Talk about climate change. The weekend weather report was sunny for the Sony animated feature Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and drizzly at best for Matt Damon, Jennifer Aniston and Megan Fox.
According to official studio estimates, moviegoers paid $30.1 million for the cartoon feature based on a 1978 children's book with a meteorological metaphor. In Judi Barrett's 1978 story, a small town has no restaurants or grocery stores because the three-times-a-day weather rains soup, snows mashed potatoes and blows hamburgers. The Meatballs writer-director team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (How I Met Your Mother on TV, the virtually unseen Extreme Movie) added a love interest and a villain and juiced up the physical comedy. Like most recent animated features, Meatballs made most of its money with jacked-up prices: more than half the screens were showing the movie in 3-D.
As with last week, when Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself was champ of the North American box-office, this weekend's winner easily outgrossed the cumulative take of the other three movies opening in wide release. Damon's business comedy The Informant!, directed by Steven Soderbergh, pulled in a so-so $10.5 million, and got an abysmal C- rating from the CinemaScore exit poll of moviegoers that's worse than Bruno! Love Happens, a soupy romance starring Aniston and Aaron Eckhart, earned a tepid $8.5 million. Jennifer's Body, a horror comedy written by Juno's Diablo Cody, and promising a girl-on-girl kissing scene between Transformers temptress Fox and Big Love babe Amanda Seyfried, did only $6.8 million. Megan's body makes for a perky pinup, but even her boy-fans can do simple arithmetic. Why should they pay for a glimpse of Fox nudity when they can get a closer, longer look for free on Egostastic.com?
No, Meatballs made the big news; but it wasn't unequivocally good news.
Animated features account for three of the year's top seven domestic moneymakers: Up at $291.5 million, Monsters vs Aliens at $198.4 million and Ice Ace: Dawn of the Dinosaurs at $195 million. Abroad, that prehistoric comedy is even more mammoth. By reaching a $660 million total last week, it became the third all-time highest-grossing movie in foreign territories, trailing only Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Sony, the distributor of Meatballs, would dearly love to join Disney-Pixar, DreamWorks and Fox-Blue Sky as a studio with a fat annual annuity from CGI features. But the numbers for Meatballs, while dominant in a slow Sept. week, aren't likely to vault it to the top of the cartoon class. The movie's gross should end up somewhere between that of its previous two animation efforts: the OK Open Season (2006) and the disappointing Surf's Up (2007).
Having earned an impressive A- from CinemaScore, and with no family-movie challenge until the 3-D releases of the Pixar classics Toy Story and Toy Story 2, the Meatballs movie has a chance to cook up some good numbers. But Sony spent a lot to make a bit. Meatballs cost about $100 million to produce, not including prints and advertising, as opposed to $22 million for The Informant!, $18 million for Love Happens and $16 million for Jennifer's Body. Those three films were in effect playing a different game small ball in the same park.
Autumn is small-ball season at the movies. Audiences go back to school and work and free themselves of the weekly addiction to attending the new blockbuster wannabe. Box office totals drop precipitously; last Wednesday was the first day since Mar. 4 that no movie cracked $1 million at North American theaters. Studios essentially take their vacation from megamovies, releasing leftovers instead of cinema sirloin. So the industry forecast for the next couple of months, until the big pre-Christmas movies, has to be cloudy with a chance of dog food.
Here are the official studio estimates for this weekend's top 10 movies:
1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, $30.1 million, first weekend
2. The Informant!, $10.5 million, first weekend
3. Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself, $10.1 million; $37.9 million, second week
4. Love Happens, $8.5 million, first weekend
5. Jennifer's Body, $6.8 million, first weekend
6. 9, $5.5 million; $22.8 million, second week
7. Inglourious Basterds, $3.6 million; $110 million, fifth week
8. All About Steve, $3.4 million; $26.7 million, third week
9. Sorority Row, $2.5 million; $8.9 million, second week
10. The Final Destination, $2.4 million; $62.4 miliion, fourth week