In a nearly unprecedented feat for the time of year, 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios' $80 million sequel to their 2002 computer animated hit herded a mammoth $68 million from 3,964 locations, stampeding past industry expectations of around $50 million. It accounted for nearly half of overall weekend business and led the box office to a 34 percent improvement over the comparable frame last year when Sin City opened.
Ice Age: The Meltdown stands as the second-heftiest start on record for a non-summer, non-holiday release, behind The Passion of the Christ, and it was close to the openings of The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, nearly doubling Blue Sky's last effort, Robots. The first Ice Age gathered $46.3 million in its debut weekend at 3,316 theaters on course to a $176.4 million final tally.
"We're thrilled to death," exclaimed Bruce Snyder, Fox's president of distribution. "[Conventional wisdom says] You can't do $70 million in March. Ice Age has awoken the box office. The theatrical experience is far from dead. You make something people want to see and they'll come." Snyder reported that the audience was 42 percent children and 26 percent parents, according to Fox's exit polling of Saturday matinees, and he noted that the picture significantly reached non-families, playing strongly through the night.
Ice Age: The Meltdown marks the third theatrical computer-animated sequel and the third to out-gross its predecessor, following Toy Story 2 and Shrek 2. "I think Ice Age 1 set up these characters that people grew to love—they loved them in theaters and they loved them on DVD—If you deliver a great one the first time, audiences charge out the next time" said Snyder.
Pioneered by Pixar, computer animation has arguably been the most consistent box office attraction in recent years with the average title grossing $155 million, but audience's interest in the format will be tested this year as a flood of C.G. features plow into theaters—The Wild is next up on April 14. A genre that has averaged two to three releases a year since 1998 is scheduled to have 12 in 2006 alone.
"For those who look at the success of C.G., who draw the conclusion if they make anything in CG they'll have a hit—like the telephone book in C.G.—they're going to have a rude awakening," said Chris Meledandri, the head of Fox Animation. Snyder added, "C.G. is the avenue, it's not the end result—you have to have a great story and great characters."
Ice Age: The Meltdown may be set millions of years ago, but it was Basic Instinct 2 that looked like a relic from another era. The long-gestating sequel to the 1992 thriller that made Sharon Stone's career seduced only $3.2 million from 1,453 sites. In terms of number of tickets sold, that's about an eighth of the opening of the first Basic Instinct, a smash in its day that evidently did not resonate through the years. The success of The Silence of the Lambs sequel, Hannibal, after a 10-year wait was an exception—unless they're iconic, thawing out franchises after more than four years generally leads to sizable drops in grosses.
Basic Instinct 2 distributor Sony was quick to point out that they merely released the picture, which they say was developed by MGM and marketed by its producers. Sony's exit surveys indicated that among the few people who saw the picture, 57 percent were male and 63 percent were over 30 years old.
Another case of a distributor claiming to simply be a gun for hire, Slither crawled to $3.9 million at 1,945 venues. A spokesman for Universal Pictures stressed that they released the horror comedy as part of a deal with Gold Circle Films, which financed Slither as well as past movies White Noise and The Wedding Date. Though horror has been hot lately, the sub-genre of horror comedy has always been a difficult sell, populated by box office disappointments like Eight Legged Freaks and Tremors.
Also debuting was Warner Bros.' ATL—an abbreviation for Atlanta—which rolled in at $11.6 million at 1,602 locations, nearly equaling the last urban drama starring a rapper, Get Rich or Die Tryin', despite a much lower profile. Warner Bros.' research suggested that 78 percent of the audience was black, 74 percent was under 25, and 56 percent was female.
• 3/29/06 - Close-Up: 'Ice Age's John Leguizamo
• Review - Ice Age: The Meltdown
• Review - Ice Age (on DVD)
• 4/4/05 - Moviegoers Living in 'Sin City' (Same Weekend, Last Year)
• 3/15/05 - Interview: Blue Sky Studios' Jerry Davis
• 3/14/05 - 'Robots' Rivets
• Computer Animation
• Top March Openings
• Weekend Box Office Results
NOTE: This report was originally written on Sunday, April 2 and was revised on Monday, April 3 with actual grosses.