Box Office: Wimpy Kid K.O.s Sucker Punch

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Twentieth Century Fox / Everett

Zachary Gordon, center, Robert Capron, left, Grayson Russell and Karan Brar ib Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

The kid who's wimpy whupped the teen girls whose couture is skimpy. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, second in the film adaptations of Jeff Kinney's stick-drawn book characters, earned $24.1 million, according to early studio estimates. That made it a winner over Zack Snyder's comix-style adventure Sucker Punch, with $19 million, at the shrimpy, limpy, anything-but-blimpy North American box office. For the 17th time in the past 18 weeks, theatrical revenue was down from the same week the year before.

Movie analysts are now so inured to the slump that they look for any silver lining around the spreading blotch of red ink. "Sure, the domestic market was still down," the industry blog The Wrap proclaimed, "but only 6% this time." That's the Hollywood version of an optimistic economist's reading of unemployment figures over the past two years: the bad thing is getting worse, but more slowly. One difference is that, for most of the Great Recession, box-office revenue boomed. The $10.6 billion earned at North American movie houses in 2009 marked a 10% jump from 2008; and last year's total take of $10.57 billion was nearly as high. Now the film business faces its own mortgage crisis, as one anemic week follows another.

Wimpy II focuses on seventh-grader Greg's ornery relationship with his teenage Goth brother Rodrick, who, while their parents are away, throws a Risky Business-type party and locks Greg in the basement. Shot in Vancouver, B.C., for a thrifty $20 million, the sequel enjoyed an opening gross about $2 million higher than the first-weekend earnings of its predecessor a year ago. With exiting moviegoers giving it a teacher's-pet A-minus in the CinemaScore survey, the picture could have sturdy legs as school vacation breaks loom.

[MONDAY UPDATE: Wimpy II's actual weekend total was $23.75 million, or nearly $700,000 less than the Sunday estimate, but it was still an easy winner over Sucker Punch's $19.06 million. The alien-in-Nevada comedy Paul earned $300,000 more than projected, to finish at $7.86 million and slip into sixth place for the weekend, ahead of the aliens-in-California thriller, Battle Los Angeles, which amassed $7.6 million.]

Sucker Punch, Snyder's latest green-screen teen dream, was also made in Vancouver, but for about four times the Wimpy II budget. A Cuisinarting of pulp genres — with sexy schoolgirls battling dragons and Nazi zombies in a Women-in-Prison setting — the picture was the box-office champ on Friday but fell 17% on Saturday, typically the busiest day for theater attendance. Other fanboy films have trended the same way: Kick-Ass dropped 6% from Friday to Saturday, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World tumbled 25%. So did Snyder's own Watchmen, which achieved the strange distinction of earning more money ($55.2 million) in its first three days than in the rest of its 84-day North American run ($52.5 million) — meaning the film quickly exhausted its core demographic, and the only word-of-mouth was "No."

Cadging a weak B-minus CinemaScore rating, and lacking either brand-name stars or a popular novel as its source material, Sucker Punch doesn't have bright prospects. It registered the worst opening for any Snyder-directed live-action film, including Watchmen, his breakout hit 300 and the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead Yet the executives at Warner Bros., Snyder's home studio, must love the guy; they've entrusted him with their multi-zillion-dollar Superman: Man of Steel reboot for summer 2012. The movie could be a smash — but wouldn't you be nervous after Sucker Punch lost to Wimpy II? It's as if your favorite NFL franchise, heading into a big playoff game, were led by a quarterback who in his last start got thrashed by a team from the Pop Warner League.

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

1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, $24.4 million, first weekend
2. Sucker Punch, $19 million, first weekend
3. Limitless, $15.2 million; $41.3 million, second week
4. The Lincoln Lawyer, $11 million; $29 million, second week
5. Rango, $9.8 million; $106.4 million, fourth week
6. Battle Los Angeles, $7.6 million; $72.6 million, third week
7. Paul, $7.5 million; $24.6 million, second week
8. Red Riding Hood, $4.3 million; $32.5 million, third week
9. The Adjustment Bureau, $4.2 million; $54.9 million, fourth week
10. Mars Needs Moms, $2.2 million; $19.2 million, third week