This Memorial Day weekend was the lowest-grossing in nine years and the slowest in at least 15 years in terms of estimated attendance. Overall business was down 14 percent from the same period last year. The simple reason for these doldrums is the movies themselves: an indifference-inspiring brew of tepid holdovers and non-event new releases.
Shrek Forever After won the weekend by default, not because it exhibited particular strength. The animated sequel grossed $57.1 million for the four-day weeekend, off 39 percent Friday-to-Sunday. While that was a better hold than Shrek the Third, which fell 56 percent, it was a steeper drop than Shrek 2 (down 33 percent) and the first Shrek (which didn't drop).
All three previous Shreks boasted greater attendance than Shrek 4, which has nonetheless made $146.8 million in eleven days. Shrek 4 had the purported boost of 3D going for it, but, on that front, a little ground: while last weekend, 3D accounted for 61 percent of business, this weekend the 3D share was 60 percent.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time mustered a $37.8 million four-day weekend on around 5,600 screens at 3,646 locations. That was far less than any Pirates of the Caribbean or Mummy movie, although it was bigger than Hidalgo and Sahara among desert adventures. Distributor Walt Disney Pictures' research showed that 58 percent of the audience was male, and 58 percent was aged 25 years and older.
Sex and the City 2 notched a $36.8 million four-day weekend on approximately 6,100 screens at 3,445 locations, bringing its total to $51 million since its Thursday debut. That's a huge step backwards from the first Sex and the City, which bagged $57 million on its first three-day weekend and had $68.1 million by day five. Distributor Warner Bros.' exit polling indicated that a whopping 90 percent of Sex 2's audience was female, and 54 percent was under 35 years old. By comparison, the first Sex's opening weekend audience was 83 percent female.
Prince of Persia and Sex and the City 2 ranked a lowly 15th and 18th, respectively, among Memorial Day opening weekends and, in terms of estimated attendance, they wouldn't even crack the Top 25. Based on their content and marketing, though, it would have been unreasonable to expect otherwise.
People seem to lose their heads in regards to sequels, but, aside from aberrations like The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Sex and the City 2 was closer to the way sequels are supposed to behave, though the movie's marketers exacerbated the situation with a severe case of "sequelitis." They assumed that the brand name was all they needed for another summer hit, delivering an utterly inessential and random sequel after the first movie tidily wrapped up the storylines. It's a wonder that they didn't subtitle the movie "The Legend of Carrie's Shoes."
As for Prince of Persia, it was assumed that the combination of fantasy spectacle, video game branding, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney would be sufficient to create a new blockbuster franchise in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean. But the marketers forgot not only about story and characters but spectacle as well. Ads were a generic, golden brown blur, and this movie needed a strong, clear message to get people to care about its foreign adventure. Unbankable Jake Gyllenhaal and a video game name don't cut it. Oddly, a tremendous amount of marketing space was used to sell "May 28" over the movie itself. Somebody must really have had a thing for "May 28," judging by the movie's billboards and bus ads.
Landing fourth for the weekend, Iron Man 2 pulled in a $21.1 million four-day, decreasing 38 percent Friday-to-Sunday. It again delivered worse numbers than the first Iron Man, which made $26.1 million on the same weekend in 2008 and was down 36 percent. Iron Man 2, though, had a higher cumulative gross of $279.7 million in 25 days versus the first movie's $258.3 million through the same point.
Robin Hood retreated 45 percent and grossed a $13.4 million four-day, lifting its total to $86.1 million in 18 days. While not terribly exciting as summer movies go, that's solid for the Medieval Times: it's now the second highest-grossing picture of the sub-genre behind Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and it has summarily trumped the final estimated attendance figures of past titles like King Arthur and Kingdom of Heaven.
Dipping 35 percent, Letters to Juliet had the smallest slip among nationwide holdovers. The romance attracted $7.5 million over the four-day weekend, and its total grew to $38.2 million in 18 days.
MacGruber took the biggest hit of the weekend among nationwide holdovers, tumbling 61 percent for a $2 million four-day. With a mere $7.7 million in 11 days, the action spoof is on track to becoming Saturday Night Live's lowest-grossing nationwide release ever.
• Around-the-World: 'Persia' Perks Up Overseas
• This Weekend in Box Office History
• Weekend Briefing: Desert-set 'Sex,' 'Prince' Are Arid
• 'MacGruber' Fails to Defuse Bomb
• 'Shrek' Shrinks with Fourth Movie
This Timeframe in Past Years:
• 2009 - 'Night at the Museum,' 'Terminator' Dominate Memorial Weekend• 2008 - 'Indy' Whips Up Massive Memorial Start
• 2007 - Third 'Pirates' Sacks Memorial Record
• 2006 - 'X-Men' Marvels with Memorial Record
• 2005 - 'Star Wars' Edges Out Critters & Convicts on Memorial Weekend
• 2004 - Globe Warms to 'Day After Tomorrow'
• 2003 - 'Bruce' Blesses Memorial Weekend
• 2002 - 'Clones,' 'Spider-Man' Lead Record Memorial Weekend
• 4-day Weekend Box Office Results
• 3-day Weekend Box Office Results• All Time Memorial Day Weekend Openings
• Romantic Comedy Opening Weekends
• Video Game Adaptation Opening Weekends
• Desert Adventure Opening Weekends