Box Office Weekend: A Shrug for Shrek 4

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DreamWorks Animation / Paramount Pictures / AP

Shrek, voiced by Mike Myers, left, and Fiona, voiced by Cameron Diaz are shown in a scene from, "Shrek Forever After."

Suddenly, with the fourth Shrek movie, 3-D is so 2-D. Or maybe it's that animation franchises should stop at the word trilogy.

Shrek Forever After, the DreamWorks 3-D cartoon that sends the Mike Myers-voiced ogre into an alternate nightmare reality in the fashion of Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, finished first this weekend with $71.3 million at North American theaters, according to early studio estimates. That sounds like a nice fat number for a May movie; it's the third best opening of the year so far, behind Iron Man 2, with $128.1 million, and Alice in Wonderland, $116.1 million. The new Shrek also beat the opening weekends for recent DreamWorks hits like Kung Fu Panda ($60.2 million), Madagascar 2 ($63.1 million) and Monsters vs Aliens ($59.3 million). Pats on all appropriate backs.

Except for the expectations. Many B.O. swamis had Forever After earning more than $100 million in its first three days. Instead, it will finish the weekend 50% below 2004's Shrek 2 ($108 million) and a cavernous 69% below Shrek the Third in 2007 ($121.6 million). That's bad news for DreamWorks Animation, whose stock dropped 10% when its previous feature, How to Train Your Dragon, opened soft in March. (It's done just swell since.) "Wall Street won't be happy on Monday," wrote Daniel Frankel on the industry website The Wrap, "given that one analyst report last week already dropped DreamWorks stock another 4 percent based on mere forecasts that Shrek 4 might open in the $90 million range."

The disappointing debut could be a warning that the fourth time's not the charm for a movie franchise; take note, Jerry Bruckheimer & Co., now preparing another Pirates of the Caribbean for next summer. The only exception that leaps to mind: a series of films that tells a single story, like the Harry Potter opus — or (we'll see) The Twilight Saga.

Mind you, Shrek Forever After did gangbusters compared to MacGruber, an extension of the recurring Saturday Night Live sketch starring Will Forte as a MacGyver-style hero who manages to explode everything he's trying to save. Those skits seemed labored at four minutes, yet the inside touts at Movieweb had predicted a $19.5 million weekend for MacGruber. The movie blew itself up, limping to just $4.1 million. Its instant-flop status should spare us from any feature films based on Kristen Wiig characters.

Finally, an Indian film broke into the top 10. Kites, the U.S.-shot romantic melodrama starring Bollywood hunk Hrithik Roshan, earned $1 million at 208 theaters, most of them serving the Desi diaspora. Namaste to that.

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

1. Shrek Forever After, $71.25 million, first weekend
2. Iron Man 2, $26.6 million; $251.2 million, third week
3. Robin Hood, $18.7 million; $66.1 million, second week
4. Letters to Juliet, $9.1 million; $27.4 million, second week
5. Just Wright, $4.2 million; $14.6 million, second week
6. MacGruber, $4.1 million, first weekend
7. Date Night, $2.8 million; $90.7 million, seventh week
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street, $2.3 million; $59.9 million, fourth week
9. How to Train Your Dragon, $1.85 million; $201.9 million, ninth week
10. Kites, $1 million, first weekend