'Shark Tale' Slays Box Office Blahs

by Brandon Gray
October 4, 2004

After weeks of shrimpy business, Shark Tale revived the marketplace with a whale of an opening.

DreamWorks' computer-animated feature devoured $47.6 million at 4,016 theaters—the third widest release ever. Since the opening was $1.5 million less than the studio's $49.1 million estimate on Sunday, Scary Movie 3 retains the all time October record with its $48.1 million bow last year. Nonetheless, Shark Tale stands as DreamWorks' second best debut yet, behind Shrek 2's $108.0 million, and No. 4 all time for animation after Shrek 2, Finding Nemo ($70.3 million) and Monsters, Inc. ($62.6 million).

Overall, Shark Tale along with Ladder 49's sturdy $22.1 million opening helped deliver the biggest first weekend of October ever. All movies playing racked up $113.6 million, edging out the previous high of $110.5 million posted in 2002 when Red Dragon bowed. Shark Tale alone accounted for 42% of business.

Breaking the weekend down, Shark Tale took in $12.9 million on Friday, spiked 63% to $21.1 million on Saturday and fell 36% to $13.6 million on Sunday—a pattern similar to other computer-animated pictures although more precipitous on Sunday than expected, which lead to the discrepancy between DreamWorks' estimate and the actual.

According to DreamWorks' exit polling, the audience was predictably comprised mostly of families—60%, same as Shrek 2—and 30% was under 12 years old. Among children, gender was split evenly between male and female, but over the age of 12 it skewed female, 60/40. Moviegoers in general liked the picture as 82% rated it either "excellent" or "very good," though not as much as Shrek 2, which scored a 92%. The "definite recommend" was a decent 75%.

"The appeal was broader than most animation," DreamWorks head of distribution Jim Tharp told Box Office Mojo. "A lot of it had to do with the voice talent—Scorsese, Smith, DeNiro—and the music helped it. For October, you actually have to get adults."

Shark Tale originally targeted a Nov. 5 berth, but moved a month forward after Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles later picked the same date. November became further crowded with such family movies as The Polar Express (Nov. 10) and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (Nov. 19).

"We've always liked this month, and we wanted to avoid all the family movies in November," Tharp explained. "The exhibitors were really wanting something that appealed to families."

Indeed, DreamWorks' first foray into animation, Antz, debuted on this same weekend in 1998, beating Disney/Pixar's A Bug's Life to the punch. It opened at No. 1 with $17.2 million and marched to a $90.8 million final gross. (A Bug's Life later earned $162.8 million.)

Computer-animation has consistently led to success ever since the style's first feature 1995's Toy Story—provided it has been applied to family fare. Since 1999, around $40 million has been the minimum opening wide weekend for the major releases. Shark Tale, with its focus on celebrity voices, pop culture references and an adult movie plot, may have lacked the universal appeal (beyond its undersea setting) to break out beyond genre norms.

Just as Shark Tale's trailer was introduced with Shrek 2, DreamWorks attached the trailer to its next computer-animated event, Madagascar, to Shark Tale. Featuring the voices of Ben Stiller as a lion and Chris Rock as a zebra, Madagascar concerns zoo animals trying to escape their confines. It opens on May 27, 2005.

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