‘Alice in Wonderland’ characters smash box office records
March 7 update: Despite wildly mixed reviews, Alice in Wonderland has shattered a number of box office records after grossing $116.3 million this weekend (March 5–7), scoring a fantastic $31,196 per-theater average at 3,728 sites according to official studio estimates. Tim Burton’s revamped version of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy tale far surpassed the Walt Disney Studios’ (official) pre-release expectations, while delivering the best opening weekend to date for a 3D film.
For comparison’s sake, James Cameron’s Avatar grossed $77 million on its opening weekend in mid-December 2009 – though, admittedly, the 3D sci-fi 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 semi-historical extravaganza 300 ($70.8 million), toplining Gerard Butler.
More ‘Alice in Wonderland’ box office records – but still trailing ‘New Moon’ weekend debut
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, easily beating Avatar‘s $9.5 million record. (Alice in Wonderland is currently playing at 188 U.S. and Canada IMAX locations.)
And finally, Alice in Wonderland enjoyed the second-highest non-summer opening ever, behind the Kristen Stewart-Robert Pattinson-Taylor Lautner romantic fantasy/adventure The Twilight Saga: New Moon, a 2D release directed by Chris Weitz that earned $142.83 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 and the then recently deceased Heath Ledger as The Joker. The superhero blockbuster earned $158 million on its first weekend in mid-July ’08.
$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 according to various sources – not including prints and marketing expenses. Adding to the overall cost was the transfer from 2D to 3D, but that may have been what did the trick. If so, the two upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies and the Clash of the Titans remake are in luck.
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.
Box office records not necessarily attendance records
Now, whether Alice in Wonderland has actually sold more tickets than the the former record-holders mentioned above – excepting fellow 3D’er Avatar – is another matter altogether.
After all, it’s still unclear how much of the Disney release’s grosses are coming 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.
Anyhow, the key question now is: How sturdy will be Alice‘s legs?
‘Alice in Wonderland’ still tops
Thursday, March 11, update: As expected, Alice in Wonderland has easily remained at the top of the North American box office during the week. On Wed., March 10, Tim Burton’s 3D fantasy added another $6.7 million.
Considering that Alice in Wonderland is perceived as a kiddie flick, the consistent (10+ percent) weekday box office decreases shouldn’t be too surprising. In that regard, Avatar has been performing much more strongly, with minuscule day-to-day changes during the week.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ cast
With a screenplay adaptation credited to Linda Woolverton, Alice in Wonderland features:
Three-time Best Actor Oscar nominee Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 2003; Finding Neverland, 2004; Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2007).
Best Actress Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter (The Wings of the Dove, 1997).
Best Actress Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married, 2008).
Mia Wasikowska (as Alice). Crispin Glover. Matt Lucas. Marton Csokas. Frances de la Tour.
Jemma Powell. Lindsay Duncan. Tim Pigott-Smith. Geraldine James. Lucy Davenport. Eleanor Tomlinson.
Veteran Michael Gough (Batman, Konga).
Veteran Christopher Lee (Corridors of Blood, Horror Castle).
Best Actress Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake, 2004).
‘Alice in Wonderland’ Reviews
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, adapted by Linda Woolverton, and starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice), Johnny Depp (the Mad Hatter), Anne Hathaway (the White Queen), and Helena Bonham Carter (above, as the Red Queen, and looking quite a bit like Silvana Mangano in Dune), opens today in the United States and several other countries. The costly 2D-turned-3D fantasy has had some distribution problems in Europe thanks to Disney’s decision to release it on DVD in less than the usual four-month window. (One report claims Alice in Wonderland cost $250 million, but it’s hard to know who to believe. Avatar‘s production costs, for instance, have ranged between $180-$500 million, depending on who is doing the reporting.)
Critical reaction, for its part, has been mixed. Some really liked the movie; others really thought Lewis Carroll deserved better.
“Into the dark you tumble in Alice in Wonderland,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, “Tim Burton’s busy, garish and periodically amusing repo of the Lewis Carroll hallucination Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s a long fall turned long haul, despite the Burtonian flourishes … Played by Mia Wasikowska, Alice looks a touch dazed: she seems to have left her pulse above ground when she fell down the rabbit hole of Mr. Burton’s imagination.”
“Is there a better movie-match than Lewis Carroll and Tim Burton?” (rhetorically) asks Anne Hornaday in the Washington Post. “With Alice in Wonderland, his boldly revisionist remix of Carroll’s beloved tales of a young girl’s journey down a rabbit hole and through a looking glass, Burton finely balances excess and restraint to create an absorbing, visually rich world of his very own.”
“As the tantrum-prone Red Queen saddled with a basketball-sized noggin, Helena Bonham Carter does for Alice in Wonderland what Depp achieved as swaggering Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean — making an average movie better, …” says Randy Myers in the San Jose Mercury News. That nothing in her real-life partner Tim Burton’s 3-D tinkering of the Lewis Carroll adventures — rumored to have cost $250 million — matches her isn’t an outright slam of the film or of Burton. The Sweeney Todd actress is such a force here that she could make James Cameron’s more visually impressive Pandora wilt in the background.”
“Alice in Wonderland? It doesn’t look like any Alice I know,” says Amy Biancolli in the San Francisco Chronicle. “It has action scenes. Traumatic flashbacks. Heartfelt bonding between Alice and the Mad Hatter, whose gimongous lime-green eyes swell with emotion. There’s even a scene where Alice gets hit on by the Knave of Hearts, one of the skeevier conceits in this fumbled Disney update.” Biancolli adds that all director Burton and screenwriter Woolverton have accomplished is “a 3-D, CG-enhanced extravaganza of boring and time-worn fantasy conventions.”
‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ not so special
Trailing Alice in Wonderland by a wide margin, Antoine Fuqua’s Brooklyn’s Finest earned $13.5 million over the weekend according to official studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo. That’s about 10 percent less than early predictions.
The cop drama had a barely passable average for a new release: $6,973 per theater at 1,936 sites – or approximately half the number of locations showing Alice in Wonderland. Bear in mind that the fewer the number of venues, the higher the per-theater average should be. (Admittedly, the 3D factor did inflate quite a bit Alice in Wonderland‘s per-theater take.)
It’s highly unlikely that Brooklyn’s Finest, which stars Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, and Wesley Snipes, will be able to recover its modest $25 million budget at the domestic box office. Remember, studios usually get about 50-55 percent of their films’ gross.
Update: Box Office Mojo now has the Brooklyn’s Finest budget pegged at $17 million. If that’s correct – several other online sources have it at $25 million – the Antoine Fuqua-Richard Gere collaboration has a better chance of at least recovering its budget domestically.
‘Shutter Island’ nears $100 million milestone
Directed by Martin Scorsese, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, Shutter Island was the no. 3 movie on the domestic box office chart, raking in $13.3 million. That’s a solid $4,185 per-theater average on weekend no. 3, following a mid-level 41 percent drop from the previous weekend.
Next in line was Kevin Smith’s comedy Cop Out, featuring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, with $9.1 million (down 50 percent) and an unimpressive $2,903 per-theater average on weekend no. 2. The $30-million production has reached a cume of $32.3 million.
‘Avatar’ surprisingly still among Top Five
Although Avatar was expected to no longer be found among the top five grossers in North America this weekend, James Cameron’s sci-fier stubbornly held its ground at no. 5, despite a significant 44 percent drop from the previous weekend – its worst to date, now that Alice in Wonderland has taken hold of most 3D/IMAX screens in the U.S. and Canada.
Up for nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, to date Avatar has grossed $720.1 million at the domestic box office. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and veteran Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Aliens) star.
As an aside … On its final day (Thursday, March 4) in numerous IMAX and 3D theaters across North America, Avatar recovered its position as the no. 1 movie at the box office, barely edging out Shutter Island, which had been the top movie in the U.S. and Canada since its debut on Feb. 19.
Tuesday, March 9, update: Still hanging in there, James Cameron’s Avatar pulled in $814,000 at no. 4 on Monday, March 8, despite having fallen below the $1 million-per-day mark.
However, Sunday night’s Oscars – Avatar won three statuettes in the technical categories – didn’t do much for the film’s box office appeal, as the sci-fier lost a large chunk (67 percent) of its weekend business just like the vast majority of the other Top Twelve films.
‘The Crazies’ leaves audiences apathetic
Breck Eisner’s horror flick The Crazies, with Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell, was the no. 6 movie at the domestic box office this weekend, with $7 million (down 56 percent) for a total of $27.4 million.
At no. 7, Chris Columbus’ adventure flick Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, starring Logan Lerman, earned $5.1 million (down 47 percent) this weekend and $78 million to date. The Lightning Thief will definitely not get even close to recovering its $95 million price tag at the U.S. and Canada box office.
Garry Marshall’s all-star Valentine’s Day was no. 8, with $4.2 million (down 53 percent). Thus far, the romantic comedy has earned $106.4 million – or more than double its $52 million production costs. Valentine’s Day stars Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts, Jessica Alba, Ashton Kutcher, Anne Hathaway, Taylor Lautner, Eric Dane, Carter Jenkins, Taylor Swift, and many others.
Tuesday, March 9, update: At no. 7 on Monday, March 8, Jeff Bridges’ Crazy Heart earned $377,000. The Oscars for Best Actor and Best Song (T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham’s “The Weary Kind”) have clearly boosted the appeal of this drama about a troubled country singer.
Crazy Heart suffered the second smallest drop (51 percent) among Monday’s Top Twelve films. The smallest one was that of John Lee Hancock’s The Blind Side (43 percent), which earned Sandra Bullock the Best Actress Oscar.
Gone from the Top Twelve this weekend:
- The John Travolta-Jonathan Rhys Meyers action flick From Paris with Love.
- The Mel Gibson crime drama Edge of Darkness.
- The Denzel Washington thriller The Book of Eli.
Kristen Stewart indie disappoints
A new release that I failed to mention in a previous post about the box office performance of arthouse films is Udayan Prasad’s The Yellow Handkerchief, which was actually shot a couple of years ago. Starring William Hurt and Maria Bello, the psychological drama received quite a bit of advance publicity because of the presence of Twilight Saga star Kristen Stewart.
Surprisingly, last weekend The Yellow Handkerchief raked in only $37,000 from seven theaters, for a below-par $5,328 average. This weekend, it was down to $29,860 in spite of the addition of nine locations; its per-theater average was a dismal $1,866.
The Yellow Handkerchief, which also features Eddie Redmayne, cost a reported $15.5 million. Needless to say, it’ll end up very much in the red.
The Oscars’ box office boost?
Regarding the Academy Awards’ box office effect, last year Danny Boyle’s Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire received a phenomenal boost throughout awards season, especially as a result of its eight Academy Award nominations and subsequent eight wins.
According to figures found at Hollywood.com, Rob Marshall’s musical Chicago (2002) collected nearly two-thirds of its grosses and Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004) acquired more than 90 percent of its revenues after they were nominated for, respectively, thirteen and seven Academy Awards.
Obviously, eventual Best Picture winners released earlier in the year – e.g., Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men (2007) and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006) – benefited less from the Oscar publicity in North America; though in all probability the Oscars helped out overseas, where movies oftentimes open at later dates, and with ancillary revenues (DVDs, pay-per-view, etc.).
It’s also important to remember that some of these movies – James Cameron’s Titanic, which opened near the end of 1997, comes to mind – would have made tons of money with or without multiple Academy Award nominations/wins.
So, exactly how much the Oscars themselves influence a film’s domestic (or international) box office is open to debate. In order to find out for sure, one would have to check whether there was a significant surge following the Oscar announcements, while taking into account the number of theaters screening the film in question.
After all, some movies open in limited release, only to go wide once the Oscar nominations are announced. This year, that was the case with a handful of Oscar nominees, with the Jeff Bridges star vehicle Crazy Heart as the chief benefactor of this distribution strategy.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ breaks several box office records, 3D-deficient ‘Avatar’ loses wings
March 6 afternoon update: Alice in Wonderland is the latest record-breaker at the domestic box office, having grossed $41 million on Friday while averaging an outstanding $10,998 per screen at 3,728 sites according to official studio estimates. Though $4 million short from early reports (see further below), Tim Burton’s 3D-converted version of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy is expected to bring in around $110 million over the weekend.
As foreseen, Avatar dropped out of North America’s Top Five on Friday, ranking at no. 6 with only $1.97 million. Among the Top Ten holdovers, James Cameron’s sci-fier posted – by far – the smallest increase from the day before, a mere 20 percent.
Despite Oscar weekend and its nine nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, Avatar has suffered badly because Alice in Wonderland now dominates North America’s 3D/IMAX screens. 20th Century Fox executives must be fuming, as Avatar had been performing remarkably well on weekends.
‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ anything but
Antoine Fuqua’s Brooklyn’s Finest took in an estimated $4.72 million on Friday, or about 10 percent less than early predictions while landing at a very distant second place. The cop drama had an okay average of $2,441 per theater, but if business doesn’t go up quite a bit on Saturday Brooklyn’s Finest will turn out to be Brooklyn’s dud. The film stars Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, and Wesley Snipes.
Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, and Tom Wilkinson, has expanded to 147 screens. Among the top 14 movies listed on the Box Office Mojo chart, the political thriller scored the second highest average of the day: a surprisingly modest $2,653.
‘Alice in Wonderland’: Mushroom psychedelic trip for families.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ eviscerates competition
March 6 early morning update: Alice in Wonderland has thoroughly decimated its domestic competition at the Friday, March 5, box office, according to rough, early estimates found at Deadline.com. Tim Burton’s 3D revamping of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy, scored an estimated $45 million – a staggering amount that easily beat Avatar‘s opening day take (which was affected by a winter storm that disrupted much of the Eastern U.S.).
Deadline’s Nikki Finke estimates that Alice in Wonderland may rake in between $115-$120 million over the weekend – vs. Avatar‘s $77 million – which would make it both the biggest March release and the biggest 3D debut ever.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ unceremoniously kicks out ‘Avatar’
March 5 update: A teenage girl, a talking cat, a decapitation-obsessed queen with a huge forehead, and a mascara-covered Johnny Depp are supposed to do to Pandora’s Na’vi what Avatar‘s well-armed humans; Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese; the star-studded Valentine’s Day cast; and the back-and-forth love letters in Dear John weren’t able to do: kick them out for good – from 3D/IMAX theaters in the United States and numerous other countries, that is. And consequently from North America’s Top Five weekend box office chart.
Having said that, even at mostly 2D theaters, Avatar may prove itself to be quite resilient. We’ll find out in the coming days.
According to Ben Fritz in the Los Angeles Times blog Hero Complex, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is expected to gross anywhere between $75-$90+ million over the weekend. If that truly happens, the 3D fantasy could well surpass Avatar‘s earnings on its debut weekend in mid-December: $77 million.
Now, whether Mia Wasikowska’s Alice will develop legs as long as those of the Na’vi remains to be seen.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ no. 45 on 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/3D/IMAX surcharges. In other words, that chart doesn’t indicate each film’s ranking in relation to the actual number of tickets sold. Not even close.
On Box Office Mojo’s inflation-adjusted chart, Alice in Wonderland is nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, that particular chart stops at no. 100. The lowest grosser on there is the 1986 Tom Cruise actioner Top Gun with $362.2 million.
How much further up the (non-adjusted) chart Alice in Wonderland will go remains to be seen. Each weekend, it has been losing 45-50 percent of the previous weekend’s take. The 3D fantasy will surely cross the $300 million mark, but whether it’ll reach $400 million (or even $350 million) at the U.S. and Canada box office is debatable.
Box office: ‘Avatar’ vs. ‘Alice in Wonderland’
Avatar vs. Gone with the Wind, Avatar vs. Titanic, or even Avatar vs. The Blind Side, another late 2009 release, are all difficult to compare. In the first two instances, James Cameron’s 3D sci-fier came out in a radically different movie distribution world – not to mention the warping effect of inflationary pressures (and 3D surcharges) on ticket costs. In the last instance, the key issue is the 3D vs. 2D issue, as 3D admission prices are higher and thus help to inflate box office grosses.
Avatar vs. Alice in Wonderland, however, are easy to place side by side. Both films were released in 3D (though Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland had to be converted to the format), both are fantastical adventures, both feature relatively little-known performers in the lead (Sam Worthington, Mia Wasikowska), and both were released within a mere three months of each other.
So, below are a few comparisons. Bear in mind that Avatar has been out for 95 days; Alice in Wonderland for 18 days. Also, Alice in Wonderland has yet to open in several major international markets, including China, Japan, France, and Brazil.
Domestic gross (as of Monday, March 22, ’10):
Avatar $737.2 million vs. Alice in Wonderland $268.1 million.
Update (2016): Avatar domestic cume: $760.5 million (including one reissue); Alice in Wonderland: $334.19 million.
International gross (as of Monday, March 22, ’10):
Avatar 1.931 billion vs. Alice in Wonderland $300 million.
Update (2016): Avatar international cume: $2.027 billion; Alice in Wonderland: $691.27 million.
Worldwide gross (as of Monday, March 22, ’10):
Avatar $2.668 billion vs. Alice in Wonderland $568.1 million.
Update (2016): Avatar worldwide cume: $2.787,9 billion; Alice in Wonderland: $1.025,4 billion.
Domestic vs. international box office (percentages):
Avatar (27.6 percent vs. 72.4 percent) vs. Alice in Wonderland (47.2 percent vs. 52.8 percent).
Update (2016): Avatar (27.3 percent vs. 72.7 percent) vs. Alice in Wonderland (32.6 percent vs. 67.4 percent).
Avatar $77 million vs. Alice in Wonderland $116.1 million.
Average per screen on opening weekend:
Avatar $22,313 vs. Alice in Wonderland $31,143.
Number of weekends at the top of the box office chart:
Avatar 8 vs. Alice in Wonderland 3.
Third weekend gross:
Avatar $68.4 million (New Year’s) vs. Alice in Wonderland $34.1 million.
Drop-off by third weekend (in relation to debut weekend):
Avatar 11 percent vs. Alice in Wonderland 71 percent.
Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter Alice in Wonderland 2010 images: Disney Enterprises.
Richard Gere Brooklyn’s Finest image: Overture Films.
Sigourney Weaver and Sam Worthington Avatar Na’vi image: WETA / 20th Century Fox.
Kristen Stewart The Yellow Handkerchief image: Samuel Goldwyn Films.