- Alice in Wonderland box office: Shot in 2D but converted to 3D prior to its release, Tim Burton’s unenthusiastically received film version of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy classic has shattered records and become the first $200 million blockbuster released in 2010.
Alice in Wonderland box office: 3D conversion pays off, as tepidly received Tim Burton fantasy becomes first $200 million blockbuster released this year
March 12–14 box office: According to final figures found at boxofficemojo.com, this past weekend Tim Burton’s mega-budget fantasy adventure Alice in Wonderland took in $62.7 million (down 46 percent) at the North American (U.S. and Canada) box office, averaging an impressive – albeit 3D/IMAX-boosted – $16,822 per theater.
For comparison’s sake: On its second weekend out, Dec. 25–27, James Cameron’s futuristic 3D fantasy adventure Avatar collected $75.6 million (down a minuscule 2 percent) domestically, averaging $21,879 per theater.
Although not nearly as sturdy-legged as Avatar, Alice in Wonderland is the first 2010 release to cross the $200 million mark in the domestic market. Total to date: $209.3 million.
According to Hollywood.com, 2010 domestic box office grosses currently stand at $2.24 billion, up 9 percent compared to last year, while actual movie attendance is 6.7 percent higher than at this time in 2009.
That’s all thanks to Avatar and Alice in Wonderland; this past weekend, for instance, the latter title grossed nearly as much as the combined total of the other Top Ten movies. (Among them four new entries: Green Zone, She’s Out of My League, Remember Me, and Our Family Wedding.)
March 5–7 box office: Despite wildly mixed reviews – “a 3-D, CG-enhanced extravaganza of boring and time-worn fantasy conventions,” wrote Amy Biancolli in the San Francisco Chronicle – this past weekend Tim Burton’s revamped version of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy classic Alice in Wonderland has shattered several domestic box office records after a) grossing $116.1 million from 3,728 sites (a fantastic $31,142 average) b) booting Avatar out of numerous 3D/IMAX houses.
Starring Mia Wasikowska as Alice and Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland far surpassed the Walt Disney Studios’ (official) expectations, while delivering the best opening weekend to date for a 3D film.
For comparison’s sake: James Cameron’s Avatar earned $77 million on its opening weekend in mid-December 2009 – though, admittedly, the 3D fantasy adventure had to contend with a fierce winter storm on the East Coast.
Alice in Wonderland also easily broke the opening-weekend record for a March release, previously held by Zack Snyder’s 2007 pseudo-historical epic 300 ($70.8 million), and smashed the first-quarter opening-weekend record held by Mel Gibson’s religious drama The Passion of the Christ ($83.8 million), which came out in February 2004.
Trailing New Moon
There’s more: Alice in Wonderland had the biggest opening ever for a non-sequel (not adjusted for inflation) and gave IMAX its best domestic opening ever, $11.9 million (from 188 locations in the U.S. and Canada), easily beating Avatar’s $9.5 million record.
And finally, Alice in Wonderland enjoyed the second-highest non-summer opening ever, behind Chris Weitz’s romantic fantasy adventure The Twilight Saga: New Moon, a 2D release starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner that earned $142.8 million on its first weekend out in late November 2009.
To date (also not adjusted for inflation), the best opening weekend at the North American box office belongs to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, starring Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Heath Ledger as The Joker. The superhero blockbuster earned $158 million on its first weekend in mid-July 2008.
By the way, Tim Burton’s previous best domestic opening had been in 2001, when the poorly received Planet of the Apes reboot starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, and Helena Bonham Carter took in $68.5 million in the U.S. and Canada.
$210 million worldwide debut
Internationally, Alice in Wonderland scored an estimated $94 million in about 40 overseas markets, bringing its worldwide total to a staggering $210.3 million.
That’s great news for Disney, which spent anywhere between $200–$250 million on the film (not including marketing and distribution costs). Adding to the overall budget was the transfer from 2D to 3D, but that may have been what did the trick.
Update: Internationally, Alice in Wonderland’s top markets were the following (final figures):
- Japan: $133.7 million.
- United Kingdom: $64.4 million.
- France: $45.9 million.
- Russia/CIS: $42 million.
- Italy: $40 million.
- Germany: $34.6 million.
- Australia: $33.2 million.
- China: $32.3 million.
- Mexico: $31.3 million.
- Spain: $28.8 million.
- Brazil: $28.4 million.
Alice in Wonderland on the all-time domestic box office chart
Alice in Wonderland is currently at no. 45 on Box Office Mojo’s all-time domestic box office chart – not adjusted for inflation or 3D/IMAX surcharges. In other words, that chart doesn’t indicate each film’s ranking in relation to the actual number of tickets sold.
On Box Office Mojo’s inflation-adjusted chart, Alice in Wonderland is nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, that particular chart stops at no. 100; its lowest grosser is the 1986 Tom Cruise actioner Top Gun with $362.2 million.
It remains to be seen how much further up the (non-adjusted) chart the latest Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration will go: The $300 million mark will surely be passed, but $400 million (or even $350 million) may be out of reach. (See final figures further below.)
Now, whether Alice in Wonderland has actually sold more tickets than Hollywood’s former record-holders – excepting perhaps fellow 3D’er Avatar – is another matter altogether.
At least initially, about 70 percent of its domestic gross came from 3D/IMAX venues, which charge a premium and can inflate revenues by up to 40 percent when compared to 2D movies at regular houses. Besides, film admission prices have gone up on a yearly basis.
Alice in Wonderland vs. Avatar
Prior to Alice in Wonderland, Avatar was the movie of the year. As a result, comparisons to other blockbusters abounded. Yet Avatar vs. Gone with the Wind, Avatar vs. Cameron’s own Titanic, or even Avatar vs. the 2009 sleeper hit The Blind Side are all problematic side-by-siders.
In the first two instances, James Cameron’s 3D fantasy came out in a radically different film distribution world – not to mention the warping effect of inflationary pressures on ticket costs. In the third instance, the key issue is the 3D vs. 2D comparison, as 3D admission prices are higher and thus help to inflate box office grosses.
Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, however, are easier to place side by side. Both movies were released in 3D a mere three months apart, both are mega-budget fantastical adventures directed by big-name talent, and both feature leads played by relatively little-known performers (Sam Worthington, Mia Wasikowska).
Below are a few updated comparisons (including reissues), with final figures for both Alice in Wonderland and Avatar.
Domestic gross: Avatar $760.5 million (including one reissue: 2010); Alice in Wonderland $334.2 million.
International gross: Avatar $2.087 billion (including two reissues: 2020, 2021); Alice in Wonderland $691.3 million.
Worldwide gross: Avatar $2.847 billion; Alice in Wonderland $1.025 billion.
Domestic vs. international box office: Avatar (26.7 percent vs. 73.3 percent); Alice in Wonderland (32.6 percent vs. 67.4 percent).
Opening weekend: Avatar $77 million; Alice in Wonderland $116.1 million.
Opening weekend per-theater average: Avatar $22,313; Alice in Wonderland $31,143.
Number of weekends at the top of the box office chart: Avatar 7; Alice in Wonderland 3.
Third weekend gross: Avatar $68.4 million (New Year’s); Alice in Wonderland $34.2 million.
Drop-off by third weekend (in relation to debut weekend): Avatar 11 percent; Alice in Wonderland 71 percent.
Extensive name cast
In addition to Mia Wasikowska and three-time Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp, Tim Burton’s blockbuster fantasy features the following (you’ll find several Harry Potter franchise alumni):
Oscar nominees Helena Bonham Carter (The Wings of the Dove, 1997) and Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married, 2008), in addition to Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Marton Csokas, Frances de la Tour, Jemma Powell, Lindsay Duncan, Tim Pigott-Smith, Geraldine James, Lucy Davenport, and Eleanor Tomlinson.
Voice Cast: Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry, Barbara Windsor, Alan Rickman, Paul Whitehouse, Timothy Spall, Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake, 2004), and veterans Michael Gough (Batman) and Christopher Lee (Corridors of Blood).
Screenplay adaptation by Linda Woolverton.
“Alice in Wonderland Box Office” endnotes
Unless otherwise noted, “Alice in Wonderland Box Office: More Broken Records” box office information via Box Office Mojo. Budget info – which should usually be taken with a grain of salt – via BOM and/or other sources.
Comments about Alice in Wonderland and other titles being hits/profitable or flops/money-losers at the box office (see paragraph below) are based on the available data about their production budget, additional marketing and distribution expenses (as a general rule of thumb, around 50 percent of the production cost), and worldwide gross (as a general rule of thumb when it comes to the Hollywood studios, around 50–55 percent of the domestic gross and 40 percent of the international gross goes to the distributing/producing companies).
Bear in mind that data regarding rebates, international pre-sales, and other credits and/or contractual details that help to alleviate/split production costs and apportion revenues are oftentimes unavailable, and that reported international grosses can be incomplete (i.e., not every territory is accounted for). Also bear in mind that ancillary revenues (domestic/global television rights, home video sales, streaming, merchandising, etc.) can represent anywhere between 40–70 percent of a movie’s total take; however, these revenues and their apportionment are only infrequently made public.
Lastly, although a more accurate reflection of a film’s popularity (i.e., its number of tickets sold), inflation-adjusted estimates should be taken with extreme caution. For instance, they’re based on average domestic ticket prices (via the National Association of Theater Owners, unless otherwise noted) whereas numerous major releases scored a large chunk of their box office take at top-priced venues.
Alice in Wonderland had to overcome a potential hurdle when some – their actual number is unclear – British and Italian exhibitors threatened to boycott the film after distributor Walt Disney announced that its 3D’ed release would be coming out on DVD three (instead of the usual four) months after hitting theaters.
Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Mia Wasikowska Alice in Wonderland 2010 movie images: Walt Disney Studios.
“Alice in Wonderland Box Office: More Broken Records” last updated in July 2022.