Weekend Briefing: Four Middling Movies Muddle Through
This weekend, Marmaduke bounds onto over 3,700 screens at 3,213 theaters, Killers hits around 3,300 screens at 2,859 theaters, Get Him to the Greek takes the stage on approximately 3,200 screens at 2,696 theaters, and Splice is unleashed on close to 2,600 screens at 2,450 theaters.

None of these four nationwide releases have the air of an event, and Shrek Forever After may have enough juice left in it to spend a third weekend at the top spot. Shrek 4's grosses over the past few days have been nearly on par with Shrek the Third, which generated $28 million in its third weekend.

The broadest new release, Marmaduke, seems to have the most bankable pedigree, being the latest entry in the popular talking-animal family comedy sub-genre. It's also positioned on the same post-Memorial Day time period that's seen such highly successful releases as Up, Kung Fu Panda, Cars and Finding Nemo.

Recent talking-animal hits include the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, Garfield and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Marmaduke strays from the formula a bit by featuring a very large animal, and Chipmunks and Garfield had much more prominent source material. In Marmaduke's trailer, the premise is that Marmaduke moves to California, but such an approach treats the movie as if it were a sequel instead of establishing the franchise.

Marmaduke's advertising hasn't seen the heavy rotation of Chipmunks, Chihuahua and others, and a random dancing dog scene looks like an imitation of Chihuahua. Owen Wilson, who voices Marmaduke, has also been at the forefront of the marketing even though celebrity voices have not been a boon for comparable titles. Marmaduke, though, is a role reversal from Mr. Wilson's last hit, so the thinking may be: "You saw him live with a dog in Marley & Me. Now see him be the dog."

Box Office Mojo's reader polling bears out these concerns over Marmaduke. Less than four percent have voted to see the movie on opening weekend, which was half the interest of G-Force and even less than Underdog among past movies.

Killers has relied on its lead actors to carry the day, because its ads haven't gone beyond the exhausted "Oh my god, I married a spy" premise. While Katherine Heigl (who re-teams with her Ugly Truth director Robert Luketic) plays a character befitting her persona, Ashton Kutcher has no rapport with audiences as an action star, given his roles in mostly goofy comedies. What's worse, is that the marketing has been so quickly and incoherently presented, that the actors' charm has been muted and not allowed to shine in order to draw in audiences.

Similar movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith had a smashing debut on the same June weekend in 2005, but Killers seems more in the same vein as The Bounty Hunter, but it rates much lower in Box Office Mojo's reader polling with less than eight percent voting to see it on opening weekend.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall spin-off Get Him to the Greek is a music-themed comedy, the type of movie that typically flames out at the box office (Pirate Radio, The Rocker, Walk Hard, etc.). Its lead actors, Russell Brand and Jonah Hill, have been comedic supports but aren't known to be audience surrogates. On this weekend last year, The Hangover debuted to tremendous business with no established stars, but it had relatable themes and characters. Knocked Up had an early June birth as well back in 2007.

Though it's been consistently pushed as a comedy trip in its advertising, it would be shocking if Get Him to the Greek proves nearly as appealing as Hangover or Knocked Up, given its narrower focus. Its pattern in Box Office Mojo's reader polling is closer to I Love You, Man and Role Models, though other music comedies have shown more inflated interest relative to their box office.

Splice stands as the first creature feature in more than two years, though the genre is a staple of the cable and straight-to-video markets. It's another "science run amok" horror movie akin to Species and Mimic, and the marketing campaign has been on point: it's clear what this movie's about and people are either in or out, based on their predilections.

Comparable titles have consistently delivered decent numbers, and Splice has posted a good showing in reader polling, scoring a 14.6 percent opening weekend vote with a pattern close to Daybreakers (although with a little less interest).

Last Weekend Briefing

Desert-set 'Sex,' 'Prince' Potentially Arid

Latest Weekend Report

'Sex,' 'Prince' Deserted as 'Shrek' Leads Weak Memorial Weekend

This Timeframe in Past Years:

• 2009 - 'Up' Lifts Pixar to Tenth Smash

• 2009 - 'Hangover' Gets High, 'Up' Hangs On
• 2008 - 'Panda,' 'Zohan' Come Out Fighting

• 2007 - 'Pirates' Sinks, 'Knocked Up' Scores

• 2007 - 'Thirteen' Less Than 'Twelve,' 'Eleven'

• 2006 - Exes Exceed 'X-Men'

• 2006 - Pixar Manufactures Seventh Smash with 'Cars'

• 2005 - 'Cinderella Man' Pulls Punch, 'Madagascar' Claims Title

• 2005 - 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith' Honeymoons at the Top

• 2004 - Hotter 'Potter:' Summer Move Yields Franchise High Start

• 2003 - '2 Fast 2 Furious' Revs Up, 'Nemo' Strong in Second

• 2002 - 'Sum of All Fears' Detonates in First Place

• 2002 - 'Bad' Business for Bruckheimer's Latest

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'Get Him to the Greek'