'Shrek' underwhelms but tops boxoffice

Ogre takes in $71.3 million; MacGruber opens in sixth place

So much for the public's hunger for anything in 3D.

DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek Forever After" bowed even more lightly than some had feared, with the family comedy topping domestic rankings with just $71.3 million in estimated weekend boxoffice. The latest Paramount-distributed pic about a lovable ogre and his family debuted with significantly less green stuff than the two previous "Shrek" sequels, which each fetched $100 million-plus in their first three days.

Now execs must hope the franchise's first 3D installment mimics the market longevity of DWA's "How to Train Your Dragon," a mere $44 million March opener that's used fire-breathing 3D venues to leg out an impressive $210.9 million domestic run. Produced for an estimated $135 million, "Shrek Forever After" hit multiplexes amid expectations of an even more lucrative theatrical campaign.

Elsewhere this weekend, Universal unspooled Rogue's action comedy "MacGruber" with a paltry $4.1 million in sixth place. Universal's Russell Crowe starrer "Robin Hood" dropped 48% from its week-earlier opening to ring up $18.7 million in third place for $66.1 million in cumulative coin.

Summit Entertainment's Amanda Seyfried starrer "Letters to Juliet" dipped 33% in its sophomore session for $9.1 million in fourth place and a $27.4 million cume, while Fox Searchlight's romantic comedy "Just Wright" slid 49% to $4.2 million in fifth place with a 10-day cume of $14.6 million. Paramount-distributed "Iron Man 2" grabbed second place in its third weekend, with $26.6 million and a $251.3 million cume.

The $142 million session under-performed the same frame last year by a big 34%, Rentrak said. That's largely because the comparable 2009 weekend was stretched by the Memorial Day holiday.

Among limited openers, Anchor Bay's dramatic comedy "Solitary Man" fetched $89,000 from four locations, or an encouraging $22,250 per site.

First Independent's crime drama "Holy Rollers" bowed in three theaters and grossed $39,008, or a sturdy $13,003 per venue.

Also, Sony Pictures Classics drama "Mother and Child" added 19 playdates for a total 37 and grossed $90,736. That represented a soft $2,446 per engagement, as cume climbed to $213,595.

Pre-release projections for "Shrek Forever After" covered an unusually wide range of $80 million to $110 million, with optimists suggesting premium 3D ticket prices would make up for soft must-see interest. The four-quel's 4,359 playdates included a record 4,000-plus 3D screens, including 184 Imax 3D venues.

So-called upcharges on 3D admissions generally boost pic boxoffice. Some now believe exhibitors should rethink pricing on family titles such as "Shrek Forever After" in light of the picture's poor opening. (Prior to the weekend, an AMC venue in New York had priced its Imax tickets at $20, only to be ordered by corporate headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., to wind down the fee to $19.)

"Shrek Forever After" attracted audiences comprised 59% of females, with 56% of patrons under age 25. Returning to voice the characters in the PG-rated pic were Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy, with Mike Mitchell ("Sky High") directing.

The previous "Shrek" pic -- May 2007's "Shrek the Third" -- posted a franchise-best $121.6 million opening and $322.7 million overall domestically. May 2004 opener "Shrek 2" collected the franchise's total domestic boxoffice at $441.2 million.

"We opened below our expectations," DreamWorks marketing topper Anne Globe said. "With the fourth film, we were in some uncharted territory. But both the kids and parents highly recommend us in exit surveys. So we have to remain optimistic for the playtime to come."

"MacGruber" stars Will Forte in the title role of the big screen debut of his "Saturday Night Live" sketch character. Audiences skewed 58% male, with 51% of patrons aged 25 or older.

"I'm clearly disappointed, but it was produced for under $10 million," Rogue marketing chief Geoff Ammer said. "It was low budget and low risk."

Looking ahead, two pics square off during the long Memorial Day weekend. Warner Bros.' female-targeting sequel "Sex & the City 2" will stretch the frame further by unspooling Thursday, and Disney opens adventure fantasy "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" on Friday.