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

by Brandon Gray
How to Train Your Dragon

March 25, 2010

Along with the aspirations of the Mar. 26-28 weekend's nationwide debuts, How to Train Your Dragon and Hot Tub Time Machine, comes a sizable increase in ticket prices in many theaters, particularly for 3D presentations, which are jumping by as much as $2 or $3 a pop at some sites. Fueled by 3D titans Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, the 2010 box office has out-paced 2009 by a nine percent margin, but last year's one-two punch of Monsters Vs. Aliens and The Haunting in Connecticut on the same weekend may be a tough act to follow.

DreamWorks Animation aims to stoke the flames of the movie industry's 3D obsession with How to Train Your Dragon, which lands on over 7,000 screens at 4,055 sites. The launch includes 2,178 3D venues (including 185 IMAX venues), which is not a 3D record due to Alice in Wonderland (and Avatar to a lesser extent) still being in the market. DreamWorks Animation's last picture, Monsters Vs. Aliens, pulled in $59.3 million out-of-the-gate at 4,104 theaters, with its 3D portion accounting for $32.6 million at 1,550 sites, and March in general has emerged as prime real estate for computer-animated events in the years since the success of the first Ice Age.

However, How to Train Your Dragon's subject matter is a harder sell than Monsters Vs. Aliens. Though dragons have been supporting players in hit movies (Shrek, Mulan), dragon-centric pictures have mostly been charred carcasses at the box office: Eragon's the highest-grossing one with $75 million, followed by Dragonheart at $51.4 million. Viking movies have fared poorly as well, with Beowulf the top gun at $82.3 million. That's a potential double whammy for How to Train Your Dragon and is somewhat borne out in Box Office Mojo's reader poll score compared to Monsters Vs. Aliens: a solid 22 percent say they'll see the movie on opening weekend versus Monsters' 27.7 percent last year.

To counter any negatives and to cast the movie as a broadly-appealing family event, How to Train Your Dragon packs the marketing might of DreamWorks Animation, which is known for its omnipresent advertising campaigns, and the studio has gone all out for Dragon, including special ads interwoven throughout the Winter Olympics. The movie appears to be in the same vein as Lilo & Stitch (from the same director team, which may explain why the main dragon looks like Stitch), Shrek and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, but there's also a hint of desperation: all ads have drilled the "3D," some ads have renamed the movie "DreamWorks' Dragons," other ads have shown clips from Shrek and Madagascar, and some even compared the action scenes to Avatar.

Meanwhile, Hot Tub Time Machine plops onto approximately 3,000 screens at 2,754 sites and marks the first release from distributor MGM since Fame disappointed last September. The ribald comedy stands out with its title and flashback to the still hip 1980s decade (with actor John Cusack returning to his '80s roots), and has courted the same crowd as movies like The Hangover and Old School. Recent similar movies have opened to around $20 million on average (adjusted for ticket price inflation), and Hot Tub's results in Box Office Mojo's reader interest poll are in the same range as I Love You, Man and Role Models and more than twice as good as She's Out of My League.

After reigning atop the box office for three weeks and raking in nearly $276 million, Alice in Wonderland sheds 355 theaters for a total of 3,384. On the 3D front, though, it will relinquish even more to How to Train Your Dragon: Alice's 3D count drops from 2,251 sites to 1,436. Last weekend, Alice was down 46 percent to $34.2 million, and another steep fall could be in store. For instance, Avatar took the biggest hit of its run when it had to make room for Alice.

In limited release, Chloe, an erotic thriller featuring Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried, gets a significant start at 306 American theaters (its Canadian count is unavailable at this time), and Ben Stiller comedy Greenberg expands to 181 sites, up 178 from last week.

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

Similar Movies to:

'How to Train Your Dragon'
'Hot Tub Time Machine'

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New MPAA Ratings Added
DAILY: Monday, 8/13 (35 tracked)
WEEKEND: Weekend Actuals, 'The Meg' #1
DAILY: Friday, 'The Meg' #1
WEEKLY: 'Mission: Impossible 6' Tops the Week with $52.47m
DAILY: Thursday 8/9 (43 tracked)
DAILY: Wednesday, 8/8 (35 tracked)
DAILY: Tuesday, 8/7 (33 tracked)