'Persia' bests 'Sex' but 'Shrek' wins weekend

‘Sex’ sizzles but falls short of expectations with $37.1 million

Love isn't always lovelier the second time around, as it turns out, but anyone claiming there are no second acts in American lives needs to talk to a certain emigre from Far, Far Away.

"Shrek Forever After," the 3D family comedy from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount, fell just 39% from its first Friday through Sunday tally to rule the domestic boxoffice with an estimated $55.7 million from the four-day holiday weekend. The PG-rated pic's impressive second-frame performance follows its disappointing $70.8 million debut, while the movie expected to woo the most moolah -- Warner Bros.' bowing "Sex and the City 2" -- proved a mere boxoffice bridesmaid with $37.1 million in Memorial Day weekend coin.

Another $14.2 million from its first day in release on Thursday gave "Sex 2" a five-day opening of $51.4 million, underperforming forecasts of a $60 million-plus debut. The original "Sex and the City" movie fetched $62.6 million in a four-day bow during 2008's Memorial Day frame.

Elsewhere, Disney's Jerry Bruckheimer-produced adventure fantasy "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" drifted into second place with $37.8 million since opening Friday, in line with soft pre-release projections for the Jake Gyllenhaal starrer. And Universal's action spoof "MacGruber" followed its weak week-earlier bow with a dismal $1.9 million in ninth place for an 11-day cume of $7.6 million.

Collectively, the top 10 pics rang up $180.4 million, or 3.3% more coin than top performers during last year's comparable four-day session, a nonholiday weekend that followed Memorial Day, Rentrak said.

In a limited bow, Sony Pictures Classics unspooled Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Micmacs" in two New York locations to gross $41,641, while Entertainment One opened the dark comedy on a pair of Toronto sites with $15,130. The first-weekend performances represented encouraging U.S. and Canadian theater averages of $20,811 and $7,565, respectively, ahead of scheduled expansions into additional domestic markets on Friday.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, First Independent's crime drama "Holy Rollers" added 17 playdates for a total 20 and grossed $71,289. That represented an acceptable $3,564 per engagement, with cume rolling to $125,419.

The "Shrek" four-quel now boasts a $145.5 million cume, with its latest performance aided by $3.6 million from top-grossing Imax venues. Execs hope the strong sophomore session for the final chapter in the "Shrek" film series will help the franchise's first 3D installment mimic the leggy 3D run of "How to Train Your Dragon," a disappointing $43.7 million opener in March that went on to register an impressive $213 million domestically.

"It was a really strong hold for 'Shrek Forever,' and certainly we feel good about the weeks to come," DreamWorks Animation marketing maven Anne Globe said.

"Sex 2" features returning topliners Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis, with Michael Patrick King again directing.

The R-rated pic was challenged by harsh reviews and a 146-minute running time in seeking to rally a fan base of older females, mostly viewers of the HBO TV series "Sex and the City" that completed its six-season run more than six years ago. Opening audiences were comprised 90% of females, with 46% of patrons aged 35 or older.

"I'm very happy," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "It was the biggest R-rated Memorial Day opener ever."

"Sex 2" swiped those bragging rights from 1987's "Beverly Hills Cop II," which nabbed $33 million during its four-day frame.

The first "Sex" film grossed $152.6 million overall domestically. The New Line-produced sequel totes a reported $100 million negative cost, up from the first pic's $65 million in production expenses.

Directed by Mike Newell ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") "Persia" co-stars Gemma Arterton ("Clash of the Titans"). The PG-13 pic -- whose production costs ran to a reported $200 million -- drew audiences comprised 60% males, with 56% of patrons aged 25 or older.

"It came in right where all the pre-weekend estimates came in, so we're happy to be there," Disney distribution topper Chuck Viane said.

Looking ahead, the holiday-weekend openers will run into a phalanx of would-be challengers in their follow-up frames, with four pics set to open wide on Friday. Those include Fox's live-action family comedy "Marmaduke," Lionsgate's action comedy "Killers," Universal's R-rated comedy "Get Him to the Greek" and Warner Bros.' sci -fi thriller "Splice."