'Shrek Forever After' opening draws less than half as many moviegoers as 'Shrek the Third'
The 41% decline in ticket sales revenue to $71.3 million for the fourth and final "Shrek" installment doesn't tell the full story of how far DreamWorks Animation's premier franchise has fallen in just three years.
The number of moviegoers who went to see the latest "Shrek" fell by more than half from its predecessor. Though it's impossible to calculate a precise attendance figure, the drop is clear, as judging from the rise in ticket prices over the last three years and the fact that 54% of "Shrek Forever After" revenue came from theaters showing it in standard digital 3-D and 7% from Imax, which carry average surcharges of $3 and $5, respectively.
There are plenty of theories for the drop: Perhaps a fourth installment was one too many for sequel-weary moviegoers. Maybe some felt burned by the less well-received "Shrek the Third." Or audiences may be more discriminating in their film choices, particularly 3-D films, as ticket prices skyrocket.
As DreamWorks learned from "How to Train Your Dragon," a movie shouldn't be counted out just because of a soft opening. But unlike that March release, audiences are already very familiar with "Shrek" and shouldn't have had to wait for word-of-mouth to determine whether they were interested in seeing the latest sequel.
With the potentially lucrative Memorial Day holiday weekend coming up, and no other 3-D family film in theaters for another month, "Shrek Forever After" could play well for the next couple of weeks. But with its weak start, the movie still has a tough climb to reach the $322-million domestic total of "Shrek the Third."
Internationally, the story may be different. While it won't open in most foreign markets until late June and July, after the World Cup, "Shrek Forever After" squeaked past 2009's "Avatar" to post the biggest-ever opening in Russia this weekend, with $20 million. It could end up coming close to or exceeding the $476-million international total of "Shrek the Third" and make a healthy profit on its production budget of about $165 million.
"This was on the low end for a 'Shrek' film," DreamWorks worldwide marketing chief Anne Globe said of the domestic opening. "But we're very optimistic that it's on its way to becoming a worldwide hit."
Hollywood's summer movie season isn't looking too hot so far compared with last year, as it's been dragged down by the underperformance of "Shrek Forever After" and "Robin Hood." Total box-office revenue since the first weekend of May is down 1.6% from the same period in 2009, according to Hollywood.com, and attendance is down 7.6%.
Overseas, "Prince of Persia" debuted in 19 foreign countries, including Great Britain, Germany and Spain, ahead of its worldwide bow next weekend. It took in a less-than-impressive $18 million, though distributor Walt Disney Pictures noted that the film was hurt by unseasonably warm weather in Western Europe. Its performance in those countries was well below that of several benchmark films noted by Disney, including the original "Iron Man" and the historical epic "Kingdom of Heaven."
For more on the opening of "MacGruber" and second weekends of "Robin Hood" and "Letters to Juliet," see our initial box-office post.
Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:
1. "Shrek Forever After" (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount): Opened to $71.3 million. $26 million overseas in nine foreign markets.
2. "Iron Man 2" (Marvel/Paramount): $26.6 million on its third weekend, down 49%. $13.3 million overseas in 61 foreign markets. Domestic total: $251.3 million. International total: $268 million.
3. "Robin Hood" (Universal/Relativity): $18.7 million on its second weekend, down 48%. $30 million overseas in 58 foreign markets. Domestic total: $66.1 million. International total: $125 million.
4. "Letters to Juliet" (Summit): $9.1 million on its second weekend, down 33%. Domestic total: $27.4 million.
5. "Just Wright" (Fox Searchlight): $4.2 million on its second weekend, down 49%. Domestic total: $14.6 million.
6. "MacGruber" (Rogue/Universal): Opened to $4.1 million.
7. "Date Night" (Fox/Dune): $2.8 million on its seventh weekend, down 26%. $2.1 million overseas in 34 foreign markets. Domestic total: $90.7 million. International total: $51.3 million.
8. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (New Line/Warner Bros.): $2.3 million on its fourth weekend, down 51%. $7.3 million overseas in 35 foreign markets. Domestic total: $59.9 million. International total: $27.5 million.
9. "How to Train Your Dragon" (DreamWorks Animation): $1.9 million on its ninth weekend, down 63%. Domestic total: $210.9 million.
10. "Kites" (Reliance Big): Opened to $1 million.
-- Ben Fritz
Top photo: A scene from "Shrek Forever After." Credit: DreamWorks Animation. Bottom photo: Jake Gyllenhaal in "Prince of Persia." Credit: Walt Disney Studios