Weekend Wrap-Up for July 9-11, 2010

Despicable Me Is Huge

By John Hamann

July 11, 2010

I want to read to her and I don't even know her.

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After a blowout win in the last frame for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, we theoretically had a much closer race at the box office this weekend. New openers were competing for a completely different demographic. The first, Despicable Me, is another animated 3D film aimed at kids and families, and the other, Predators, is a violent, R-rated sci-fi sequel. On the flipside of the movie showdown was a fight for a seasonal foothold between summer-struggling major studios, Universal and Fox, who have been light on the hits during the silly season.

It's one of those strange weekends, one of those frames where just when you think you've got it all figured out, boom, the box office surprises. Heading into the weekend, tracking was calling for a $30-35 million opening for Despicable Me, Universal's shot at the 3D animation market. That sounded about right, too. Despicable Me was a non-sequel, with no built-in audience, relying only on a solid marketing plan and the voice of Steve Carell. Predators was tracking at only $20 million, which must have made the suits at Fox somewhat nervous, as Predators could be a strong reboot to a sullied franchise. I had last weekend's openers, Eclipse and The Last Airbender, being nuked from space with hefty drops approaching the 60% level. I had Toy Story 3 softening with the onslaught of Despicable Me, and I had Grown Ups heading for the top ten exit. I was wrong on all counts, save one - we can always count on the implosion of an M. Night Shyamalan flick.


Our number one film of the weekend is Despicable Me, the new Universal flick that was supposed to open to around $30 million. Once again, tracking firms will have new help wanted ads out by Monday, as their numbers were simply obliterated, faster than one can whine that figuring out family movies is hard. Despicable Me doubled expectations (no, we're not talking 10%), earning a very powerful $60.1 million from only 3,476 venues, about 1,500 of those 3D screens. The result gives the Despicable one a venue average of $17,285, which is fantastic news for theater owners. The weekend take gives Universal their biggest gross since Fast & Furious opened 15 months ago (in April 2009) to $71 million, which was also a big surprise. Despicable Me is the biggest family film ever for Universal, unless we consider Bruce Almighty ($68 million opening) or The Lost World: Jurassic Park ($72.1 million opening) to be family films. Throw in the Bourne Ultimatum ($69.2 million opening) and Hulk ($62.1 million opening), and we have a list of the only Universal films ever to open bigger than the supposed-to-be-small Despicable Me. "Wow" is the word you are reaching for.

How did the non-sequel animated movie, breakout so well? Simply put, Despicable MeIt is a solid movie, with an opening enhanced by a fantastic marketing plan. The first teaser trailer showed up at theaters a year ago, when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince debuted. It bounced around as several different incarnations, before being attached to How to Train Your Dragon when that film opened in March of this year. Since then, Universal has made an effort to get it in front of Toy Story 3 and Shrek Forever After. It's important to remember that a 3D release will have some 3D trailers, and Despicable Me is no exception. Having your trailer attached to Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story 3 and the latest Harry Potter puts it in front of more than a billion dollars in ticket sales. Universal also made a very good movie. At RottenTomatoes, 120 reviews were counted, and of those, 96 were fresh, giving it an 80% fresh rating. The "top critics" scores were even better at 88%, and those reviews would have been seen by a much wider audience. Despicable Me now has a wide open playing field in which to work, as the Cats & Dogs sequel doesn't open until July 30th, and even that won't be much of a worthy opponent for Gru and his Henchmen.

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