Propelled by a fantastic showing from Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, the Holiday season launched with slightly higher attendance than in 2007 and 2006, though it trailed the season's starts for 2001 through 2005. With the subsequent scheduling of another event picture, Quantum of Solace, Holiday business may not experience the second weekend lull of the past few years, when weaker titles were released.
The Madagascar sequel grooved to $63.1 million on approximately 7,100 screens at 4,056 sites, handily swinging past the $47.2 million debut of its 2005 predecessor and ranking among the ten biggest animated starts of all time. Rendering Escape 2 Africa's opening even more impressive is that it had a non-holiday berth compared to the first movie's Memorial Day weekend, and its four-day attendance was still higher, reaching $68.3 million through Monday. The first Madagascar went on to gross $193.6 million by the end of its run, and the sequel's opening and timing portends a bigger tally by its close.
Comprising five and a half percent of Escape 2 Africa's weekend was an IMAX gross of $3.5 million at 129 venues, ranking as the format's top animation debut. By comparison, Kung Fu Panda nabbed $2.2 million at 90 venues on its opening weekend, or less than four percent of its overall start. Panda's IMAX haul ultimately reached $13 million, accounting for six percent of its $215 million total gross. Producer DreamWorks Animation's exit polling on Friday and Saturday suggested that 51 percent of Escape 2 Africa's audience was over 25 years old and 60 percent was female, while half of Friday's and a two thirds of Saturday's moviegoers were classified as "family."
Escape 2 Africa's on point marketing campaign promised more of the shenanigans that made the first movie a hit. Ads wisely eschewed the pop culture references that DreamWorks Animation is known for and emphasized the popular side characters, like the paranoid penguins and the loony lemurs. The computer animation format has proven fruitful for franchising, unlike other types of family movies, and Madagascar joins the ranks of the Toy Story, Shrek and Ice Age brands. Other properties looking to extend success beyond one movie down the road include Cars and Kung Fu Panda.
Debuting in second place over the weekend, Role Models boasted a solid $19.2 million on around 3,000 screens at 2,792 theaters. While not in the league of some recent Will Ferrell or Seth Rogen entries in R-rated comedy, the picture was well above average for arrested development comedies in general, out-drawing the similar Drillbit Taylor from earlier this year by a wide margin. According to distributor Universal Pictures' research, 51 percent of the audience was under 25 years old, with 53 percent of the audience male. The movie's "Humor" was overwhelmingly voted the top reason people went to see the picture (at 85 percent) in the studio's polling, followed by lead actors Seann William Scott (40 percent) and Paul Rudd (38 percent) as distant secondary reasons.
Also opening nationwide, Soul Men was off-key with $5.4 million on approximately 2,400 screens at 2,044 venues. Music-themed comedies tend to have a tough time finding an audience theatrically, including the comparable Blues Brothers 2000 from ten years ago, and the material presented in Soul Men's marketing simply didn't command moviegoers' attention.