 million in March 2007 and ended up with $210.6 million domestically. His March 2009 film, "Watchmen," opened to $55.2 million but dropped about 68% the following weekend and eventually wound up with a so-so $107.5 million domestically.
As expected, "Sucker Punch" played best with Snyder's fanboy audience. Most of the moviegoers who saw the film were male, and 74% were under age 35. The poorly reviewed movie received a grade of B-minus from general audiences.
The film, which showcases Snyder's signature moody visuals, did 21% of its business on IMAX screens, setting a record for 2-D IMAX market share. The movie also opened in 23 foreign markets and collected $7.4 million overseas, performing best in Italy, Spain and Brazil.
Last weekend's top-grossing films, Relativity's "Limitless" and Lionsgate's "The Lincoln Lawyer," retained strong holds. "Limitless," which was No. 1 last weekend and stars Bradley Cooper, dropped only 19%, collecting $15.2 million. "The Lincoln Lawyer," starring Matthew McConaughey, dropped just 17%, adding $11 million to its tally.
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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 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (20th Century Fox) $24.4 NA $24.4 3
2 Sucker Punch (Warner Bros.) $19 NA $19 3
3 Limitless (Relativity) $15.2 -19% $41.3 10
4 The Lincoln Lawyer (Lionsgate/Lakeshore) $11 -17% $29 10
5 Rango (Paramount) $9.8 -35% $106.4 24
6 Battle: Los Angeles (Sony/Relativity) $7.6 -48% $72.6 17
7 Paul (Universal/Relativity) $7.5 -42% $24.6 10
8 Red Riding Hood (Warner Bros.) $4.3 -40% $32.5 17
9 The Adjustment Bureau (Universal/MRC) $4.2 -26% $54.9 24
10 Mars Needs Moms (Disney) $2.2 -59% $19.2 17
3-day gross (in millions) Change from 2010 Year-to-date gross(in billions) Change from 2010 Change in attendance from 2010
$120 -7% $2.2 -19% -20%
Sources: Times research and Hollywood.com Box Office
Los Angeles Times