'Shrek the Third' sets new animated b.o. record

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Shrek might have been able to avoid the throne in the story line of his third adventure in theaters, but he was not able to shirk his regal duties at the turnstiles in North America. Paramount Pictures' "Shrek the Third" seized the boxoffice crown for the weekend with an estimated debut of a dazzling $122 million from 4,122 theaters for a total to date of $122.9 million, which includes $907,000 from Thursday night previews.

The debut of "Shrek" marks the biggest animated film opening in boxoffice history, the third best nonholiday bow ever and the fourth-biggest opening weekend of all time. The opening for the DreamWorks Animation comedy also proved to be the biggest in Paramount history, a DreamWorks Animation best, the biggest of the "Shrek" franchise to date and the highest ever for a PG-rated film.

The only films that opened bigger than "Shrek the Third" were Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man 3" with $151.1 million, Buena Vista Pictures' "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" with $135.6 million and 20th Century Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand," which racked up $122.9 million during a four-day Memorial Day weekend.

Of course, with the latest "Pirates" film set to board theater marquees this coming Memorial Day weekend -- and with presales and other industry indicators pointing to a monster boxoffice debut for the swashbuckling adventure -- some of these records could be subject to change in short order.

"Spider-Man 3," the film that primed the moviegoing pump in early May, remained a potent force at the boxoffice. In its third weekend, the webbed wonder placed second with an estimated $28.5 million from 4,324 theaters, slipping a modest 51% from a week earlier and advancing its cume to an impressive $281.9 million in 17 days. The domestic cume will be swinging past the $300 million mark during the Memorial Day frame. Through the weekend, the worldwide total stands at a striking $748 million.

Although the practice has its detractors as well as advocates, the trend toward wider openings and wider theater holding patterns continues unabated. The weekend marked only the second time that two films were in more than 4,000 theaters apiece -- the first time came in July, when "Dead Man's Chest" and Warner Bros. Pictures' "Superman Returns" occupied more than 4,000 venues each during the same session. Additionally, "Spider-Man 3's" 4,324 locales marks a record theater count, besting its own record of 4,252 sites from two weeks ago.

With "Shrek" and "Spider-Man" in the house, it's not surprising that the estimated total for this weekend's top 12 films was up nearly 12% compared with a year ago: $172.9 million vs. $154.9 million. In a reverse sort of deja vu, last year's comparable session had the same two distributors in the top slots -- Sony's "The Da Vinci Code" placed first with $77.1 million and Paramount's" "Over the Hedge" was second with $38.5 million. The Hollywood Reporter projects the total for all films for the weekend to be in the low- to mid-$180 million range compared with $163.2 million a year ago.

Other films high in the overall rankings include 20th Century Fox's "28 Weeks Later." In its sophomore session, the sci-fi horror film from Fox Atomic placed third with an estimated $5.2 million, slipping a relatively moderate 47% considering the genre. A Fox spokesperson noted that "Later" might have found some footing and should hold up well in the weeks ahead. The 10-day cume is about $18.6 million.

Paramount's "Disturbia" is hanging around for the duration, taking the fourth slot with an estimated $3.7 million in its sixth weekend in theaters, off a scant 22% from a week ago. The suspense thriller has collected an estimated $71.3 million so far.

Universal Pictures' "Georgia Rule" gathered an estimated $3.5 million to place fifth, down a mediocre 48% on its second weekend, taking the cume for the R-rated drama to about $12.6 million.

Appearing for the first time among the top 12 films, "Waitress" added 51 locales for its third weekend, taking the theater count for the Fox Searchlight film to 116. The Adrienne Shelly-helmed comedy received a nice tip from moviegoers as it pulled in an estimated $1.1 million to take the 10th spot, averaging a hearty $9,784 per theater. The cume to date for the PG-13 "Waitress" is $2.2 million.

Speaking about the tremendous opening for "Shrek 3," Anne Globe, head of marketing for DreamWorks Animation, said, "The performance really proves once again that 'Shrek' is one of the most beloved franchises in movie history. We are really happy about the opening -- it was significantly beyond our expectations."

Globe said she didn't have audience-demographic numbers yet but noted that the film played to general audiences as well as families and kids. "Audiences of all ages love comedy and love to laugh," she said.

Globe said that the number of marketing tie-ins was roughly the same as the previous "Shrek" film, but "because of the audience familiarity with the franchise and characters, we were able to create custom content to extend the entertainment before the movie even came out." She noted that there was a Hewlett-Packard TV spot that featured Princess Fiona, and on the HP Web site there was a custom-made Shrek spoof of YouTube called YeTube, which has been picked up and played on the real YouTube.

For the previews, "Shrek" was in about 1,000 theaters that began screenings around 10 p.m. Thursday. Other records the not-so-jolly green ogre set this weekend: Saturday's $47 million tally was the second-biggest Saturday ever, and Sunday's $36.5 million was the second-highest for that day. The record highs for both days are held by "Spider-Man 3."

As for the third weekend of "Spider-Man 3," Sony Pictures Releasing president Rory Bruer said the studio couldn't be happier with the results. " 'Spider-Man 3' is well on its way to become the biggest 'Spider-Man' ever worldwide as well as the biggest picture in the studio's history," he said.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight's "Once" had a promising start and the highest per-theater average among the group, taking in an estimated $60,511 from two theaters, one in Los Angeles and one in New York. The R-rated modern-day musical drama set in the streets of Dublin, Ireland, averaged a stout $30,256 per theater and has garnered an estimated $70,074 since its Wednesday release. John Carney wrote and directed the film, which picked up a best dramatic film award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Magnolia Pictures' "Fay Grim" grossed an estimated $70,000, but it took about 29 theaters to get it to that level, which made for a bleak per-theater average of $2,414. The R-rated action-suspense film was written and directed by Hal Hartley and is the sequel to "Henry Fool."

ThinkFilm's "The Wendell Baker Story," featuring the Wilson clan of Andrew, Luke and Owen, debuted in 17 venues and took in an estimated $53,600. The ensemble comedy, which carries a PG-13 rating, averaged a soft $3,153 per theater.

The national boxoffice for the week ending May 17 was up 8% from the comparable seven-day period a year ago ($143.1 million vs. $132.3 million), while the year-to-date holds a nearly 7% advantage ($3.14 billion vs. $2.95 billion); the national boxoffice hit the $3 billion mark in 2007 at the earliest point in boxoffice history. Estimated admissions for the year-to-date are up nearly 3% from last year.
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