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'Puss in Boots' steals No. 1 spot at the box office from 'Tower Heist'

The swashbuckling cat film grosses an extra $33 million, beating out 'Tower Heist,' projected to be the most popular with filmgoers.

November 07, 2011|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times
  • Ben Stiller, left, Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena, Casey Affleck and Eddie Murphy in "Tower Heist."
Ben Stiller, left, Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena, Casey Affleck and… (David Lee / Universal Pictures )

"Puss in Boots" made off with the most loot at the box office this weekend, swiping the No. 1 spot from "Tower Heist," expected to be the most popular film with moviegoers.

Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience surveys had indicated that the new Eddie Murphy-Ben Stiller comedy would gross around $30 million and beat the animated 3-D holdover. But DreamWorks Animation's film about a feline swashbuckler voiced by Antonio Banderas proved to be surprisingly resilient in its second week of release: Ticket sales dropped only 3%, and the film raked in an additional $33 million, according to studio estimates. After a lackluster start last weekend, the picture appears to be benefiting from strong word-of-mouth and has already collected $75.5 million in North America.

"We always had a two-weekend launch strategy for 'Puss in Boots,'" said Anne Globe, the studio's head of worldwide marketing. "To have this strong of a hold is pretty unprecedented, and it's a testament to how much audiences loved the movie."

"Tower Heist," meanwhile, pocketed a softer-than-projected $25.1 million. The other new movie in wide release, "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas," made a soft $13.1 million on its first weekend in theaters. Overall, it was a disappointing weekend at the box office, with sales down 25% from the same period last year.

"I'm very concerned with the level of the business as the current moviegoing malaise continues," said Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution for Universal Pictures, which released "Tower Heist." "When you have a picture like 'Tower Heist,' where you see that people really like it way above the norms, you wonder what's going on."

The film about a group of employees attempting to steal money from their wealthy neighbor in a Manhattan high-rise was directed by Brett Ratner and produced by Brian Grazer. The movie cost distributor Universal Pictures and co-financier Relativity Media about $75 million to make, after tax rebates.

The film appealed mostly to an older crowd, with 62% of the audience over age 35. Those who saw the picture — 56% of whom were female — gave it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

The movie almost didn't play in a number of large theater chains this weekend because exhibitors threatened not to screen it after Universal said last month that it would release "Tower Heist" via video-on-demand just three weeks after its theatrical debut. Theater owners balked at the studio's proposal to offer the movie for $59.99 to cable subscribers in two U.S. cities, fearing it would hurt ticket sales at the multiplex. However, Universal canceled the early video-on-demand roll-out.

"Tower Heist" got off to a stronger start than Murphy's last two live-action films, the 2009 family movie "Imagine That," and the 2008 comedy "Meet Dave." Neither of those pictures came close to topping $20 million at the domestic box office by the end of their theatrical runs.

Still, "Tower Heist" will not end up being as big a success as "Coming to America" or "Beverly Hills Cop." The latter, released at the height of Murphy's popularity in 1984, made more than $230 million in the U.S. and spawned two more installments.

"I think this is a decent result for him, when you look at his last nonfamily releases," said Universal's Rocco. "I think people will talk about this movie and him. This weekend, the audience who came out listed their main reason for seeing the movie as Eddie Murphy."

Still, the weekend's results leave open the question of whether Murphy holds enough clout to boost the ratings of the Oscar telecast. The comedian has been hired to host the Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 26, which is being produced by Ratner.

"Tower Heist" also opened in 21 foreign markets this weekend, collecting $9.5 million abroad. It performed best in Great Britain, where it debuted in the No. 3 spot with $2.3 million. The picture has yet to open in 42 countries, including France, Russia and Italy.

The third entry in the "Harold & Kumar" comedy series opened to slightly less than the $14.9 million the second film debuted with in 2008. That movie, "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay," ultimately grossed $34.5 million worldwide.

The new film about the two stoners — the first in the franchise to be released in 3-D — was given an average grade of B by moviegoers. Of those who saw the film — 73% of whom were under age 35 — an overwhelming 95% opted to purchase a pricier 3-D ticket.

While the movie's start wasn't impressive, it cost New Line Cinema only about $19 million to produce. Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of distribution for Warner Bros., distributing the film, said, "the real success for 'Harold & Kumar' films has been in home video."

"The box office has always been relatively modest, and the real strength has come from the male audience with DVD sales," he added.

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