Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation's fractured fairy tale sequel didn't blow out Shrek 2, which had a $108 million first weekend (with $129 million in the till after a Wednesday start), but it exceeded expectations of franchise fatigue. Shrek the Third relied on people's appreciation of the first two movies, their characters and their sense of humor rather than introducing a significant new character or situation like Shrek 2's Puss in Boots.
"It's kind of a surprise and a happy one," said Ann Daly, chief operating officer of DreamWorks Animation. "We were thinking Shrek the Third could be right around the $100 million mark. What happened, happily, is that we had a good mix of both family and general audiences that really popped the number up."
The studio's exit polling indicated a 50/50 split between what it describes as general moviegoers and families. By comparison, Shrek 2's audience was initially 60 percent family. Opening night moviegoer pollster CinemaScore registered a "B+" overall grade, while Daly said Shrek the Third's production budget was between $150 million and $170 million, or about the same as Shrek 2.
The series is a leader among animated features in pop culture references, celebrity voice talent and spoofs of universally known fairy tales (many popularized by Disney), calling into question its longevity. "They do play for today, and most of the value is coming out of what is now," noted Daly. "You have to be true to the characters and the world they're in. I wouldn't say we're obsessed with that far in the future."
Shrek 2 grossed over $440 million by the end of its run, a tall order for any follow-up to top, and whether Shrek the Third continues to out-pace Shrek 2 remains to be seen. As Spider-Man 3 demonstrates, the nature of sequels is to be front-loaded relative to their predecessors. Given the demand for the brand and the saturation levels of release, the bigger the opening, the harder the fall, to paraphrase an adage.
In its third weekend, Spider-Man 3 slid 50 percent to $29 million. Amassing $282.4 million in 17 days, its cumulative gross lags behind the original Spider-Man through the same point (and the difference is compounded when the number of tickets sold is considered). At the foreign box office, though, Spider-Man 3 became the highest-grossing of the series, rising to $466.5 million.
Among wide releases, thrillers Disturbia and Fracture had the best holds, down around 20 percent apiece. Disturbia, though, is a hit with $71.4 million in 38 days, while Fracture is not with $34.5 million in 31 days.
In limited release, Waitress served a satisfactory $1.1 million at 116 locations, maintaining its per theater average from last weekend when it was at 65 sites. Distributor Fox Searchlight will roll out the romantic comedy to over 500 locations on Friday.
• 5/22/06 - 'Da Vinci' Almight (Same Weekend, 2006)
• 5/23/05 - 'Star Wars' is Box Office Revenge (Same Weekend, 2005)
• 5/24/04 - 'Shrek 2' Lands Far, Far Ahead of Summer Pack
• Weekend Box Office Results
• All Time Animated Openings
• Franchise: DreamWorks Animation
NOTE: This report was originally written on Sunday, May 20 and was revised on Monday, May 21 with actual grosses.