Weekend Wrap-Up

Monster vs. Aliens Jolts Box Office

By John Hamann

March 29, 2009

But how do they...um, let's just not even think about it.

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Monsters vs. Aliens hit movie screens in a big way and brought us our second $50 million opener in March 2009, after Watchmen did it at the beginning of the month. This time out, better legs are almost guaranteed.

It was a big weekend for openers, as the Paramount/DreamWorks combo Monsters vs. Aliens exploded in 3-D; The Haunting in Conneticut – another horror movie from Lionsgate – opened large; and 12 Rounds from Fox showed up toward the back of the pack. You know it's a good weekend when the top two movies bring in more than $75 million, and the holdovers don't completely fade.


Our number one film of the frame is Monsters vs. Aliens, the latest animated 3-D effort to hit movie screens. Produced by DreamWorks Animation and unleashed on a ludicrous number of movie screens, MvA scored an opening of $58.2 million – which isn't a breakout success or middling failure. The DreamWorks flick opened on an amazingly large 4,104 venues – a number usually reserved for summer blockbusters – and had a venue average of $14,181. Approximately 2,000 screens showed MvA in 3-D, which also means those theaters would charge a premium to patrons, often an additional $3.00 compared to a regular 2-D showing. So when we talk about MvA grossing what it did - or any 3-D production for that matter – one has to remember that these films have an ace up their sleeve at the box office with the premium being charged. Are the opening weekend grosses for films like Monsters vs. Aliens, Coraline and Bolt worthy of an asterisk? I don't think so at this point, but eventually a big, epic, 3-D feature is going to take down The Dark Knight's record for biggest weekend ever. It might be James Cameron's upcoming Avatar, which is set for a Christmas 2009 release date.

Comparing MvA to its 3-D compatriots, it actually performed remarkably. Coraline, obviously a smaller film, opened to $16.8 million in February of this year, and has shown fantastic legs with a gross so far of $73.6 million domestically. Bolt, Disney's November 2008 release, opened to $26.2 million (behind the unexpectedly big Twilight), and finished with $114 million in North America and $289 million internationally (it helped that it was actually quite good). Chicken Little was the master of the genre prior to Monsters vs. Aliens, and it came out in 2005 when there were far fewer venues for 3-D films. It opened to $40 million and finished with an impressive $135 million domestic, and over $300 million worldwide. The trend with these films is twofold: legs and quality. Each of the films I mentioned showed amazing legs (even for kids' fare) as the 3-D not only expanded the market to adults, it became a cinematic experience, improving word-of-mouth. Quality also shows up quite a bit here – Bolt was 85% fresh at RottenTomatoes and Coraline was 88% fresh. Monster vs. Aliens didn't get quite the same quality of reviews, much like Chicken Little. MvA finished at RottenTomatoes with a 68% fresh rating, with critics complaining that too much work went into the technical side, and not enough into crafting a good movie – the same complaint that landed on Chicken Little.

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