'Shrek' fourquel likely to top boxoffice

"Shrek Forever After"

VIDEO: Franchise finale could take $100 mil through Sunday

Kids just wanna have fun -- or so DreamWorks Animation's bean counters will be hoping this weekend.

The Glendale studio's Paramount-distributed "Shrek Forever After" opens Friday, with execs more challenged than comforted by the knowledge that each installment in the family-comedy franchise has posted successively bigger bows and together have collected $1.23 billion in their domestic campaigns. The most recent entry -- May 2007's "Shrek the Third" -- unspooled with $121.6 million en route to an eventual $322.7 million domestic tally.

But the $441.2 million rung up in the U.S. and Canada by May 2004's mega-leggy "Shrek 2" was the 9-year-old franchise's most-lucrative domestic campaign. So that sequel's total boxoffice and the threequel's opening tally are the marks to beat -- with the fourquel likely to fall short by both measures.

Ads have tagged "Shrek Forever" as the "final chapter" in the lucrative film series about the big green ogre, his sometimes ogre-like princess bride and his faithful-if-frustrating sidekick mule. The characters again are voiced by Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy; Mike Mitchell ("Sky High") directed.

In a franchise first, "Shrek Forever" is being released in 3D and will play on at least one 3D screen in more than half of its 4,359 U.S. and Canadian locations. With double 3D-screening in many venues, the fourth edition will play in more than 4,000 extra-dimensional auditoriums in the biggest 3D screen count ever.

Rated PG, "Shrek Forever" should top the weekend with perhaps $100 million through Sunday. Prerelease tracking suggests a lighter bow, but such projections are infamous for underrating family films and don't account for the hefty impact of 3D upcharges. (An AMC theater in New York is selling tickets for Imax 3D screenings of "Shrek Forever" at a venue-record $20.)

As for the film's longer-term prospects, "Shrek Forever" will enjoy a Memorial Day-stretched soph session before running into its first rival family film on June 4, when Fox unleashes live-action comedy "Marmaduke." An even more fearsome rival -- Disney/Pixar's 3D tentpole "Toy Story 3" -- hits theaters June 18.

There's been speculation on Wall Street about the possibility of a disappointing bow by "Shrek Forever" and the likely effect on DreamWorks Animation shares. But such pessimism is tempered by the recollection that DWA's "How to Train Your Dragon" opened with less than $44 million in March but now is pushing $210 million.

"I'm optimistic on the weekend, and I'm even more optimistic about the play time that follows," DWA marketing boss Anne Globe said.

Production costs totaled an estimated $135 million on "Shrek Forever," roughly in line with those on other DWA pics despite the added expense of 3D.

Also this weekend, Universal debuts action-comedy spoof "MacGruber." Taking to the big screen his sketch character from "Saturday Night Live," Will Forte stars in the title role of an ex-special ops officer recalled to duty to hunt arch-nemesis Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer).

"SNL" writer-director Jorma Taccone gets a first feature directing credit with the R-rated pic. Produced by Rogue Pictures for less than $10 million, "MacGruber" is tracking limply and looks likely to register just $8 million-$10 million through Sunday.

Elsewhere, holdovers "Iron Man 2" from Paramount/Marvel and "Robin Hood" from Universal will be eyed for signs of market fatigue. The "Iron Man" sequel enters its third frame, while Uni's Russell Crowe starrer rides into its second session after opening last weekend with a so-so $36.1 million.

On an industrywide basis, this session will be compared with 2009's Memorial Day frame, so there's scant chance of marking a year-over-year weekend uptick. The $222 million session was topped by the $70 million bow of Fox's "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."

Year to date, industry grosses are outpacing those from a similar portion of last year by 7% at $3.85 billion.