The Hunger Games topped the box office for the third time in a row Whatever my issues with The Hunger Games in terms of its quality as a film, its continued box office might can only be a good thing. Considering the current trend of studios basically remaking/rebooting/rehashing every remotely popular property over the last thirty years, the fact that this NEW adaptation from a NEW novel is going to be among the top three grossing films of the year by a healthy margin can only be a good lesson. Anyway, The Hunger Games topped the box office for the third time in a row this weekend, dropping a perfectly reasonable 43% in weekend three, for a weekend haul of $33.5 million. This gives the film a massive $302 million in seventeen days, which is the second-largest such haul for a film outside of summer in history. That’s the fifth-biggest seventeen-day total in history, and 11 days ahead of Alice In Wonderland, the closest non-summer competitor and just two days behind Avatar. Forget Twilight comparisons, it’s already passed Eclipse, which is the highest-grossing entry in the series. And forget the majority of the Harry Potter series, as it’s $14 million away from surpassing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and it’s already tied with the $303 million 17-day total of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II with significantly larger second and third weekends to boot. At this point, it’s playing like Spider-Man 2 and the last Harry Potter film, with stronger weekends but lighter weekday grosses. The second Spidey pick ended its third weekend with $302 million and ended its domestic haul with $373 million, while Harry Potter 7.2 ended with $381 million. Factoring a rather busy April and the coming summer onslaught, that’s as good a place to predict as to where the first The Hunger Games ends up.

The top opener, one of two wide releases, was American Reunion. The unasked-for sequel is the fourth theatrical entry in the American Pie series but the eighth chapter counting the four direct-to-DVD films. This ‘most of you need a paycheck because none of you really broke out’ rehash opened to $21 million, which is almost identical to the $19 million debut this time last year of Scream 4. To be fair, at least some of the cast has worked relatively steadily since 1999, with Alyson Hannigan going from one hit show (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) to another long-running hit show (How I Met Your Mother) and Jason Biggs amassing a number of starring film/television/stage credits to his name (we mock Chris Klein, but he is still steadily employed to this day). Anyway, the Universal film cost $50 million, which is a problem as severe front-loading (it made 43% of its weekend gross on Friday, for a lousy 2.3x weekend multiplier) makes legs unlikely (older kids are likely to just see 21 Jump Street again, which crossed $100 million this weekend). Frankly I’m surprised the film opened at all, as the very audience members who are supposed to have fond memories of the series (and their own young adult years) have spouses and kids and all the things that prevent them from racing out to see a movie on opening weekend. I can’t speak for a demographic that I’m no longer a part of, but do 20-somethings or teens see this series as some-kind of classic franchise or was it merely a matter of those direct-to-DVD releases keeping the series in the public eye over the last nine years (61% of the audience was under-25)? Whatever the case, Universal got somewhat lucky here with a strong $19 million overseas debut, but expect American Divorce, American Retirement, and American Funeral to forgo theatrical release.

The third new release was the 3D reissue of James Cameron’s Titanic. The film opened with about $8 million over its Wednesday/Thursday debut and earned another $17.3 million over the Fri-Sun portion, giving it a solid-but-not spectacular $25 million over five days. Paramount and Cameron spent $18 million to do what is allegedly a top-notch 3D conversion, so this is free money especially as this will be the film’s first theatrical release in a number of overseas territories. The slightly smaller-than-expected haul arguably can be chalked up to some of the same ‘excuses’ as American Reunion. I loved Titanic when it came out and still defend it to this day. But I find it hard enough to see NEW movies in a timely manner, let alone finding 3.5 hours to watch a 3D conversion of a film I own on DVD. The recent Disney animated re-issues are a different situation, since parents of young children can bring those kids along if they wish, basically satisfying their nostalgia while entertaining the children for a couple hours (The Phantom Menace had little nostalgia, as the nerds hate it). I don’t think too many large families were opting for the 3.25 hour 3D conversion of a film chronicling the tragic drowning of 1,500 people. Still, The Lion King may have been a fluke in the long run and maybe $50 million is the natural best-case scenario for these things. But I suspect that Finding Nemo (which feels perfect for 3D and is a modern classic to a generation or two) will be the big 3D reissue that all others will be compared to, but studios wanting to reissue 3D converts of less kid-friendly pictures (cough-Jurassic Park-cough) should pay heed.

The big limited debut was the long-awaited return of Whit Stillman. Twelve years after The Last Days of Disco, Damsels In Distress debuted on four screens for a $16,000 per-screen average. It won’t play much behind the art-house circuit, but its a moral victory for his die-hard fans. IFC’s We Have A Pope grossed $31,500 on three screens. In holdover news, both of last weekend’s major releases held up slightly better than expected. Wrath of the Titans grossed $15 million this weekend, or a drop of about 55%. With $58 million in ten days, it’s trailing far behind the $110 million ten-day total for Clash of the Titans. It’s not going to come anywhere near the $161 million domestic gross of Clash of the Titans, but a respectable $300 million worldwide gross is still in the cards. Mirror Mirror dropped just 35% in weekend two, for a $11 million second-weekend gross and a $36 million ten-day total. The small drop is primarily due to a lack of purely kid-friendly new films in the marketplace, although the five-weekend-old The Lorax will cross $200 million this week (it’s at $198 million). Also of note, the sheer number of ‘can my kid handle this?’ inquiries that I received upon taking my daughter last weekend implies that parents weren’t sure about the appropriateness of this PG (shoulda-been G) movie and waited until others saw it first. Of course, both films opened a bit smaller than expected last weekend, and both respective ten-day totals are probably what the studios were hoping for on opening weekend.

Sony finally expanded The Raid: Redemption, and the terrific action thriller grossed $564,000 at 160 theaters for an okay $3,208 per screen. Journey: The Mysterious Island sits within striking distance of $100 million domestic ($99 million) while it burns up the overseas chart and heads towards $325 million worldwide on a $80 million budget. Salmon Fishing In the Yemen is holding strong in limited release, dropping 23% this weekend and upping its cume to $4.6 million (or about what it would have grossed on opening weekend with an even remotely-wide release). Same goes for Jeff Who Lives At Home and its current $3.3 million cume. The under-the-radar anti-abortion drama October Baby now has $3.5 million. Finally the much-hyped Bully dropped 35% despite adding a sixth screen. The film now has $235,000 and will expand next weekend with a shiny-new PG-13 edited version, because (shocker!) Weinstein has no principles after all.

That’s it for this weekend. Join us next time for a bunch of new releases. Among the wide releases are Lockout (review Tuesday), Cabin in the Woods, and The Three Stooges and among the limited debuts are Badass and Detention (review once I can sit down and watch the screener). Until then, happy Easter and/or Passover everyone!

To read more go to Mendelson’s Memo

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