This story has been updated
Action-movie battles rarely end in a tie. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader didn't go fiercely at it, putting their lives and the fate of the Empire on the line, then stop their epochal fight and say, "Eh, let's go for a beer." But the Independence Day weekend smackdown between last week's champ, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and the cartoon contender Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs ended in a tie, with each film earning $42.5 million at the North American box office if you believe the official numbers.
A distant third, with $26 million for the weekend, was Public Enemies, with Johnny Depp impersonating John Dillinger under Michael Mann's direction. Somehow the story of a bank robber who died 75 years ago didn't seduce the holiday audience. Maybe when the grownups have packed their kids off to summer camp, they'll belatedly discover this rare July movie aimed at adults. In holdover action, the two Are-they-gonna-get-married? comedies The Proposal and The Hangover maintained healthy chunks of their audiences, and Pixar's Up, challenged by another 3-D animated feature, finally lost altitude. It also concluded its brief reign as the year's top-grossing movie; Transformers 2 managed that in 10 days.
For studio bosses who look to this as one of the prime weekends for film attendance, the real behemoth was the calendar. With July 4 falling on a Saturday, one of the two busiest movie days of the week, the box office got clouted by fireworks and barbecues. Each of the top 10 films, which normally would make about the same amount of money on Saturday as on Friday, was down at least 30% last night.
Yet there's no denying that Transformers 2 is a smash, having earned something like $700 million worldwide in 12 days. So far, the movie is ahead of its blockbuster predecessor though sequels usually come out of the gate with more power than the original, which establishes a brand. Its box-office domination may annoy critics and sentient adults, but this savvily marketed franchise is as impervious to failure as McDonald's. It's not a fast-food but a fast-film experience, cunningly mixing the twin fanboy magnets of large marauding toys and luscious Megan Fox.
The performance of Ice Age 3, which over its first five days did outgross Transformers, was a bit spottier. Benefiting from the hiked prices for 3-D showings (which brought in about 40% of the take), the movie still earned less in those five days than 2006's Ice Age: The Meltdown did in its first three. It didn't help that Dawn of the Dinosaurs was the summer's fifth movie whose cast of characters included at least one prehistoric beast. (Can you name the other four?*) It may be time for Hollywood to go back to spacemen.
The movie's main problem was that many found it an unnecessary addition to the canon, with the primary plot strenuously exerting itself to achieve familiar challenges and triumphs. Only the unrelated, subsidiary scenes with Scrat the squirrel and his foxy new inamorata Scratte showed any comic pizazz. (These scenes were created by a different story team.) With the speed of Road Runner, the karma of Wile E. Coyote and, this time, the romantic obsession of Pepé Le Pew, Scrat is a walking, stalking lexicon of characters created by the immortal Chuck Jones. Blue Sky, the Ice Age studio, should take an artistic leap and consider a feature-length, nonverbal Scrat feature.
There's an even bigger problem in the weekend box-office tallies announced each Sunday around noon Eastern time. They are taken as an accurate summary of an industry's health, like the Dow Jones average, but they're grounded less in facts than in wish fulfillment. They take the hard data on the Friday and Saturday grosses, then add each studio's educated guess as to how its movie is likely to do on Sunday. Sometimes those guesses are wrong. A month ago, Up was declared the weekend winner over The Hangover, but the Vegas comedy lured more customers than Warner Bros. had expected, and on Monday The Hangover proved to be No. 1.
Making these early results public is like ruling that the team ahead after the sixth inning has won the game, or declaring an election over when the sampling polls come in. So why make these figures public a day before they can be validated? Because Sunday is a slow news day, and the report of the box-office winner, almost always included in the day's top headlines, is free publicity for the movies cited as being the most popular.
How did Transformers 2 and Ice Age 3 "end" in a tie? Because after looking at the Friday and Saturday results, Fox execs predicted that Ice Age would earn $14,075,000, a 25% increase over yesterday, while the mentalists over at DreamWorks/Paramount said the Transformers 2 take would rise nearly 30%, to $13,872,000. That oddly precise number guaranteed that both movies would get on the evening news. Skeptics are forgiven for wondering whether the system for determining weekend grosses is numbers-crunching or a numbers racket.
Here are the studios' official weekend estimates for the top 10 movies, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1 (tie). Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, $42.5 million; $67.5 million, first five days
1 (tie). Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, $42.5 million; $293.4 million, second week
3. Public Enemies, $26.2 million; $41 million, first five days
4. The Proposal, $12.8 million; $94.2 million, third week
5. The Hangover, $10.4 million; $204 million, fifth week
6. Up, $6.6 million; $264.9 million, sixth week
7. My Sister's Keeper, $5.3 million; $26 million, second week
8. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, $2.5 million; $58.4 million, fourth week
9 (tie). Year One, $2.1 million; $38.1 million, third week
9 (tie). Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, $2.1 million; $167.8 million, seventh week
*The four other movies with prehistoric beasts: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Up, Land of the Lost and Year One.