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Movie Projector: Tyler Perry's latest 'Madea' film should trample 'Water for Elephants'

April 21, 2011 |  1:41 pm

Davidmanntylerperry Tyler Perry will hose an elephant at the box office this weekend.

"Madea's Big Happy Family," the latest release from the prolific filmmaker-writer-actor, is expected to gross about $30 million, according to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys. "Water for Elephants," a romantic drama based on Sara Gruen's bestselling novel about a Great Depression-era traveling circus, should trail with about $15 million. The weekend's other new wide release, "African Cats," an animal documentary featuring lions and cheetahs, will probably sell about $7 million worth of tickets.

But all of the new releases will face competition from last weekend's top movie, the 3-D animated "Rio." The cartoon about birds on a Brazilian adventure has been performing well over the week, probably because many children are still on spring break. On Wednesday alone, it collected $3.6 million -- and the movie's domestic total heading into the weekend stands at just over $50 million. By the end of this weekend, "Rio" should add at least $20 million more to its take.

Tyler Perry's new film is the fourth featuring Madea -- the sassy, plus-size grandmother played by the actor-filmmaker -- as a protagonist. His first Madea film, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," opened in February 2005 to $21.9 million and wound up with $50.6 million domestically. The Madea movies have only risen in popularity since: "Madea's Family Reunion" opened in 2006 to $30 million and finished with $63.3 million, while "Madea Goes to Jail" premiered in 2009 with $41 million and went on to gross a total of $90.5 million. All three previous films about Madea opened in February, but Perry's ensemble drama "Why Did I Get Married Too?" debuted on Easter weekend last year to $29.3 million -- his biggest opening for a movie not starring the popular character.

"Madea's Big Happy Family" cost Lionsgate about $25 million to produce, meaning that if projections are correct, it should be off to a good start financially. However, the opening weekend will be especially important for the film, because its core audience of older African American women typically rush out to see Perry's new movies when they debut.

Water "Water for Elephants," which stars Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, is generating interest from the "Twilight" heartthrob's young female fan base as well as older women familiar with the book. The movie cost 20th Century Fox about $40 million to produce.

While Pattinson has proved his box office clout as a vampire, he has yet to successfully open a movie outside of Summit Entertainment's franchise. "Remember Me," the March 2010 drama about 9/11, flopped domestically with just $19.1 million. While starring alongside Oscar-winner Witherspoon can't hurt, even the actress has had better success opening comedies than dramas. Her lighthearted films "Four Christmases," "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Legally Blonde" all grossed more than $140 million worldwide. But her most recent movie, director James L. Brooks' "How Do You Know," a comedy with serious overtones, collected only $47.7 million worldwide and cost nearly three times as much to produce.

"African Cats" was made by Disneynature, the Walt Disney Studios' label that produces documentaries about nature and wildlife. The division's first release was 2009's "Earth," a feature-length version of the popular TV series "Planet Earth," which opened to $8.8 million and ultimately grossed $32 million domestically. "Oceans," which followed in 2010, premiered with $6 million and ended up with $19.4 million.

Overseas, two big summer tentpoles that have yet to premiere in the U.S. have already opened internationally and will continue rolling out this weekend. Universal Pictures' sequel "Fast Five," which hits domestic theaters next weekend, opened in Australia on Wednesday, where its two-day gross now stands at $4.34 million. The heist movie featuring high-speed car races will open in Britain, Korea and New Zealand this weekend. Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures' Marvel property "Thor," which launches stateside May 6, will also open in Australia this weekend.

Sony Pictures Classics will have two films in limited release. "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," the latest documentary from filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, will open in 18 theaters. "Incendies," nominated for best foreign language film at this year's Oscars, will open in one theater in Los Angeles and two in New York.

--Amy Kaufman

Top photo: David Mann, left, and Tyler Perry star in "Madea's Big Happy Family." Credit: Lionsgate.

Bottom photo: Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon star in "Water for Elephants." Credit: 20th Century Fox.