LOS ANGELES — "Puss in Boots" was the fat cat at the box office this weekend, where the animated 3-D film easily grossed the most in ticket sales.
The family flick collected $34 million on its domestic opening weekend, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures — far more than either of the two other new films in wide release. "In Time," a sci-fi action movie starring Justin Timberlake, started off with a so-so $12 million. And "The Rum Diary," featuring Johnny Depp and based on a Hunter S. Thompson novel, collected a weak $5 million.
But despite claiming the No. 1 spot at the multiplex this weekend, "Puss in Boots" still had the softest opening in five years for a movie from DreamWorks Animation. The studio has not seen this low an opening since "Flushed Away," which started off with $18.8 million in 2006.
In recent years, most DreamWorks films have launched with at least $40 million in ticket sales. About a year ago, for example, the studio's "Megamind" had a $46 million opening. This weekend's so-so performance by "Puss in Boots" was blamed in part on snowy weather on the East Coast, which the studio surmised probably cost it at least $2 million in sales.
"Puss in Boots," which cost DreamWorks about $130 million to produce, was initially slated to be released next weekend. But in September, Paramount moved up the movie's opening in the hopes of attracting parents and their children before a blitz of family films hit theaters around Thanksgiving.
"When we moved the movie to Halloween weekend, we were looking at a two-weekend strategy," said Anne Globe, head of worldwide marketing for DreamWorks Animation. "With strong support, we should play into November given the strong word of mouth."
Indeed, audiences who saw the film this weekend seemed to like it, assigning the movie an average grade of A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore. The movie's animated protagonist was likely somewhat familiar to moviegoers, as he was first seen as a sidekick to the title-character in the studio's hit franchise "Shrek."
Like most of DreamWorks' animated films, the picture will also probably fare better overseas than in the U.S. This weekend, the movie opened in Russia, Ukraine and the Philippines, collecting a combined $17 million from those countries.
"In Time," about a world where time is the currency and biological clocks stop at age 25, appealed mostly to a somewhat older crowd this weekend — 58 percent of the audience was over age 25. Moviegoers didn't love the film, giving it an average grade of B-minus. Written and directed by "Gattaca" creator Andrew Niccol, the movie was financed by New Regency Pictures for about $40 million and is being released by 20th Century Fox.
The movie marked one of the first leading roles for Timberlake, who has been attempting to transition from singing to acting. After a well-reviewed supporting turn as Napster co-founder Sean Parker in last year's "The Social Network," Timberlake has since voiced an animated character in "Yogi Bear" and appeared in "Bad Teacher" and, in his most substantial role, "Friends with Benefits," a romantic comedy that co-starred Mila Kunis and opened to $18.6 million in July.
"Rum Diary" star Depp was a friend of Thompson, who committed suicide in 2005. The actor has brought the writer's spirit to the big screen before, most memorably in 1998's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," which similarly failed to resonate at the box office.
Depp traveled to college campuses to promote the movie, but even the actor's star power couldn't attract audiences to his passion project, which is based on a book written by Thompson in 1961 that wasn't published until 1998. Those who saw the film this weekend didn't respond well to it, giving it a grade of C. The movie is being released by Graham King's distribution company FilmDistrict and was financed by his GK films for about $50 million.
"I wish the film did better, but we're proud that it's a tribute to Hunter S. Thompson," said Bob Berney, president of theatrical distribution for FilmDistrict. "It's a very funny comedy, but it's also really about somebody who was very unique and original, and maybe that only appeals to a rarefied group. Our core theaters in cities were super strong, but once you got further out into the suburbs, sales really dropped off."
The Shakespeare drama "Anonymous" was supposed to open nationwide this weekend, but Sony Pictures scaled back the release to 265 theaters after pre-release audience surveys indicated it wasn't resonating with moviegoers. The film collected $1 million, not a fantastic start for the $30 million picture. But Sony hopes the movie will benefit from positive word of mouth as it expands in the coming weeks. Indeed, those who saw the film this weekend — 65 percent of whom were over the age of 30 — graded it an A-minus.