The March Hare came in like a lion. On a weekend when all movie eyes are peeled for tonight's Oscar ceremony, Disney's Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, demolished early-year records with a $116.3 million opening over three days at North American theaters, according to studio estimates.
The previous high for a March weekend had been the $70.9 million registered by the Spartan muscleman movie 300, while Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ had been the all-time opener in the January-to-March period, with $83.8 million. Even factoring in inflation, Alice is the unchallenged first-quarter queen. It's sixth among the most lucrative openings in movie history, after The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 3, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Shrek the Third. Which is to say, Alice had the top nonsequel opening weekend of all time.
Yes, bigger than Avatar, which took in $77 million during its first weekend last December. Alice made its big bucks the same way: it took the pill that makes you larger and went wide in 3-D. Of its 3,728 North American venues, 2,063 were on 3-D screens, plus another 180 in Imax 3-D. So Alice topped Avatar as the all-time biggest opener in the stereoptic format. "It also shattered Avatar's recently set Imax record," industry website the Wrap reported, "selling out each of the 188 digital 3-D outlets on the way to a weekend total of $11.9 million." Overseas, Alice was just as impressive, ending Avatar's 11-week reign by earning $94 million abroad, for a worldwide total of $210.3 million. The movie has yet to open in about 40% of the global market.
That imposing number just about covers Alice's $200 million budget; it's the most expensive new movie since Avatar, and Disney probably spent another $100 million or so to advertise it. The Burton picture is unlikely to come near the $2.5 billion global gross of James Cameron's epic, which became the all-time top grosser in Energizer-bunny fashion, by just going and going and going. Alice got so-so reviews from critics, but it achieved a healthy A rating from Cinemascore's poll of people who'd just seen the movie, and it should hang on through spring break until another 3-D release, the DreamWorks animated feature How to Train Your Dragon, opens March 26.
The rest of the weekend's top 10 teemed with cops, marshals and soldiers. Brooklyn's Finest, with Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes, Ethan Hawke and Richard Gere, snagged a better-than-expected $13.5 million for second place, two notches above another Kings County policier, Cop Out. Martin Scorsese's Shelter Island took third place and is nearing the $100 million mark. In other milestones, Sandra Bullock's sports inspirational The Blind Side broke $250 million; Valentine's Day topped $100 million; and Dear John and Percy Jackson each hit $75 million. Jeff Bridges' Crazy Heart, the one indie drama to reap box-office benefits from Oscar buzz, stayed in the top 10 and is grazing $30 million not bad for a movie with a $9 million budget that was originally to go straight to DVD and be denied a theatrical release.
The box office is expected to take a dip Sunday night at least Hollywood hopes it does, since the industry has labored frantically to jack up the Oscar ceremony's sagging ratings. The show's producers have packed the on-camera guest list with young stars from The Twilight Saga and So You Think You Can Dance. More important, the Motion Picture Academy expanded its list of Best Picture nominees from five to 10, hoping that more hits would be included, since the highest-rated Oscar shows in the past 15 years have been when the big prizes went to the megahits Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The scheme worked: half of the Best Picture nominees have grossed more than a quarter-billion dollars worldwide. Here's the full roster, with each movie's domestic and worldwide gross:
1. Avatar, $720.2 million, $2.559 billion
2. Up, $293 million, $723 million
3. Inglourious Basterds, $120.5 million, $313.6 million
4. District 9, $115.6 million, $304.8 million
5. The Blind Side, $250.5 million, $251 million
6. Up in the Air, $83 million, $153.5 million
7. Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire, $47.4 million, $53.3 million
8. A Serious Man, $9.2 million, $24.2 million
9. The Hurt Locker, $14.7 million, $21.4 million
10. An Education, $12.1 million, $17.1 million
Note that The Hurt Locker, the predictors' favorite to cop Best Picture and Best Director, has the second lowest total gross of the 10. But those awards are announced at the end of the show; Avatar should have piled up enough little-people statuettes in the intervening three hours to keep the masses satisfied. The big threat to big ratings, as of mid-afternoon Sunday, is that the show may not be seen by millions of New York viewers in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Westchester County and on Long Island. Disney, in a dispute with the cable supplier Cablevision, last night shut down Cablevision's access to WABC, the country's most watched local TV station, on which the Oscars are to be shown. Although the show can be seen online, including on Hulu, if a deal isn't reached by 8:30 this evening, movie-mad viewers may have no choice but to go to the local multiplex and see ... Disney's Alice in Wonderland.
Here are the weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by BoxOfficeMojo.com:
1. Alice in Wonderland, $116.3 million, first weekend
2. Brooklyn's Finest, $13.5 million, first weekend
3. Shutter Island, $13.3 million; $95.8 million, third week
4. Cop Out, $9.1 million; $32.4 million, second week
5. Avatar, $7.7 million; $720.2 million, 12th week
6. The Crazies, $7 million; $27.4 million, second week
7. Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, $5.1 million; $78 million, fourth week
8. Valentine's Day, $4.3 million; $106.4 million, fourth week
9. Crazy Heart, $3.4 million; $29.6 million, 12th week
10. Dear John, $2.9 million; $76.7 million, fifth week