'Robots' Rivets, 'Passion' Fails to Rise Again
The iron age proved less appealing than the Ice Age, but nonetheless delivered robust returns for distributor 20th Century Fox and New York-based computer animation company Blue Sky Studios.

Robots mustered $36.0 million at 3,776 locations (including $1.4 million from 58 IMAX sceens), the second-biggest March opening behind the $46.3 million at 3,316 venues of Fox and Blue Sky's first computer-animated effort, Ice Age. According to Fox, exit polling indicated that 44 percent of the audience was under 12 years old, 32 percent was parents and 23 percent was non-family. Robots played younger than most recent computer-animated features, including the last non-holiday one, Shark Tale, which had 30 percent of its opening audience under the age of 12.

Prior to Robots, the average opening weekend for a computer-animated feature was $42.4 million, and, as more and more computer animated pictures are produced (with most made by studios other than genre-pioneering Pixar), it could trend downward as the novelty wanes. Attracting wide audiences to these pictures is no longer automatic, and a universal story with some basis in reality is required for successful assembly—an upgrade that would have helped Robots far more than loading up on celebrity voices and pop culture references.

A mechanized world with no context made Robots look more random and manic than many kid-oriented pictures—the trailers featured characters voiced by Ewan McGregor and Robin Williams being tossed around in a ball with no explanation of what they were doing or why.

Science fiction-themed animation generally is a turn-off to audiences, and recent years are littered with such high profile flops as Treasure Planet, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Titan A.E. and The Iron Giant. Robots scored the biggest opening ever of the sub-genre, and, by that measure, the $75 million production is a smash.

Last weekend's family success, The Pacifier, was not subdued by Robots, packing $18.2 million, down 41 percent, for $54.5 million in ten days. Be Cool chilled in its second weekend, falling 56 percent to $10.3 million for a ten-day haul of $38.4 million.

Hostage negotiated $10.2 million from 2,123 theaters. The thriller's opening marks one of the weakest for star Bruce Willis in a serious action role, selling about as many tickets as Last Man Standing did in 1996. The last time Willis had a hit was in 2000 with Unbreakable and The Kid.

Almost as phenomenal a failure as it was a blockbuster last year, the trimmed The Passion of the Christ re-release, The Passion Recut, drew $223,789 from 957 venues—averaging a paltry $234 per site. Director Mel Gibson and distributor Newmarket expected more business in the hope of making The Passion an Easter tradition, but fans of the movie were not devout enough after seeing it in droves in its $370.3 million original run and on DVD—which is far cheaper than a night at the picture show and the main threat to theatrical re-releases in this digital age.

The dismal returns of The Passion Recut may suggest that The Passion of the Christ was an of-the-moment cultural event last year. It was a statement in favor of a religious incumbent in a presidential election year, heightened by the war and the perceived nihilism of Hollywood. At the time, Mr. Gibson explained why he regarded the graphic violence as necessary to the story, and the audience generally agreed. By shearing six minutes of gore to attract those who might have otherwise found it unsettling, he contradicts his previously stated views and seems willing to compromise his hard fought artistic vision for a few extra bucks.

The Passion Recut was all for naught. Those who criticized the movie's extreme violence most vocally were fundamentally opposed to The Passion in the first place. They were not simply squeamish Christians. Less violence appears to have alienated the picture's fan base and failed to convert non-believers, while the editing has undermined Mr. Gibson's status as the David versus Goliath Hollywood.


ANALYSIS: The Academy Awards Are Meaningless

ANALYSIS: 'Passion,' 'Fahrenheit' Tops in 2004

Nov. 8, 2004 - $70M Fantastic for 'The Incredibles'

Oct. 4, 2004 - 'Shark Tale' Slays Box Office Blahs

May 24, 2004 - 'Shrek 2' Lands Far, Far Ahead of Summer Pack
• REVIEW: Robots

• REVIEW: Hostage
Weekend Box Office Chart

NOTE: This report was updated on Monday, March 14 with actual grosses.