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Memorial Day weekend could soar with 'Hangover,' 'Panda' sequels

'The Hangover Part II' could become the first R-rated comedy to open to more than $100 million. With 'Kung Fu Panda 2' and 'Pirates of the Caribbean' in the mix, this could be the highest-grossing Memorial Day weekend ever.

May 26, 2011|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

The release of two sequels — one a lewd comedy for adults, the other an animated film for a family audience — could make this Memorial Day moviegoing weekend the biggest on record.

"The Hangover Part II" and "Kung Fu Panda 2" — both of which open Thursday — should both attract audiences in droves, but there's no doubt that the film about a group of hard-partying dudes will come out on top. The second "Hangover," which this time follows three friends after a crazy night in Bangkok instead of in Las Vegas, could become the first R-rated comedy to open to more than $100 million.

The film's distributor, Warner Bros., is estimating that the sequel will gross $90 million to $100 million over the five-day holiday period. But tracking on the movie is so strong that others in Hollywood who have seen pre-release audience surveys think it will bow with well over $100 million, with estimates ranging from $125 million to as much as $160 million in the U.S. and Canada.

The weekend's other new wide release, the 3-D animated sequel "Kung Fu Panda 2," will probably take in about $75 million, though distributor Paramount Pictures said it expected a slightly more modest opening of $65 million to $70 million over five days.

After disappointing ticket sales in the first few months of the year, the holiday weekend should continue to reverse the downward trend in moviegoing. It's been only in the last few weeks, as studios have begun to release their big summer offerings, that box-office receipts have started to turn around.

If both of the new releases deliver on the high end of expectations — and if holdover "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" doesn't drop too drastically — this could become the highest-grossing Memorial Day weekend ever. In May 2007, the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" film and the third "Shrek" movie helped to make that four-day holiday weekend the biggest in history, with the top 50 films collectively grossing $254.6 million.

The R-rated second "Hangover" film will surely smash some records of its own. It probably will blow away the record for the biggest opening of an R-rated comedy, which is the $57-million first weekend of "Sex and the City" in 2008.

"The Hangover Part II" was produced by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures for about $80 million. Not surprisingly, the raunchy comedy is generating the most interest among young adult males — which could be good for the film, as a number of college students are already on summer break.

The first "Hangover" proved to be a surprise hit when it opened in June 2009 to $45 million and went on to gross $467.5 million worldwide. The newest "Hangover" is opening this weekend in 40 foreign markets, including France, Germany and Australia. It's rare that studios open comedies simultaneously across the world, as American humor doesn't always translate globally.

"Kung Fu Panda" opened to $60.2 million when it was released in June 2008. If projections are accurate, the new movie will start off with the same amount as — if not less than — the original, which did not have the benefit of 3-D ticket surcharges.

Because the film is targeted at families, it will probably generate most of its business Monday, when kids are out of school and many parents do not have to work.

It's likely that the movie, which DreamWorks Animation produced for about $150 million, will perform better overseas than in North America. "Kung Fu Panda" sold far more tickets abroad, collecting $416.3 million internationally and $215.4 million domestically. The new film, which follows Po the panda as he battles an evil new foe, is opening this week in only a handful of countries, including Russia and South Korea.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight on Friday will open reclusive director Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life" in two theaters in New York and two in Los Angeles. A few days ago, the film, which stars Brad Pitt, won the prestigious Palme d'Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

But being named the best feature film at the French event has not translated into box-office success for a number of art-house movies in recent years. Last year's Palme d'Or recipient, "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," grossed only about $160,000 and never expanded beyond six theaters.

In any event, Malick's films have always been more successful critically than commercially. His highest-grossing picture was the 1998 World War II drama "The Thin Red Line," which took in $98.1 million worldwide.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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