Animated Home trumps expectations with US$54 million debut at US box office

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - Jeffrey Katzenberg must be breathing a huge sigh of relief after the embattled DreamWorks Animation chief scored a much needed box office win with the release of Home, a film about an alien lost on earth featuring voices by such big names as Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna and Jim Parsons.

The family film was the weekend's top ticket seller, pulling in a sterling US$54 million (S$74 million), easily eclipsing projections that had it bowing to between US$30 million and US$35 million. It's one of the studio's best-ever openings for an original movie and the biggest debut it has had since 2012's Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted kicked off to US$60.3 million in 2012.

The studio has suffered through a string of film flops such as Turbo and Mr. Peabody and Sherman, as well as failed sales to Hasbro and SoftBank.

Home is the only film it is releasing this year, so expectations for the movie about an alien invasion were high and scrutiny was intense. Home cost US$130 million to produce and launched in 3,708 locations. Fox distributed the picture.

"You've got to give credit to the movie itself," said Chris Aronson, Fox's domestic distribution chief. "It's an original story with heart and action and humour, all the elements that people want to be entertained."

The film's success could be reflected in DreamWorks Animation's stock price. Shares of the company closed Friday up 3 per cent at US$22.68 and continued to climb in after-hours trading on the strong box office results.

Home's results continue what has been a very strong year for family fare, after Paddington and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water did impressive business by appealing to the parents and kids set.

"You had parents talking to one another and saying it was a good movie for kids and that's enough for something to be successful," said Phil Contrino, vice president and analyst with BoxOffice.com. "With family-skewing movies, it can be feast or famine and this year there's been a whole lot of feasting."

Home's opening weekend audience was 60 per cent female and 57 per cent over the age of 25.

Get Hard, an R-rated prison comedy with Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, captured second place on the box office charts by appealing to a very different segment of the moviegoing population. The Warner Bros. release pulled in US$34.6 million across 3,175 locations and cost an economical US$40 million to produce.

The opening weekend crowd was 54 per cent male and 61 per cent over the age of 25. It ranks as the number one opening for an R-rated film starring Ferrell or Hart.

"The chemistry between them was terrific," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief. "They're both popular and well liked. I hope we can do another one with them."

Radius-TWC scored with It Follows, expanding from 32 to 1,218 locations, and picking up US$4 million in the process. That was good enough for a fifth place finish. The well-reviewed horror film has earned US$4.8 million since debuting on March 13.

Last weekend's champ, Insurgent, fell 58 per cent to make US$22 million and nab third place on the charts. That brings the Divergent sequel's total to US$86.4 million after two weeks. Disney's Cinderella pulled in US$17.5 million to grab fourth place and bring its total to US$150 million. Kingsman: The Secret Service continued to impress, earning US$3 million for a sixth place finish and pushing its take to nearly US$120 million.

In limited release, A24 got off to a strong start with While We're Young, Noah Baumbach's look at two New Yorkers in the throes of middle-age crisis and the Brooklyn hipsters who inspire them to shake things up. Released in just four theatres, the film earned $242,152, for a per-screen average of US$60,538. The film is scheduled to expand its footprint on April 10.

Not even the combined star wattage of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper could save Serena. The oft-delayed drama premiered on 60 theaters in addition to showing on VOD. It pulled in a paltry US$100,000 and a per-screen average of US$1,667. Silver Linings Playbook this decidedly is not.

Overall box office numbers have yet to be finalised, but it appears as though they will trump the prior-year period when Noah opened to US$43.7 million by approximately 10 per cent, a particular impressive finish given that the March Madness/NCAA basketball tournament is enjoying strong TV ratings.

Next week brings the debut of Furious 7, which is hurtling towards a record US$100 million-plus opening. Spring is here.