Anna Faris and Neil Patrick Harris seen on the red carpet at the Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation premiere of 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.' (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP)
LOS ANGELES — It’s been weeks since a family-friendly film hit theaters, and judging by the opening-weekend result for “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2,” moviegoers with kids were eager to return to the multiplex.
The 3-D animated sequel easily beat out three new nationwide releases this past weekend, collecting $35 million, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures.
Though that’s a solid opening, it’s still far below the $45 million that pre-release audience surveys had indicated for the film. Sony, which predicted a softer debut of around $33 million heading into the weekend, said it was pleased with the launch.
None of the weekend’s other new films did especially impressive business. Ron Howard’s race car drama, “Rush,” didn’t get off to that speedy a start, taking in $10.3 million in its nationwide expansion. The romantic comedy “Baggage Claim” grossed $9.3 million, barely beating the $9 million tally for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s feature directorial debut, “Don Jon”; both films, however, were made for less than $10 million.
“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” had a slightly bigger opening than its predecessor, which opened with $30.3 million in 2009. The picture went on to collect a healthy $243 million worldwide.
Like the original “Cloudy,” the sequel was well liked by audiences: Both installments received an average grade of A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Roughly 80 percent of those who saw the film — which features the voices of stars such as Bill Hader and Anna Faris — were families.
“Cloudy 2” posted the strongest opening for an animated film since July, as “Turbo,” “The Smurfs 2” and “Planes” all cannibalized one another at the box office during summer’s final weeks. Still, the picture is not likely to become one of the year’s biggest animated hits: Both “Despicable Me 2” and “Monsters University” launched with more than $80 million apiece. Fortunately, Sony Pictures Animation didn’t spend much to produce “Cloudy 2” — about $78 million — so the movie should do respectably for the studio.
Last weekend, Universal Pictures released “Rush” in five theaters in an effort to spread positive word of mouth about the well-reviewed film before its wide release. The movie didn’t do spectacular business, and that trend continued this past weekend.
Co-financed by Cross Creek Pictures and Exclusive Media for $38 million, “Rush” tells the story of famed 1970s Formula One racers and fierce rivals James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). The picture debuted to a warm reaction at the Toronto International Film Festival this month, and moviegoers this past weekend liked it too, giving the film an A-minus CinemaScore. Despite its subject matter, the film appealed to men and women in nearly equal measure, though it did attract an older crowd — 53 percent were older than 40.
Though the opening for “Baggage Claim” wasn’t fantastic, the movie didn’t cost much to make — about $8.5 million. It features a predominantly African-American cast and was aimed at black moviegoers — indeed, the main demographic that turned out to see the film over the weekend, per distributor Fox Searchlight. The movie fared particularly well in urban markets, with top results coming from Baltimore, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
The film follows a flight attendant (Paula Patton) who has grown increasingly desperate to tie the knot. Though reviews for writer-director David E. Talbert’s second feature were dismal, moviegoers seemed to enjoy it: The largely female crowd who saw the picture gave it an average grade of A-minus.
Moviegoers did not like “Don Jon” nearly as much. The film earned only a C-plus — somewhat surprising, given that the picture has an 81 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Written and directed by Gordon-Levitt, the movie stars the actor as a “Jersey Shore”-type playboy trying to hide his pornography addiction from his new girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson). Relativity Media acquired the $6 million production for $4 million at the Sundance Film Festival in January, promising to pay at least $25 million to market it.
Given those numbers, Relativity executives say they are optimistic the film will be a success — even with that C-plus looming.
“I think the most important result from the weekend is that this is the debut of a new filmmaker,” said Kyle Davies, Relativity’s president of theatrical distribution. “He was already a successful actor and now he’s added director to his resume. It’s the start of an interesting and exciting career for him.”
Meanwhile, the Mexican film “Instructions Not Included” this past weekend became the highest-grossing Spanish-language film ever released in the United States — not adjusting for inflation. With $38.6 million, the movie has now made more than Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which collected $37.6 million in 2006.
Since its release a month ago, “Instructions Not Included” has become a surprise hit for Pantelion Films. Before the movie starring Eugenio Derbez hit cinemas, the joint venture between Lionsgate and Mexico’s Televisa had never seen one of its movies gross more than $6 million.
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