'Rio' Getting Ready to Storm the U.S.

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Fox's 3D toon could be this year's "How to Train Your Dragon."

The top-grossing film of 2011 at the domestic box office this year is Paramount family film Rango, which has earned $117.7 million so far. Could Fox’s 3D toon Rio soon fly away with the crown?

Last weekend, Rio opened to a stunning $55 million at the international box office — the top debut of the year for any film anywhere — raising hopes for the family film’s domestic chances.
 
Universal’s Hop posed little competition for Rio in the foreign territories where they both played, and Fox is hoping for the same when Rio opens Friday in the U.S. and Canada. Hop has done far better in the U.S., grossing nearly $69 million in its first 10 days.
 
Rio has a great date. With a large swath of kids out of school next week for spring break and with the Easter holiday falling on April 24, Rio has the potential to gross north of $90 million in its first two weeks alone — if it plays as well as last year’s How to Train Your Dragon.
 
Rio, with a voice cast led by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway, is sure to take a bite out of Universal’s Hop, but Hop already has two weeks of play under its belt, grossing $68.7 million to date.
 
Just as Rio revived the international box office, it could restore confidence in the earning potential of the domestic box office, which has been struggling for months.
 
Animated films debuting before summer don’t necessarily have big openings, but if they open close to Easter, they can amass huge grosses quickly.
 
Last year, DreamWorks Animation’s Dragon grossed $43.7 million when bowing at the domestic box office on March 26, a week before Easter. In its first 10 days, Dragon raked in $92.1 million en route to $217.6 million domestically. 
 
Box office observers expect Rio to debut along the lines of Dragon, which would put it just above Rango ($38.1 million) and Hop ($37.5 million). Fox is putting Rio’s opening lower, considering how volatile the box office has been.
 
Rio won’t have any competition until late May, when Kung Fu Panda 2 opens. 
 
Rio has big earning potential overseas, as did Dragon, which cumed $277.3 million at the foreign box office for a global take of $494.9 million. As in the U.S., kids overseas also get a spring break, although most kids in Europe are only now starting to get out of school.
 
Hop has gotten off to a slower start internationally, but studio insiders are expecting it to ultimately bring in $75 million-$100 million overseas and roughly $125 million domestically. 
 
Rio has more earning potential than Hop for several reasons. Pure animated films do better than CGI/live-action hybrids like Hop. Also, Hop is a tougher sell overseas because of its American take on the Easter bunny (the Easter bunny actually originated in Europe). And Rio is in 3D.
 
Universal says Hop, which cost $63 million to produce, is a financial hit for the studio. The film was made by Illumination Entertainment, which Chris Meledandri launched in partnership with Universal after leaving Fox Animation Studios.
 
Rio didn't cost all that much more than Hop. The film's production budget was $90 million, thanks in large part to Fox partner Blue Sky Studios being based in Greenwich, Conn., which provides generous production tax breaks. Also, Blue Sky Studios doesn't succumb to the West Coast animation arms race, since it is based back east.
 
Rio is the sixth film that Blue Sky  has made for Fox Animation, now headed by Vanessa Morrison.
 
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