The Easter box office found a burst of new life, as G.I. Joe Retaliation muscled its way to a $41.2-million weekend and commandeered the top slot at North American theaters, according to preliminary studio estimates. Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, the Atlanta mogul’s Easter offering to his churchgoing flock, opened solidly to $22.3 million, while The Host, an alien-possession romance from Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, found few communicants, earning just $11 million. Overall, business was up about 18% from the Paschal weekend last year, suggesting that the 2013 box office is rebounding from its severe winter recession.
[MONDAY UPDATE: According to final figures, released today, the three new films all finished a bit below their announced estimates: G.I. Joe Retaliation actually earned $40.5 million, Temptation $21.6 million and The Host $10.6 million.]
Retaliation, its release delayed eight months for a 3-D conversion and the infusion of more scenes with hunk fave Channing Tatum, could not match the first-weekend domestic stats for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which opened to $54.7 million in August 2009. Even the new film’s five-day figure of $51.7 million (it opened Wednesday night) was below Cobra’s three-day mark. That’s not a welcome omen: in the biggest action-picture franchises (Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man), the first sequel invariably opens to a much higher figure than the original. Nor did adding Dwayne Johnson to the Joe mix goose the gross beyond standard Tatum dimensions. Tatum’s romantic drama, The Vow, which cost about $100 million less to produce than Retaliation, earned the same $41.2 million on Valentine’s weekend 2012. The new movie’s demographic skew is also a reason for worry. Fully 68% of the audience was male — the highest gender imbalance since the same percentage for the 2011 Battle Los Angeles, which opened well ($35.6 million), then wilted fast ($83.6 million total).
(READ: Corliss’s review of G.I. Joe Retaliation)
But Paramount can still be pleased with its tactics. First, summer movies routinely attract more customers than early-spring entries — last year’s spring smash The Hunger Games being a notable exception — and Retaliation managed the second best Easter-weekend debut, after Clash of the Titans’ $61.2 million three years ago. The Paramounties must also be warmed by the A-minus rating from CinemaScore’s survey of early attendees, hinting at good word-of-mouth and longer box-office legs.
The 3-D makeover surely jacked up the earnings, and may portend a bonanza in the rest of the world, where audiences haven’t yet tired of paying a surcharge to wear goggles. This weekend, Retaliation premiered in 53 foreign markets and earned $80 million: nearly double Cobra’s opening overseas take, and about 10% higher than the year’s biggest hit so far, Oz the Great and Powerful. The Disney movie is grazing the $200-million domestic threshold, but until this weekend it had earned more than half of its worldwide revenue in the U.S. and Canada. That’s not wonderful news for the Wizard, since, of the 50 top-grossing films of the last 30 years, none has earned less abroad than at home. Don’t bet the farm on this, but it’s conceivable that, when all the coins of various denominations are counted, Retaliation will have outgrossed Oz worldwide.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Oz the Great and Powerful)
In the openings of two movies from offscreen brand names, Perry beat Meyer by more than two to one. Temptation, without Perry’s Madea character to juice ticket sales, and featuring two non-star TV regulars in the leads (Jurnee Smollett-Bell of Friday Night Lights and True Blood and Lance Gross of Perry’s House of Payne TV series), nonetheless lured the writer-director’s faithful — 70% female, 79% over the age of 25 — who put a dutiful A-minus CinemaScore in the collection plate. Among Perry’s Easter offerings, Temptation finished below the 2010 Why Did I Get Married Too? ($29.3 million) and Madea’s Big Happy Family in 2011 ($25.1 million) and above his 2008 Meet the Browns ($20.1 million). Attracting an oversize audience of African-American women of a certain age, Perry may still be preaching to the choir, but the choral voice is loud and strong.
(FIND: Tyler Perry as one of the TIME 100 of 2008)
For evidence that best-selling authors can’t always duplicate their success on screen, see The Host. Or, as most filmgoers decided this weekend, don’t see it. Adapted and directed by sci-fi imagineer Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show) and starring Saiorse Ronan (Hanna) as a young woman fighting the infiltration of her body by an otherwordly parasite, The Host fell below the opening of Niccol’s previous futurist movie, In Time, which had higher-profile stars (Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried) but not Meyer’s Twilight pedigree. With a sluggish B-minus CinemaScore, it already looks as though The Host is toast.
(READ: Mary Pols’ wrapup of the Twilight Saga movies)
In Indieville, the star power of Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper propelled The Place Beyond the Pines to a gaudy $270,184 in four New York and L.A. theaters, for the year’s second best per-screen average, trailing only Spring Breakers’ $87,677 PSA two weeks ago. Gosling’s reunion with Blue Valentine writer-director Derek Cianfrance goes nationwide on April 12.
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of The Place Beyond the Pines)
A trio of indie curiosities opened to less spectacular numbers. Room 237, which investigates some of the more eccentric theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film of The Shining, took in a creepy-good $36,000 at two venues. The bio-pic Renoir, about the painter and his filmmaker son, earned $63,700 on six screens. And Blancanieves, a black-and-white, silent Spanish reworking of the Snow White fable, cadged a Grimm $25,100 at four theaters. For some movies, this wasn’t a rosy Easter; it was Black Friday.
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of Room 237)
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. G.I. Joe Retaliation, $41.2 million, first weekend; $51.7 million, first five days
2. The Croods, $26.5 million; $88.6 million, second week
3. Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, $22.3 million, first weekend
4. Olympus Has Fallen, $14 million; $54.7 million, second week
5. Oz the Great and Powerful, $11.6 million; $198.3 million, fourth week
6. The Host, $11 million, first weekend
7. The Call, $4.8 million; $39.5 million, third week
8. Admission, $3.3 million; $11.8 million, second week
9. Spring Breakers, $2.8 million; $10.1 million, third week
10. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, $1.3 million; $20.6 million, third week