With the demographically-compatible pairing of Rio and Scream 4, this weekend is poised to be the first truly up weekend of the year. Rio lands on over 6,100 screens at 3,826 locations (including 2,591 venues showing it in 3D), while Scream 4 strikes around 4,400 screens at 3,305 locations (it grossed just over $1 million in its midnight opening). The same weekend last year offered relatively modest releases Kick-Ass and Death at a Funeral (2010).
Rio marks the sixth production from 20th Century Fox-based Blue Sky Animation, following the three Ice Age movies, Robots and Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!. The animated comedy has been heavily promoted, including during the Super Bowl and on the Fox network (American Idol, etc.), and the ads have hit many of the notes people enjoy in this genre, using tropical birds as the vehicle (with some monkeys on the side). Recent ads have added "The Movie" to the title (because people were confusing it for the Duran Duran song?), but the fact that Rio's "from the creators of Ice Age" has been ever present. The marketing has also trumpeted a quote dubbing Rio to be the biggest "animated triumph since Toy Story 3" (which came out all of ten months ago). While Rio's first trailer was sound and reminiscent of the approach taken with Ice Age, the second trailer made the mistake of rattling off the names of the voice talent (Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, the vocally ubiquitous George Lopez, etc.) instead of showing the story.
Adjusted for ticket price inflation, $43 million is the average opening weekend for movies comparable to Rio, while Blue Sky's average is $53 million, not including the sequels. Hop holds the record for largest April family movie debut ever at $37.5 million, though this year is skewed by Easter coming so late (April 24). Rango's $38.1 million start in March currently stands as 2011's high.
Meanwhile, Scream 4 arrives more than 11 years after Scream 3 wrapped up the story. But one of the unwritten rules of horror is that franchises never die so long as there's a little more money to be squeezed out of them, so it makes sense for such a self-reflective franchise like Scream to carry on. The first Scream was a tremendous success, making $6.4 million in its pre-Christmas 1996 weekend launch but ultimately drawing $103 million (or the equivalent of over $180 million adjusted for ticket price inflation). Scream 2 had a massive $32.9 million launch a year later (over $57 million adjusted) and closed with $101.4 million. The audience waned with Scream 3, which nonetheless pulled in $34.7 million (nearly $52 million adjusted) out-of-the-gate in Feb. 2000 and ended its run at $89.1 million.
Scream 4's marketing has harkened back to the first movie: the franchise's appeal lies in being a "who's doing it" thriller first and foremost, balancing horror and comedy to be a fun thrill ride. Scream 4's ads have openly embraced this, such as with the tagline "getting scared has never been this much fun," and they have amped up the stakes by threatening the lives of the original leads played by Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox.
Sequels to long-dormant-but-memorable franchises can still pack in audiences, sometimes becoming the top-grossing entries (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Live Free or Die Hard), but they're likely to trail their predecessors in terms of attendance (like with those fourth Indiana Jones and Die Hard movies). In horror, Friday the 13th , A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween were recently brought back in the guise of remakes and posted franchise-best grosses (outside of Freddy Vs. Jason), but ranked lower in attendance.
One more thing to note about Scream 4 is that it is opening on the same weekend that Scary Movie 4 did back in 2006. That spoof debuted to $40.2 million (over $49 million adjusted). "Scary Movie" was the original title of Scream, and the first Scary Movie was released five months after Scream 3 as a (redundant) spoof of Scream.
Based on the pre-weekend indicators available, either picture could take the weekend. Scream 4 has an excellent chance at being No. 1 on Friday, but Rio's family appeal makes it the favorite for Saturday and Sunday. Rio's polling suggests $44 million this weekend, but Scream 4's polling indicates a weekend of around $50 million. However, interest in Scream 4 seems so extreme that it may be skewed by heavy fan influence (its numbers are similar to Sucker Punch).
The weekend also sees the release of director Robert Redford's The Conspirator at 707 locations and Atlas Shrugged: Part I at 300 locations. Despite some television advertising, Conspirator is not likely to be more than a blip, while Atlas Shrugged is more of a wild card. The latter's generated buzz simply by being the first-ever adaptation of Ayn Rand's popular and influential novel of the same name and due to its topicality, having been cast as the first "Tea Party" movie.