Tron Legacy is the most hyped release of the weekend, and its studio, Walt Disney Pictures, is betting that its visual effects and adventure in a striking new world will make it an event akin to Avatar, which debuted to $77 million on the same weekend last year. Early midnight launch numbers for Tron Legacy were similar to Avatar at an estimated $3.5 million, and it would be phenomenal if Legacy wound up anywhere near Avatar's opening, considering its origin.
The first Tron was deemed a disappointment back in 1982 and more famous as an arcade video game than as a movie. A fair amount of people still saw the movie as it grossed $33 million (the equivalent of nearly $90 million adjusted for ticket price inflation) and ranked as the 22nd highest-grossing movie from 1982. With its early use of computer-generated effects and its techno-fantasy storyline, Tron allegedly developed a cult following over the years (though it wasn't as highly regarded as fellow 1982 science-fiction box-office stiff Blade Runner), but a cult by definition is not large enough to propel a movie to the blockbuster level that the backers of Tron Legacy clearly aspire to.
As a sequel, Tron Legacy's challenge has been connecting to the mainstream. Most people haven't seen the original (and couldn't if they tried given its current unavailability on television and DVD), but many have heard of it. Taking that familiarity for granted, Legacy's marketing hasn't devoted much time to explaining what's going on or why people should care, focusing instead on the father-son angle as the entry point with the hope that the graphics of the Tron world will be dazzling enough to spark interest.
For the first time, two major movies are being unleashed in the modern 3D illusion at the same time. Tron Legacy claims 2,424 3D locations (compared to Avatar's 2,038 last year), including 234 IMAX 3D venues, while Yogi Bear grabs 2,011. With around 8,300 3D screens at close to 2,850 locations available nationwide, there's room for both releases as well as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which will remain unchanged at 1,989 3D sites. To make room for Tron Legacy and Yogi Bear, though, Tangled's 3D location count drops from around 2,300 to just over 800.
Yogi Bear is in the Alvin and the Chipmunks slot. The first Chipmunks movie opened on the weekend before Christmas (back in 2007) opposite a big movie (I Am Legend) to a fantastic $44.3 million and went on to earn $217.3 million by the end of its run. Its sequel posted similar numbers last Christmas, and a third movie is scheduled for the same weekend next year. The Chipmunks movies are by far the highest-grossing of the talking animal sub-genre, so it would be unreasonable to expect Yogi Bear to be in the same league: bears trying to steal picnic baskets in a park lack the charm of cuddly little singing chipmunks (who can freshen up their shtick by singing recent hit songs). Yogi Bear is not a property people were clamoring to see become a movie, and, while talking animal movies are generally popular, they're not bulletproof as disappointments like Marmaduke and Underdog have shown.
How Do You Know is the first movie from writer-director James L. Brooks since Spanglish from Christmas 2004, but it has been a low-key affair in its marketing, despite the presence of big names Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson. It's lacked the clarity and punch of comedies like It's Complicated and Something's Gotta Give. Advertisements for The Fighter, on the other hand, have hit hard with the movie's boxing/family drama premise, and Black Swan, which has already made $7.4 million in two weeks of limited release, has stood out with ads pitching it as a twisted psychological thriller.
In Box Office Mojo's "when will you see it" reader polling, Tron Legacy was by far the most popular of the new releases, logging a 48.3 percent "opening weekend" score. It generated much more interest than movies like Speed Racer or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and was higher than The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) (42.1 percent), but it trailed Avatar's 62.4 percent and Star Trek's 62.7 percent.
Black Swan had the next best "opening weekend" score at 25.8 percent, followed by The Fighter at a solid 16.1 percent. How Do You Know mustered 6.5 percent for "opening weekend," which was lower than Morning Glory's 9.8 percent last month and It's Complicated's 8.5 percent last Christmas. Yogi Bear brought up the rear with 5.1 percent, which was behind the first Alvin and the Chipmunks' 8.4 percent.
• 'Narnia' Fails to Tread Water, 'Tourist' Trips
This Timeframe in Past Years:
• 2009 - 'Avatar' Soars in Debut
• 2008 - 'Yes Man,' 'Seven Pounds' Lead Quiet Pre-Christmas Weekend• 2007 - 'I Am Legend,' 'Chipmunks' Enliven Box Office• 2006 - 'Pursuit' Overtakes 'Eragon,' 'Web'
• 2005 - 'King Kong' Mighty But No Monster
• 2004 - 'Lemony' Licks Competition
• 'Tron Legacy'
• 'Yogi Bear'
• 'How Do You Know'
• 'The Fighter'
• 'Black Swan'