Sid, voiced by John Leguizamo, center, surrounded by his family in "Ice… (Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century…)
20th Century Fox can chill out now, as the fourth installment of the studio's animated "Ice Age" franchise easily debuted in the No. 1 spot at the box office this weekend.
"Ice Age: Continental Drift," the only new movie to hit theaters nationwide this weekend, opened with a solid domestic sum of $46 million, according to an estimate from Fox. The 3-D picture reunites the series' beloved band of prehistoric mammals and features a number of celebrities in its voice cast, including Queen Latifah, Nicki Minaj and Ray Romano.
Meanwhile, "The Amazing Spider-Man" maintained a strong hold during its second weekend in theaters, with ticket sales falling only 44% to $35 million. The superhero flick headed into the weekend with $160 million already in its web, so that means the movie has grossed $200.9 million in the U.S. and Canada. Worldwide, the film has grossed $521.4 million.
Despite the healthy ticket sales for both tent-pole films, overall receipts were down roughly 39% from the same weekend in 2011, when the final installment of "Harry Potter" debuted with a massive $169.2 million.
So far this year, sales are up about 7% compared to last year, while attendance has lifted 9%. Those numbers should see a boost next weekend when "The Dark Knight Rises" hits theaters; the previous Batman film, "The Dark Knight," debuted with an impressive $158.4 million in 2008.
The new "Ice Age" may have been hurt by two other 3-D animated family films playing at the multiplex: DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" and Pixar Animation's "Brave." While "Madagascar" is cooling off after its sixth weekend in theaters, "Brave" took in an additional $10.7 million this past weekend — its fourth in the marketplace. Each of those movies had more robust openings than "Ice Age 4," collecting more than $60 million apiece upon their debuts.
"Ice Age 4" opened with slightly more than the $41.7 million the third installment debuted with in 2009. But the film's start didn't come close to topping the second "Ice Age" film, which collected $68 million during its first weekend in theaters in 2006.
Predictably, "Ice Age 4" attracted a broad audience of parents and children: Half of the crowd was 25 and older, and half was under. The film was not especially popular in 3-D, as only about 35% of moviegoers were willing to shell out a few extra bucks to see it in the format. But those who saw the film enjoyed it, assigning it an average grade of A-, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
The domestic launch for "Ice Age 4" didn't break any records, and the film will no doubt sell the majority of its tickets overseas. Before the movie's U.S. debut, it had already sold more than $200-million worth of tickets internationally, and this past weekend grossed an additional $95 million from more than 70 foreign markets, raising its total abroad to $339 million.
"Ice Age 4" performed best in Russia, where it had the biggest opening day ever for an animated film. The movie's $16.4-million take in the country also marked the biggest opening weekend of the year. The picture also did brisk business in Germany, the United Kingdom and France.
International audiences have long been a fan of movies featuring talking animals, such as the "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar" franchises. But "Ice Age" is one of the most popular foreign properties: The third movie in the series grossed a massive $690.1 million abroad, which constituted 78% of the film's worldwide gross.
Asked whether the early grosses for "Ice Age 4" were strong enough to warrant a fifth installment, Fox's president of domestic distribution, Chris Aronson, replied:
"This film is going to gross north of $750 million worldwide. I'll leave it at that."