Box Office: Shrek Is Better Than Sex

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Paramount / DreamWorks / AP

Shrek and Fiona in a scene from Shrek Forever After

In much of the country, the long Memorial Day weekend boasted gorgeous weather that was perfect for picnics, parades, parties — but not for sitting inside a multiplex, watching movies that lack the all-important "must see now" factor. The confluence of balmy temperatures and boring pictures led to the puniest Memorial Day box office total since 2001 and, as the stats mashers at note, the fewest tickets sold since 1993.

The winner among the losers was Shrek Forever After. The DreamWorks animated feature, which brought back Mike Myers' green ogre and the rest of his fairy tale troupe for a fourth round, managed a four-day gross of $55.7 million in North American theaters, according to studio estimates. That's far less than the $70.8 million the movie earned in its opening three-day session last weekend, but it was enough to cream the competition: two highly touted films making their debuts. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time registered a meek $37.8 million for its first four days, and Sex and the City 2, the reunion of the Carrie Bradshaw quartet, cadged a demure $37.1 million over the same period.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer had planned for Prince to be the first in a swashbuckling franchise (hence the colon and subhead) like his three Pirates of the Caribbean capers. That Johnny Depp trilogy claimed a worldwide take of nearly $2.7 billion and is getting a 3-D update to be released this time next year. But indie-film puppy dog Jake Gyllenhaal, however carefully buffed and artfully coiffed, didn't quite convince the male audience that he was a suitable action-adventure hunk. The video-game demographic felt no need to see one of its favorite titles rendered on film. And maybe word got out that the secret agenda of this sword-and-sand epic is to decry the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But coming in second to Shrek is not the worst humiliation the movie has suffered. A week ago, when Prince opened in the U.K., it was beaten by StreetDance 3D, starring winners of the TV show Britain's Got Talent and billed as Europe's first ever 3-D musical. Talk about your shame, your ignominy, your Goliath felled by a dancing David.

What, then, is the embarrassment level of a movie that was expected to finish No. 1 this weekend but came in a distant third? We mean Sex and the City 2: The Unnecessary Sequel. That's not its actual title, but an Abu Dhabi vacation for Sarah Jessica Parker and her gal friends enticed few but the hard-core SATC-ites. Just over 14 million dollars worth of them swarmed into theaters on Thursday — the movie opened a day early to accommodate the crowds — and that pretty much depleted Carrie Nation. The film earned less in its first five days than the original big-screen Sex did in its first three. Not to be ungallant, but audiences may have tired of the spectacle of three actresses in their mid-40s, and one in her mid-50s, frolicking like randy coeds. Fully 90% of the Sex and the City 2 audience was female. Ninety percent! They would have attracted more males if they'd posted a "No men allowed" sign at the ticket window. (Candice Bushnell, on whose novel the HBO series was based, recently published The Carrie Diaries, focusing on her heroine's teen years. The prequel movie version may star Miley Cyrus.) By the way, here's a suggestion for moguls planning holiday blockbusters: Don't set them in the Middle East. It's not the perfect, carefree getaway spot.

For Hollywood movers and shakers, the Memorial Day weekend's grosses make bitter beach reading. Suddenly, after filling theaters at near record levels throughout the Great Recession, filmgoers are getting picky. Let's see: they don't like big-budget, original movies like Robin Hood or Prince of Persia — even Iron Man 2 got yawns from the tens of millions who saw it — and they're not crazy about sequels of gigantic hits, like the Shrek and Sex and the City follow-ups. What does that leave?

How about children's books? Tim Burton's psychedelic-Disney version of Alice in Wonderland remains the year's highest-grossing film at the domestic box office: $333 million, far ahead of Iron Man 2 and DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon, the only other titles so far to top $200 million. Last week Alice became the sixth picture ever to cross the $1 billion mark in worldwide gross, and the first that was not released in the prime summer months. (Depp is thus the only star to have two billion-dollar movies.)

Already there are reports of Hollywood "reimaginings" of children's classics, including ... no, we can't bring ourselves to type the words. We'll just say we agree with Candida on PopCrunch, who writes, "Here are two things that should never be mentioned in the same sentence: The Wizard of Oz and remake."

Here are the Monday estimates of the top-grossing pictures in North American theaters over the four-day weekend, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Shrek Forever After, $55.7 million; $145.5 million, second week

2. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, $37.8 million, first weekend

3. Sex and the City 2, $37.1 million; $51.4 million, first five days

4. Iron Man 2, $16.3 million; $279.2 million, fourth week

5. Robin Hood, $10.3 million; $86.3 million, third week

6. Letters to Juliet, $5.9 million; $37.95 million, third week

7. Just Wright, $2.15 million; $18.7 million, third week

8. Date Night, $2.8 million; $93.9 million, eighth week

9. MacGruber, $1.6 million; $7.5 million, second week

10. How to Train Your Dragon, $1.1 million; $213.1 million, 10th week