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First look: Soft box-office start for 'Kick-Ass,' which is vying for No. 1 with 'Dragon' [updated]

April 18, 2010 |  9:14 am

HitGirl In a victory for families over fanboys, "Kick-Ass" opened to a surprisingly soft estimated $19.75 million and headed into Sunday in a virtual tie for first place at the box office with a still-fiery "How to Train Your Dragon."

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

Lionsgate's satirical superhero movie was expected by most people in Hollywood who had examined pre-release polling to sell closer to $30 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada. Its disappointing performance shows how difficult it can be to gauge the excitement of young male fanboys, who made up the movie's core audience, as well as whether films targeted at them will generate interest from a broader crowd.

"Kick-Ass" was also undoubtedly hurt by an R rating that kept away some interested teenagers as well as criticism from some reviewers over the violent actions of a pre-teen girl character.

It's far from a financial flop for Lionsgate, which paid $15 million for distribution rights to the independently financed picture after it created huge buzz at last year's Comic-Con. If word-of-mouth is strong and it plays well in upcoming weeks, "Kick-Ass" could end up a modest hit.

In the game of public perception, however, it's certainly a loss for "Kick-Ass" to come into Sunday slightly behind the $20 million that distributor Paramount Pictures estimated that "How to Train Your Dragon" generated this weekend.

Ticket sales for the DreamWorks Animation family picture fell only 20% on its fourth weekend in theaters, demonstrating the continued strong word-of-mouth that has driven the animated film to be a major success despite a modest start. Its total take in the U.S. and Canada after four weeks is a very healthy $158.6 million.

Different studios estimating weekend grosses disagreed over whether "Kick-Ass" or "Dragon" performed better, meaning it won't be until Monday when it's known which film took in more money. Given that "Dragon" is playing in 3-D with higher ticket prices, it's probable that more people saw "Kick-Ass."

DeathFuneral "Death at a Funeral," the only other film to debut nationwide this weekend, opened to a decent $17 million, in line with pre-release estimates. Sony Screen Gems' remake of a 2007 British film with a mostly African American cast that includes Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan cost $21 million to produce.

The Steve Carell-Tina Fey comedy "Date Night" benefited from positive buzz and dropped only 31% on its second weekend to $17.3 million.

Warner Bros.' and Legendary Pictures' 3-D action film "Clash of the Titans" dropped 41% on its third weekend to $15.8 million, bringing its three-week total to a solid $133 million.

[For more, see our follow-up analysis.]

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: Chloe Grace Moretz and Mark Strong in "Kick-Ass." Credit: Dan Smith / Lionsgate. Bottom photo: Tracy Morgan, left, and Chris Rock in "Death at a Funeral." Credit: Phil Bray / Sony Pictures

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