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3-D craze continues with 'Alice in Wonderland,' a hit left by former Disney executive team

March 7, 2010 | 12:36 pm

Alice3

3-D is proving red-hot in 2010.

In a sign that "Avatar" may be the progenitor of a new wave of successful 3-D tent-pole movies, "Alice in Wonderland" this weekend posted a $210.3-million opening driven largely by 3-D.

"We platformed from 'Avatar' to the success we had here," said Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross.

About 70% of the business came from theaters with at least one 3-D screen, about the same percentage as on the opening weekend of "Avatar." The new Tim Burton-directed movie was at more 3-D locations than its predecessor as exhibitors have added more capacity, but Disney executives said it was still clear from the box-office results that audiences were particularly motivated by the technology.

"In theaters with multiple formats, we saw that the Imax 3-D sold out first, then regular 3-D, and then 2-D," said Disney distribution president Chuck Viane.

"Alice in Wonderland" played in 3-D at 188 Imax locations in the U.S. and Canada, with virtually every showtime on the large-format screens sold out.

3-D has accounted for an increasingly large percentage of ticket sales for "Avatar" in its $2.6-billion, three-month run. That will be very difficult for "Alice," however, as most 3-D screens will switch to DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon" in just three weeks, a sign of the increasingly crowded marketplace for 3-D movies.

As often happens in Hollywood, "Alice in Wonderland" is a gift of sorts left by a former executive team. Big changes at Disney Studios began in September, when longtime Chairman Dick Cook was ousted. Though Ross and his team handled the successful marketing campaign for the picture, it was Cook and former production president Oren Aviv, who left in January, who greenlighted the risky $200-million production.

"The Disney team has developed a lot of terrific movies, including my predecessors who developed and produced this movie," Ross said.

The movie's European opening was almost derailed when the studio, in an initiative championed by Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger, announced that "Alice" would be released on DVD just 12 weeks after it hit the big screen. Several theater chains, including two of the three biggest in Britain, threatened not to show the movie because of concerns the short window would hurt ticket sales. That led to a tense standoff that was resolved at the last minute. (For more details on the opening of "Alice," as well as "Brooklyn's Finest," see our initial box office post.)

Ultimately, "Alice" collected $16.8 million in Britain, by far the highest-ever opening for a movie in March in the country. 

"I'm just glad we had enough seats for everybody," Viane said.

In limited release, director Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" continues to perform solidly, taking in $1.3 million at 147 theaters on its third weekend. French best foreign language film Oscar nominee "A Prophet" also did well, grossing $264,978 at 30 locations.

Summit Entertainment's effort to generate a little more box office for "The Hurt Locker," which is already on DVD, the weekend of the Oscars didn't have much success. Despite being one of two front-runners for best picture along with "Avatar," it took in just $439,000 at 274 theaters. Its domestic gross to date is $14.7 million, about 2% of the total for "Avatar."

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:

1. "Alice in Wonderland" (Disney): Opened to $116.3 million domestically and $94 million overseas in 40 territories.

2. "Brooklyn's Finest" (Overture/Millennium): Opened to $13.5 million domestically.

3. "Shutter Island" (Paramount): Took in $13.3 million on its third weekend, down 41%. $17 million overseas. Domestic total: $95.8 million. International total: $57 million.

4. "Cop Out" (Warner Bros.): $9.1 million on its second weekend, down 50%. Domestic total: $32.4 million.

5. "Avatar" (Fox/Dune/Ingenious): $7.7 million on its 12th weekend, down 44%. $21.8 million overseas in 68 territories. Domestic total: $720.2 million. International total: $1.88 billion.

6. "The Crazies" (Overture/Participate/Imagenation): $7 million on its second weekend, down 56%. Domestic total: $27.4 million.

7. "Percy  Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" (Fox/Dune/Ingenious): $5.1 million on its fourth weekend, down 47%. $9.3 million overseas in 64 territories. Domestic total: $78 million. International total: $110.7 million.

8. "Valentine's Day" (Warner Bros./New Line): $4.3 million on its fourth weekend, down 53%. $5.1 million overseas in 51 territories. Domestic total: $106.4 million. International total: $96.2 million.

9. "Crazy Heart" (Fox Searchlight): $3.4 million on its 12th weekend, up 36%. Domestic total: $29.6 million.

10. "Dear John" (Sony/Relativity): $2.9 million on its fifth weekend, down 41%. Domestic total: $76.7 million. 

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska and Anne Hathaway in "Alice in Wonderland." Credit: Disney

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