The favorable odds finally ran out on The Hunger Games. After reigning at the North American box office for 28 straight days — the longest reign since The Sixth Sense was No. 1 for 35 days in 1999 — the teen archer Katniss was finally dethroned by the gents and ladies of Think Like a Man. The relationship comedy with a predominantly African-American cast won the weekend with a rousing $33 million, according to studios’ preliminary estimates. Teenybopper fave Zac Efron also performed handsomely, luring $22.8 million worth of moviegoers to The Lucky One, a dewy love story from the never-run-dry pen of Nicholas Sparks. Disney’s nature documentary Chimpanzee was the ticket for family audiences, with a $10-million take on another robust weekend. The creature feature came in fourth, just behind The Hunger Games.
[MONDAY UPDATE: In the “actual” figures released today, Think Like a Man topped its studio’s forecast with a final $33.6 million. In fact, eight of the movies in this weekend’s top 10 improved on their Sunday predictions: The Hunger Games to $14.7 million, Chimpanzee to $10.7 million, The Three Stooges to $9.8 million, The Cabin in the Woods to $8 million, American Reunion to $5.5 million, 21 Jump Street to $4.75 million and Mirror Mirror to $4.4 million. The final number for The Lucky One was a smidge below its early estimate, at $22.5 million, and the Titanic rerelease stayed steady at $5 million.]
The selection of new films was remarkably close to the fare offered on the same weekend last year, when Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family opened to $25.1 million, Water for Elephants (starring The Twilight Saga‘s Robert Pattinson) took in $16.8 million and African Cats earned $6 million. The current weekend saw another black-cast comedy, another romantic drama with a post-teen heartthrob and another Disney wildlife doc for Earth Day; but each new film improved on the gross of last year’s by 32 to 60%. That’s par for the course so far in 2012: box-office revenue is up nearly 20% from the first few months of 2011.
(MORE: TIME’s report on the Winning Winter Box Office)
With e-books crowding real books in the publishing marketplace, Hollywood has latched on to m-books: movies made from popular novels and nonfiction titles. This was the rare box-office weekend — anyway, we can’t immediately think of another — when the top three pictures were based on best-selling books, all aimed at female consumers. Suzanne Collins’s young-adult trilogy gave birth to The Hunger Games‘ film franchise; and The Lucky One is the seventh movie from a Sparks novel. This weekend’s winner took its inspiration from a less likely source: stand-up comic Steve Harvey’s self-help romance book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.
Produced for just $12 million, Think Like a Man earned that much on Friday alone, then cruised to the year’s seventh-best opening weekend. Distributor Sony Screen Gems artfully marketed the movie to “urban” (black) radio stations and TV networks and dispersed its cast for countrywide appearances, while co-star Kevin Hart, whose comedy concert film Laugh at My Pain earned a surprisingly high $7.7 million last year, blanketed the social media. Nailing heavenly ratings from a CinemaScore survey of early moviegoers — straight A’s, including A-plus marks from viewers under 25 and from all males — Think Like a Man expanded on the Tyler Perry audience of African-Americans (mostly women) to become a pan-racial date movie. You can bet that, if Harvey writes a how-to book about making a hit film, the Hollywood solons will be paying rapt attention. They may even try to turn it into a hit picture this time next year.
(MORE: Corliss’s sheepishly positive review of Think Like a Man)
Efron, the star of the Disney Channel High School Musical hits a few years ago, faced the challenge of acting grownup while retaining his core fans. He accomplished the trick by bulking up, cloaking his baby face in a three-day beard and playing a Marine determined to track down the young woman whose photo, he believes, kept him alive in the war zones. Among movies made from Sparks novels, The Lucky One will enjoy a heftier opening weekend than the 1999 Message in a Bottle ($16.8 million), the 2002 A Walk to Remember ($21.2 million), the 2004 The Notebook ($13.4 million), the 2008 Nights in Rodanthe ($13.4 million) and the 2010 The Last Song ($16 million) and below only Dear John ($30.5 million), the film that ended Avatar‘s seven-week box-office monopoly in February 2010. Efron struck Sparks with the ladies — the weekend audience was 76% female — who awarded The Lucky One a B-plus CinemaScore.
(MORE: Mary Pols’ review of The Lucky One)
Some big films, hoping to avoid the May barrage of Hollywood blockbusters, are released in Europe and Asia before they open here. Battleship, the $200-million movie version of an antique board game, has already banked $129.6 million in foreign countries, and the Aardman stop-motion-animation comedy The Pirates! Band of Misfits has tallied $55.9 million before its North American debut this coming Friday. A nice haul of swag — yet The Pirates! was outdone by another seafaring tale, Titanic. In its 3D release, James Cameron’s 1997 epic has earned $168.2 million abroad, including a sensational $67 million from China alone, to dwarf the $52.8 million accumulated in the U.S. and Canada. The great ship may have foundered in Atlantic waters, but worldwide it’s unsinkable.
(MORE: Corliss’s review of the Titanic rerelease)
In indie releases, Kevin Macdonald’s Marley, a documentary approved by the reggae star’s family, got together at 42 theaters for a feel-all-right $260,000. (The film can also be seen on Video on Demand, which does not release revenue figures.) Lawrence Kasdan’s Darling Companion, starring Kevin Kline and Diane Keaton and touted as a Big Chill for sexagenarians, registered a mild $46,296 on four screens. But that was gangbusters compared with the toothless debut of the teen-vampire drama The Moth Diaries: a mere $2,400 at two venues does not add up to a hit. (Do the moth.) Mary Harron’s adaptation of the Rachel Klein novel was the one femme-angled book-to-film project this weekend that didn’t seduce the ladies — or anyone else.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Think Like a Man, $33 million, first weekend
2. The Lucky One, $22.8 million, first weekend
3. The Hunger Games, $14.5 million; $356.9 million, fifth week
4. Chimpanzee, $10.2 million, first weekend
5. The Three Stooges, $9.2 million; $29.4 million, second week
6. The Cabin in the Woods, $7.75 million; $27 million, second week
7. American Reunion, $5.2 million; $48.3 million, third week
8. Titanic 3D, $5 million; $52.8 million, third week of rerelease
9. 21 Jump Street, $4.6 million; $127.1 million, sixth week
10. Mirror Mirror, $4.1 million; $55 million, fourth week