Weekend Report: ‘Dragon’ Takes Flight, ‘Hot Tub’ Gets Soaked

How to Train Your Dragon soared to the top of the weekend box office with $43.7 million on approximately 7,000 screens at 4,055 theaters, but it fell far short of the last DreamWorks Animation 3D feature, Monsters Vs. Aliens, which opened to $59.3 million on the same weekend last year. That along with a somewhat tepid start for Hot Tub Time Machine led to a 12 percent drop in overall business from the same timeframe in 2009.

While How to Train a Dragon's opening may seem a little toothless compared to Monsters Vs. Aliens, it was bigger than many other recent 3D cartoons, including A Christmas Carol, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Bolt and Meet the Robinsons, and it delivered the highest-grossing dragon movie debut ever, topping Eragon's $23.2 million. Dragon-centric movies as well as ones about Vikings like Dragon generally aren't big box office draws, and Dragon had the additional disadvantage of being an action-oriented animation, which typically doesn't play as well as comedy and talking critter cartoons. Monsters Vs. Aliens, on the other hand, had a concise premise, summed up in its title alone, and was focused on comedy.

Like Monsters Vs. Aliens, How to Train Your Dragon had the potential advantage of 3D and the higher ticket prices that entails, which were even higher starting this weekend as many theaters raised 3D prices by as much as $2 to $3 a pop. Dragon's 2,178 3D sites accounted for 68 percent of weekend business, while Monsters' 1,550 3D sites had a 56 percent share of its opening. The 3D price premium appears to have added around $10 million to Dragon's weekend gross, whereas Monsters saw an estimated $9 million boom. Dragon's 3D grosses included 185 IMAX runs that made up over 11 percent of the weekend gross.

"We haven't seen pushback," said Anne Globe, head of worldwide marketing for DreamWorks Animation, in regards to the escalating 3D ticket prices, citing the draw of "the immersive use of 3D as a tool for propelling the story." Ms. Globe pointed out that How to Train Your Dragon has Easter and spring breaks to look forward to, and it will not lose 3D screens to Clash of the Titans, which opens April 2 after recently being converted from 2D to 3D.

DreamWorks mounted an immense marketing campaign for How to Train Your Dragon, including integrated ads with the Winter Olympics in February. Ms. Globe cited new promotional tie-ins with McDonald's, WalMart and Hewlett-Packard (airing ads during the NCAA basketball championships). The commercials leading up to release, though, eschewed the movie's name and called it "DreamWorks' Dragons," oddly pluralizing Dragon and pushing the DreamWorks brand as if it were Pixar. Ms. Globe said they did this because 15- to 30-second spots were too short for what they wanted to accomplish. "We felt that 'DreamWorks Dragons' was enough of a mouthful," she explained. "We had a lot to communicate: the core of the story, the terrific reviews, the fact that it's in 3D, the flying scenes and the action, and the release date." The ads also explicitly referenced past DreamWorks hits Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda as well as Avatar and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (the latter also influenced the poster design).

According to DreamWorks' exit polling, 55 percent of How to Train Your Dragon's audience was female, 51 percent was 25 years and older and 59 percent was parents with children under 12. The demographics were comparable to DreamWorks' Monsters Vs. Aliens and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.

With $14 million on around 3,000 screens at 2,754 venues, Hot Tub Time Machine saw only a modest amount of action out of the gate and wasn't as bubbly as like-minded comedies like Old School, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and Role Models among others. Sure, Hot Tub had a catchy title, but then most people don't go to a movie just for the title (see Snakes on a Plane). The movie's premise and marketing may be what made it a niche player theatrically: it received attention from the titular hot tub time machine but then the arrested development and 1980s storylines lacked thrust in the commercials. Ads didn't even do much with the '80s spoof, perhaps hoping that '80s actor John Cusack would suffice, unlike top '80s retro hit, The Wedding Singer, which relished in the decade in its marketing. Distributor MGM reported a demographic breakdown of 58 percent male, 58 percent 25 years and older and 62 percent white.

Despite How to Train Your Dragon claiming more than a third of its 3D venues, Alice in Wonderland did not tumble like a house of cards. Instead, it had a slightly steeper decline than its previous weekends, down 48 percent to $17.3 million and bringing its total to $293.5 million in 24 days. Avatar, though, took its biggest hit yet, off 49 percent to $2 million. After being dominant for so long, its wind-down may seem rapid, but it has been losing a lot of theaters and also has a $740.4 million 101-day total as consolation.

In its second weekend, The Bounty Hunter retreated 42 percent and held a bit better than most recent similar movies at the same point, capturing $12 million for a $38.4 million total in ten days. Diary of a Wimpy Kid had a drop more akin to a fantasy children's book adaptation than a more down-to-earth one. It fell 54 percent to $10.1 million, and its total stands at $35.9 million in ten days. Last weekend's outright failure, Repo Men, lost 51 percent, grossing $3 million for an $11.3 million tally in ten days. In addition to the historic weakness of near-future action thrillers, the picture also had a confused ad campaign: some spots said the Jude Law character went on the run because he needed organ transplants he couldn't afford; while others contradicted this, saying he had a change of heart about taking organs from people. It's moot now: the movie's screens are about to be repossessed anyway.

In limited release, erotic thriller Chloe, featuring Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried, unfurled with a soft $900,668 at 350 sites. Greenberg was no great shakes either in its expansion to 181 sites, but it performed much better with a $1 million weekend.

At the foreign box office, Alice in Wonderland was on top again with an estimated $46 million, lifting its total to $363 million, while How to Train Your Dragon surged to $31.2 million in its roll-out to 35 markets, growing its total to $42.3 million.

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Weekend Preview: 'How to Train Your Dragon,' 'Hot Tub Time Machine'

Last Weekend

'Alice' Tops for Third Straight Weekend

This Timeframe in Past Years:

• 2009 - 'Monsters,' 'Haunting' Scare Up Big Business

• 2008 - '21' Scores

• 2007 - 'Blades' Takes Gold, 'Robinsons' Merits Silver

• 2006 - 'Inside Man' Takes the Bank

• 2006 - 'Ice Age 2' Hot, 'Basic Instinct 2' Not

• 2005 - 'Guess Who' Dines at Top Spot

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Weekend Box Office Results

• Dragon Opening Weekends

• 3D Opening Weekends

• Time Travel Opening Weekends

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