Weekend Wrap-Up

Disney's Alice Destroys Box Office Expectations

By John Hamann

March 7, 2010

He wields a mighty spoon, and he's angry!

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It's the weekend we've all been waiting for. After 12 weekends of dominating the box office, Avatar is no longer the big force in movie theaters. It's been replaced by its 3-D sister, Alice in Wonderland, and what a wild frame it has had this weekend. Expectations were high for the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp flick, with estimates coming in between $65 and $75 million before the weekend began. Those analysts were choking on those estimates come Saturday morning, though, as Alice earned $41 million on Friday alone, and all bets were off for the rest of the weekend.

Much like the lead up to Avatar, the ballyhoo surrounding the Alice in Wonderland film event has been percolating for a long, long, time. Disney's marketing plan has been working towards this debut since July 2009, with an extremely strategic marketing plan building towards opening weekend. Awareness was high and Avatar was almost done – the stage was set for a huge start, and the film has now delivered. Alice opened at midnight on Thursday, and through Friday night, the Disney flick had already earned an amazing $41 million, blowing away expectations. Even if it tanked over the rest of the weekend, this Alice was set to earn an easy $100 million over its opening frame. 3-D has certainly changed movie going habits, as the January to March box office was set to have a new champion.


Alice in Wonderland earned a simply massive and completely unexpected $116.3 million from Friday-to-Sunday from 3,728 venues, almost embarrasing Avatar's $77 million opening weekend. It had a venue average of $31,196. The Tim Burton film set a record for March, roundly beating 300's $70.9 million opening from 2007. The opening frame is sixth biggest ever, squeezing between Shrek the Third's $121.6 million and Spider-Man's $114.8 million. Both of those films debuted in May, which is usually the month for big first weekends. March is simply not known for big openers – 300 was formerly the 39th biggest weekend, with the runner up in March being another 3-D entry, Monsters vs. Aliens, which opened to $59.3 million in March 2009 (I don't count Ice Age: The Meltdown, which opened on March 31, 2006 to $68 million). This opening take is a game changer - it provides further proof that it's not the release date. It's the film, with 3-D helping that along. Not to knock Avatar, but its opening weekend was somewhat standard for December, where Alice in Wonderland is different. Did Avatar help Alice break out? Certainly, but it didn't have Johnny Depp to draw those first weekend audiences.

Johnny Depp is becoming the biggest star since Harrison Ford. After three hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean films and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (over $3 billion in worldwide sales), Depp has now landed as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, and is going to make another huge splash internationally. Alice gives Depp three films in the top ten biggest openers ever list (Dead Man's Chest - $135.6 million opening, At World's End - $114.7 million opening, and now Alice). It's the biggest opening ever for Tim Burton, easily beating Planet of the Apes, which reached $68.5 million in 2001. Still, Burton has always been on the high end of box office since his version of Batman debuted in 1989. An opening frame of $40.5 million doesn't sound like a lot, but in 1989 dollars, that went a long way. Burton further trumped that opening in 1992 with Batman Returns, which took in $45.7 million over its first weekend. Burton has also seen big weekends with Sleepy Hollow ($30 million in 1999), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ($56.2 million in 2005), and the aforementioned Planet of the Apes.

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