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'Kick-Ass' opens somewhat soft but still may have plenty of kick [updated]

April 18, 2010 | 12:04 pm

KickAss If "Kick-Ass" plays in the U.S. like it has overseas, Lionsgate may have something of a hit on its hands despite its somewhat disappointing $19.75-million estimated opening.

[Update, 12:25 p.m., April 19: "Kick Ass" ended up number 1 in the final box office tally. Details here.]

There's no denying that the ironic spin on superhero sagas fell short of what Lionsgate was hoping for and others in Hollywood were expecting this weekend. Its virtual tie with "How to Train Your Dragon" for the No. 1 spot is, if nothing else, a public-relations blow.

Still, "Kick-Ass" has had starts in Britain, Australia and New Zealand that were less than spectacular but has shown strong momentum in all three, where it is being distributed by Universal Pictures. This weekend in Britain, its third, ticket sales dropped only 26%, while they fell 32% on the second weekend in Australia and actually rose 2% on the second weekend in New Zealand.

Lionsgate executives are hopeful they'll see the same kind of hold domestically, which could take the picture from a $19.75-million opening to a healthy final gross of $60 million or more.  The prospects for that are decidedly mixed. Audiences overall gave it a so-so average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

Young audiences embraced the movie, however, as people under 25 gave it an A. Older moviegoers, particularly women, dragged the average grade down, apparently turned off by its extreme violence. The movie did best in big cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Boston but flopped in the South and in Canada.

"I think the message of this movie is somewhat difficult to convey, and the word of mouth needs to spread so people know it's not just a typical genre picture," said David Spitz, executive vice president of distribution for Lionsgate. "A $20-million open is enough to do that."

Even if "Kick-Ass" has so-so playability and ends up with $45 million to $60 million, it should be at least modestly profitable for Lionsgate. The studio paid $15 million for distribution rights to the independently financed film, spent a little less than $30 million on advertising and prints and has already made about $4 million from its role in foreign sales. As with all movies, Lionsgate will keep about half of the domestic box-office gross -- the rest stays with exhibitors -- and then make more from DVD and other post-theatrical markets.

In the worst-case scenario, however, "Kick-Ass" could end up like "Watchmen," which opened short of expectations based on fanboy buzz, then dropped quickly and ended up with a total gross of just double its first weekend.

Outside of the U.S., the biggest box-office news came from Japan and Spain, where "Alice in Wonderland" had very strong openings of  $14 million and $10.1 million, respectively. Both are the biggest debuts ever in those countries for a 3-D picture, ahead of "Avatar." Disney's "Alice" has taken in a spectacular $503.5 million from foreign countries and $324 million domestically.

[Update, 12:24 p.m.: "Clash of the Titans" also had outstanding openings in Mexico, Argentina and Italy, generating $53.6 million from 57 foreign countries this weekend and bringing its international gross to date to $188.7 million.]

For more on the opening of "Death at a Funeral" and the post-debut domestic performances of "Dragon," "Date Night," and "Clash of the TItans," see our initial box-office post.

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

1. "How to Train Your Dragon" (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount): $20 million on its fourth weekend, down 20%. $15.5 million overseas from 58 foreign territories. Domestic total: $158.6 million. Foreign total: $176.5 million.

2. "Kick-Ass" (Lionsgate): Opened to $19.75 million.

3. "Date Night" (Fox/Dune): $17.3 million on its second weekend, down 31%. $8.1 million overseas in six foreign territories. Domestic total: $49.2 million. International total: $17.8 million.

4. "Death at a Funeral" (Sony Screen Gems): Opened to $17 million.

5. "Clash of the Titans" (Warner Bros./Legendary): $15.8 million on its third weekend, down 41%. $53.6 million overseas in 57 foreign territories. Domestic total: $133 million. International total: $188.7 million.

6. "The Last Song" (Disney): $5.8 million on its third weekend, down 41%. Domestic total: $50 million.

7. "Why Did I Get Married Too" (Lionsgate): $4.2 million on its third weekend, down 62%. Domestic total: $54.9 million.

8. "Hot Tub Time Machine" (MGM): $3.5 million on its fourth weekend, down 35%. Domestic total: $42.5 million.

9. "Alice in Wonderland" (Disney): $3.5 million on its seventh weekend, down 33%. $34 million overseas in 53 foreign territories. Domestic total: $324 million. International total: $503.5 million.

10. "The Bounty Hunter" (Sony/Relativity): $3.2 million on its fifth weekend, down 24%. Domestic total: $60.4 million.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Aaron Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and Nicolas Cage in "Kick-Ass." Credit: Dan Smith / Lionsgate

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