Fairy-Tale Ending: Snow White Dwarfs the Competition

The old fable connects with new viewers and jump-starts the June box office

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Universal Pictures / AP

Grim(m) is good. Snow White and the Huntsman, Universal’s darkish, PG-13 version of the German fairy tale, led the studio out of the woods and into golden sunlight, winning the weekend at the North American box office with $56.3 million, according to preliminary estimates. That number galloped past most industry predictions, including Universal’s own lowball forecast in the $30 million range, to put Hollywood in a Happy (rather than Grumpy) mood after a few weeks of underperforming May releases in the wake of that mighty Marvel, The Avengers.

Starring Kristen Stewart of The Twilight Saga as Snow White, Charlize Theron as the wicked queen and The Avengers’ Chris (Thor) Hemsworth as the helpful huntsman, the new movie attracted viewers a shade older (52% over 30) and girlier (53% female) than average. This further testifies to the increased box-office clout of women. They have been the primary audience for three of the year’s 10 top films — The Hunger Games, The Vow and Think Like a Man — while Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island appealed to families and the action films (The Avengers, 21 Jump Street, Safe House, Men in Black 3 and Wrath of the Titans) filled the other slots.

(MORE: Mary Pols’ Review of Snow White and the Huntsman)

The Huntsman, which managed a so-so B mark in the CinemaScore survey of early moviegoers, nonetheless erased the fleeting memory of the year’s previous Snow White film. The snarky Mirror Mirror, with Julia Roberts as the shrew on the throne, earned just $62.4 million in its entire domestic run, plus a brighter $98 million abroad. With a production budget ($172 million) about twice that of Mirror Mirror, the new movie took in an extra $39.3 million in its opening foreign dates.

Its successful opening all but guarantees a sequel and should lift the cloud from the Universal hierarchy, which struck out in North America with its big-budget action film Battleship ($55.1 million so far). Though the board-game drama piled up $235 million in foreign countries, the studio may have to take an expensive write-down similar to Disney’s on John Carter. Both movies have earned a bit under $300 million worldwide, but when it costs that much to produce the film and bring it to market, the ledger bleeds red ink.

(MORE: Steven James Snyder’s Review of Battleship)

The Huntsman’s strong early numbers couldn’t mask the general lag in attendance this “summer” season, which began with the May 4 release of The Avengers. Huge hits used to pump up the multiplex marketplace: customers who couldn’t get into the big movie would see something else. Today, though, theaters accommodate the crowds by putting their blockbusters on more screens. The Avengers, which accounted for more than half of the total domestic box office last month, may have slaked the general audience’s appetite for other products.

Whatever the reason, each of the past four weekends has seen lower revenue than the same weekends a year ago; this time, business was down 12%. Most of the major releases this May — Dark Shadows, Battleship, The Dictator and What to Expect When You’re Expecting — fell far short of meeting their quotas. And though the numbers for MIB3 look relatively robust, the $112.3 million it earned over Memorial Day weekend and the following week is less than the $121.7 million The Lorax tallied in its first 10 days, back in March, with no holiday Monday to goose the gross. (Think of it: Ted Geisel trumped Will Smith.)

[MONDAY UPDATE: In the “actual” weekend figures issued this afternoon, MIB3 finished at $28.1 million, four percent below its projected gross. Other films in the top 10 were close to their estimates.]

(MORE: Mary Pols’ Review of Men in Black 3)

Now Hollywood has to hope that Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s gloss on Alien, brings fanboys and everyone else back to theaters. The 3-D prequel to the 1979 space-horror classic opened to $35 million in 15 countries and was No. 1 in 14. It comes to North American theaters on Friday.

This weekend The Avengers dropped to third place, with $20.3 million for the weekend, but kept breaking records. In 31 days of domestic release, the superhero movie has earned $552.7 million to pass The Dark Knight’s $533.3 million for third place on the all-time North American blockbuster list, behind the seemingly impregnable Avatar ($760.5 million) and Titanic ($658.6 million). The Avengers could conceivably squeeze another $100 million-plus out of American moviegoers to challenge Titanic’s take — but not in real dollars, which push the 1997 movie to a current valuation of $1.07 billion. To match Avatar, the Marvel movie would need to add more than $200 million to its gross so far, which means that every person who paid to see it in its record-breaking first weekend would have to chip in to see it again.

The Avengers’ worldwide gross of $1.355 billion (in 40 days) is also third best all-time, having demoted Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 a few days ago. But that’s only 62% of the $2.185 billion that Titanic amassed, even ignoring inflation and less than half of Avatar’s $2.782 billion. Marvel and Disney, its distributor, will have to be satisfied with the top box-office winner ever — that was not dreamed up by James Cameron.

(MORE: Corliss’s Review of The Avengers)

In Indieland, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel crossed the $25 million threshold in its fifth week; the comedy-drama about English elders in India has now earned more than $100 million worldwide. Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom expanded from four to 12 theaters, earning $849,000, or $53,000 per screen — which is, as Tom Brueggemann of Thompson on Hollywood notes, “about the best second-week grosses ever seen.” More modest was the $350,000 cadged in 50 theaters by The Intouchables; the Weinstein Co. release has yet to generate anything like the astonishing $343 million that this feel-good French comedy has earned abroad.

Among debut indie films, the dopester comedy High School scored just $80,600 in 200 theaters, the lowest per-screen average ($403) among the top 30 pictures, and that in its opening weekend. Those numbers aren’t just grim(m), they’re gruesome. As the queen in The Huntsman might shout, “Off with these weed heads!”

(MORE: Corliss’s Review of High School)

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Snow White and the Huntsman, $56.3 million, first weekend

2. Men in Black 3, $29.3 million; $112.3 million, second week

3. The Avengers, $20.3 million; $552.7 million, fifth week

4. Battleship, $4.8 million; $55.1 million, third week

5. The Dictator, $4.7 million; $50.8 million, third week

6. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, $4.6 million; $25.5 million, fifth week

7. What to Expect When You’re Expecting, $4.4 million; $30.7 million, third week

8. Dark Shadows, $3.9 million; $70.8 million, fourth week

9. Chernobyl Diaries, $3 million; $14.4 million, second week

10. For Greater Glory, $1.8 million, first weekend