Box-Office Weekend: Dragon Gets J.Lo's Back Up

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Paramount / AP

A scene from How to Train Your Dragon

In its fifth week in theaters, How to Train Your Dragon, the DreamWorks animated feature with surprising firepower and sturdy legs, took the No. 1 slot at the North American box office over the weekend. It defeated the leading contender among new releases, the Jennifer Lopez mom-rom-com The Back-Up Plan, $15 million to $12.25 million, according to early studio estimates. There were photo finishes of the top two entries for the previous two weekends, but this time, in the dance-off between Dragon and J.Lo, there were no butts about it.

The Back-Up Plan, which had an unusually strong rival in the romantic comedy Date Night (which was in its third week), was one of three new features in wide release. Oceans, the French documentary timed to celebrate and exploit Earth Day, earned $6 million thanks to Whole Foods–shopping parents and their Montessori-schooled kids. The action film The Losers scared up $9.6 million, thereby nosing out another R-rated comic-book fantasy, Lionsgate's Kick-Ass, which cadged $9.5 million, a 52% drop from last weekend's opening.

Those numbers drove a stake through the collective heart of the fanboys who had expected that Kick-Ass's imaginative rethinking of the superhero ethos would translate into big bucks at the Bijou. A week ago, the movie was in a tight race with Dragon, finally claiming the top spot with $19.8 million. But as Nikki Finke, the asp-tongued blogger at Deadline Hollywood, pointed out, "Lionsgate unethically inflated its opening numbers by including last Thursday midnight's take in order to grab the No. 1 title last weekend." (Seems to us that most studios with midnight-preview showings of their movies count those earnings as part of the Friday take, but we're reluctant to make a point of that. The combative Ms. Finke might have someone bust our kneecaps.)

All praise then, if only by default, to Dragon, which opened to soft business in late March but has proved to be one of those pictures kids and adults want to see and see again. Its $178 million cume, with about the same amount from theaters abroad, should assure it of franchise status among DreamWorks features; as with Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda, this movie will have one or more sequels. Dragon's success also underlines the box-office clout of 3-D. If you disqualify Kick-Ass from last weekend's top spot and hand the trophy to Dragon, then this marks the 15th week out of 19 that a movie released in 3-D has been No. 1. But it has finished first partly because newer films flopped in a period when the national box office always slumps.

Late April, the movie canyon between spring break and the start of the summer blockbuster calendar (Iron Man 2 opens in two weeks), is both trash-disposal time for lame releases and a good place to test the star quality of budding performers. On the last two weekends of April 2009, High School Musical's Zac Efron made a good impression in his first solo turn, in 17 Again ($23.7 million), and Beyoncé Knowles showed some sinewy BO muscle with Obsessed ($27.6 million). The films went on to take in $64 million and $69 million, respectively, in their domestic theatrical runs.

Neither The Back-Up Plan nor The Losers will earn anything near those tallies; the mass audience just doesn't feel obligated to see them. But then nobody cared much about going to the movies at all this weekend. The total revenue predicted for the three-day session is $92 million, about 25% less than the $116 million that a single picture, Alice in Wonderland, grossed on its first weekend in early March. Expect Iron Man 2 to do nearly as well — though, since that movie is not being shown in 3-D, it won't be able to demand the hefty surcharge for goggles rental. Poor Tony Stark; he'll have to earn his nine figures on sheer entertainment value.

Here are the weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. How to Train Your Dragon, $15 million; $178 million, fifth week
2. The Back-Up Plan, $12.25 million, first weekend
3. Date Night, $10.6 million; $63.5 million, third week
4. The Losers, $9.6 million, first weekend
5. Kick-Ass, $9.5 million; $34.9 million, second week
6. Clash of the Titans, $9 million; $145.6 million, fourth week
7. Death at a Funeral, $8 million; $28.4 million, second week
8. Oceans, $6 million, first weekend; $8.5 million, first five days
9. The Last Song, $3.7 million; $55.4 million, fourth week
10. Alice in Wonderland, $2.2 million; $327.5 million, eighth week