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Box Office: Easter moviegoers choose 'Rio' over Tyler Perry's latest 'Madea' film and 'Water for Elephants' [Updated]

April 24, 2011 |  9:27 am

Rio Over Easter weekend at the box office, moviegoers were more interested in "Rio," an animated family film, than "Madea's Big Happy Family."

"Rio," the 3-D cartoon about tropical birds, which was No. 1 when it debuted last weekend, was the top pick again with $26.8 million in ticket sales, according to an estimate from distributor 20th Century Fox. That was only a bit more than the solid $25.8 million collected by Tyler Perry's new film starring his loud-mouthed grandmother character, Madea. "Water for Elephants," a romantic drama starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, got off to a better-than-expected start, grossing $17.5 million. The weekend's other new wide release, the wildlife documentary "African Cats," did $6.4 million in ticket sales.

Box-office-madea-rio Overall, ticket sales this weekend were up roughly 39% compared with the same weekend last year. That's the first time the box office has been up a substantial amount this year.

Heading into the weekend, "Rio" had already made just over $50 million at the box office. The film, which features the voices of actors Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway, saw only a 32% drop in sales from last weekend. With its domestic total now standing at $81.3 million and the film already over the $200-million mark overseas, the $90-million budgeted-movie will likely end up as a financial success for Fox.

Perry's latest movie -- his fourth starring Madea as a protagonist -- opened to slightly less than the two most recent films featuring the famous cross-dressing character. "Madea's Family Reunion" debuted in 2006 to $30 million, while 2009's "Madea Goes to Jail" launched with $41 million. Both of those films opened in February, but Perry's films have seen success in April as well: Last Easter weekend, his ensemble drama "Why Did I Get Married Too?" debuted to $29.3 million -- his biggest opening for a movie not starring the recognizable character.

"Madea's Big Happy Family" drew in Perry's core audience -- older African American women. The crowd who saw the movie this weekend was 72% female and 81% African American and they loved the movie, giving it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Strong word-of-mouth will be important for the film, which cost Lionsgate about $25 million to produce, as Perry's fans typically rush out to see his movies on their opening weekends.

Water "Water for Elephants," based on Sara Gruen's bestselling novel about a 1930s traveling circus, had a budget of about $40 million. Most of those who saw the film seemed to be either older women familiar with the book or fans of young "Twilight" heartthrob Pattinson, as the audience was 70% female. And those moviegoers enjoyed the picture, giving it an average grade of A-minus. That positive buzz could be especially good news for the movie because audiences don't usually run to see adult dramas on their first weekend in theaters.

In any event, the movie is off to a far better start than Pattinson's last nonvampire movie. In March 2010, his Sept. 11 drama "Remember Me" opened only to a modest $8.1 million. The "Water for Elephants" results could mean that he's being taken more seriously as a dramatic actor -- or perhaps just that he should star in more films alongside popular leading ladies with box office clout, like Witherspoon.

"African Cats" was received well by audiences, who gave the film an average grade of A-minus. The movie's opening weekend was on par with previous films made by Disneynature, the Walt Disney Studios label that produces documentaries about nature and wildlife. The division's first release, 2009's "Earth," opened to $8.8 million, while last year's "Oceans" debuted to $6 million.

Meanwhile, "Hop," an animated film about the Easter bunny's teenage son, had a strong weekend, probably due to its holiday-related subject matter. "Hop" collected $12.5 million this weekend, bringing its domestic tally just over the $100-million mark to $100.5 million. The film's ticket sales were actually up 16% from last weekend -- a rare feat for a movie in its fourth week in theaters.

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics' "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," the latest documentary from filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, collected $135,139 from 18 theaters for a per-theater average of $7,506. The distributor also released "Incendies," which was nominated for best foreign language film at this year's Oscars, and took in $54,582 for a better per-theater average of $18,194.

[Updated at 10:35 a.m.: "Rio's" international success continued this weekend, as the film crossed the $200-million mark overseas. The movie grossed $44.2 million in 67 foreign markets, pushing its international total to $204.7 million. As in previous weekends, the movie performed best in Brazil -- where it is set -- only falling 7% from last weekend and collecting $6.7 million.

20th Century Fox also opened "Water for Elephants" in 14 foreign markets, where it earned $1.7 million. The only major market the film debuted in was Russia, where it grossed $1 million.

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

1. "Rio" (20th Century Fox): $26.8 million in its second weekend, down 32%. Domestic total: $81.3 million. $44.2 million in 67 foreign markets. International total: $204.7 million.

2. "Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family" (Lionsgate): Opened to $25.8 million.

3. "Water for Elephants" (20th Century Fox): Opened to $17.5 million. $1.7 million in 14 foreign markets. International total: $2.7 million.

4. "Hop" (Universal/Relativity): $12.5 million in its fourth weekend, up 16%. Domestic total: $100.5 million. $10.7 million in 53 foreign markets. International total: $47.2 million.

5. "Scream 4" (Weinstein Co.): $7.2 million in its second weekend, down 62%. Domestic total: $31.2 million.

6. "African Cats" (Disneynature): Opened to $6.4 million.

7. "Soul Surfer" (Sony/FilmDistrict): $5.6 million in its third weekend, down 23%. Domestic total: $28.7 million.

8. "Insidious" (FilmDistrict): $5.4 million in its fourth weekend, down 20%. Domestic total: $44.2 million.

9. "Hanna" (Focus Features): $5.3 million in its third weekend, down 28%. Domestic total: $31.7 million.

10. "Source Code" (Summit/Vendome): $5.1 million in its fourth weekend, down 18%. Domestic total: $44.7 million.]

RELATED:

Movie review: 'Rio'

Movie review: 'Water for Elephants'

-- Amy Kaufman

Photos, from top: The animated birds who star in "Rio"; Robert Pattinson stars in "Water for Elephants." Credits: 20th Century Fox

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