Shrek 4 Wins Slow Memorial Weekend Box Office

This year’s Memorial Day weekend box office, which usually yields Hollywood with some of its biggest numbers of the year, turned out to be a bit of a sleeping giant. Thanks to mediocre bows by the critically-maligned pics Sex and the City 2 and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and merely okay holds by Shrek Forever After and Iron Man 2, box office dipped 14% from last year’s numbers and 13% from the same weekend in 2008.

There were two major factors contributing to this weekend’s underwhelming box office: high ticket prices and a lack of enticing product. if you look at the past half decade or so, each Memorial Day weekend had a big event picture: 2005 had the final Star Wars film Revenge of the Sith, 2006 presented X-Men: The Final Stand, 2007 saw the debut of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 2008 saw the return of a certain archeologist in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and those who loved the original Night at the Museum in 2006 were offered Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian in 2009. While I know the fans of Sex and the City are legion and there are millions of people who have played the Prince of Persia videogame series, were many of them desiring either of the new films? I thought not.

Please note that the estimated grosses reported in this article are based on Friday-to-Sunday ticket sales.

Benefitting from those 3D and IMAX ticket prices and a lack of interest in other multiplex offerings, Shrek Forever After stayed at the top spot this weekend with an estimated gross of $43.4 million from 4,367 screens for a new ten-day total of $133.5 million to date. Off a respectable 38% from last weekend’s $70 million debut (maybe families are digging it more than anyone else?), the film could finish in the $210-220 million range which would still be the lowest of the long-running Dreamworks Animation franchise.

Sex and the City 2 was expected to take the top spot this holiday weekend but underperformed with a $32.1 million three-day weekend estimate 3,445 screens and an overall gross of $46.3 million since Thursday. In comparison, the original opened two years ago this weekend (a non-holiday weekend at that) on fewer screens to a huge $57 million 3-day gross. The sequel, which was all but eviscerated by the critics, was pegged to have grossed $65-75 million for its first five days.

Sequels are always expected to drop a bit over successive days as devout fans turn out en masse on opening day, but even those numbers were lower than the originals (Opening day was $14.2 for the sequel, $26.7 million for the original). The lower-than-expected box office debut for the $95 million production proves two things, the first being that perhaps not as many people liked the first one as Warner/New Line had thought. Secondly, the word-of-mouth on the new film from fans appears to be mirroring the critics. For a third film to occur (God help us all), the foreign box office is going to have to save the day.

In third place with a somewhat weak $30.1 million take from 3,646 screens was Disney’s big-budget Jerry Bruckheimer production Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time. Filmed over two years ago under the direction of Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Four Weddings and a Funeral), the delayed big screen version of the hit Ubisoft videogame series suffered from a lackluster ad campaign (has there been one ad that has mentioned the videogame series?), critical indifference and the fact that Jake Gyllenhaal is NOT a big box office draw (a good actor, just not a marquee name). Adding to the Prince’s box office woes was the fact that the Shrek sequel offered families a PG-rated alternative to the PG-13 violence and intensity of Persia. Families were a key demographic that Disney was hoping to tap into for a big holiday box office start. As with Sex and the City 2, Persia will have to set its sights on the global box office to recoup its pricey production costs.

Down 39% from last weekend was Paramount/Marvel’s Iron Man 2 in landeding with a $16 million weekend estimate and new domestic total of $274.6 million. The film is still on track to either match or pass the original’s $318 million take. In fifth place with a $10.3 million take was Universal’s costly Robin Hood. Off 45% from last weekend, the film has brought in a so-so $83.5 million in domestic ticket sales thus far. Overseas, the Ridley Scott film has found bigger success by bagging a big $155 million.

In sixth place is the Amanda Seyfried film Letters to Juliet with an estimated take of $5.9 million in sales and a new to-date gross of $36.6 million. Seventh spot went to the NBA comedy Just Wright with $2.2 million and a $18.1 estimated to-date gross. In eighth place with a 40% drop was the long-running Date Night which added $1.75 million to its domestic total, now standing pretty at a winning $93.5 million.

Dropping 63.5% but somehow managing to stay in the top ten was the Universal bomb MacGruber with a $1.4 million take and a horrible ten-day take of $7 million. It’s kind of scary to state that the movie will not recoup its $10 million production cost at the box office (remember, half of the gross is usually what is sent to the studios). Rounding out the top ten is another long-running winner from this past Spring, Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon, which dropped another 46% to $1.02 million and a new domestic total of $212.6 million to date.

Next weekend the funny Universal comedy Get Him to the Greek debuts, along with the Aston Kutcher and Katherine Heigl action comedy Killers, the horror film Splice starring Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley and Fox’s live-action family comedy Marmaduke featuring the voice of Owen Wilson as the dog. You can play our interactive weekly box office game on Tuesday and predict what these films will make for a chance at Blu-ray prizes.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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