Birds of a feather flock to Rio, and so do audiences everywhere. Fox's 3-D animated carnival, the high flyer at last week's box office, saw nothing but blue skies its second time around; it earned $26.8 million, according to early studio estimates, to win the Easter weekend at North American movie theaters. The colorful love story of two blue macaws (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway) also keeps charming the rest of the world: it has amassed $204.7 million in foreign climes since opening on Apr. 7, a week before its U.S. debut. The $286 million worldwide total makes Rio the year's top-grossing film, passing another cartoon feature, the Johnny Depp Rango, now in second place at $240 million.
It was Easter eggs for all, with a 39% jump over the same weekend last year a rare bonanza in this depressed box-office season. (The cumulative theatrical revenue for 2011 is still 18% below that of 2010.) Behind Rio, three new movies enjoyed strong debuts. Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family courted the African-American audience, earning $25.75 million and second place. Robert Pattinson proved there is life beyond The Twilight Saga by lifting the period circus drama Water for Elephants to the show position with an overachieving $17.5 million. And African Cats, the Disney wild-animal documentary for Earth Day, pulled respectable $6.4 million at just 1,220 theaters. Other good news: each of these films earned either an A or an A-minus rating from CinemaScore's poll of exiting moviegoers, which hints at good word-of-mouth and an extended life span.
The gross of the third feature starring the sassy black dominatrix Madea with the actor-writer-director again donning a white wig and a print dress with fake breasts to play the title role suggests that Perry may have reached a plateau in his status as the one African-American auteur whose name guarantees big numbers. Big Happy Family's $25.75 million was above the first-weekend totals of such recent Perry efforts as I Can Do Bad All by Myself and For Colored Girls but well below the $30 million of Madea's Family Reunion in 2006 and the $41 million of Madea Goes to Jail in 2009. As with Perry's earlier work, the new movie played to overwhelmingly black audiences. These Tyler-made films are hits, based on their modest budgets (around $20 million), but haven't won over the mainstream audience.
Then again, while the once-core demographic of young male continues to boycott the theaters, the most reliable moviegoers this year have been members of what Hollywood thinks of as minorities: blacks, women and kids. Of the five top-grossing films of 2011, three are G- or PG-rated animated features Rango, Hop (which passed the $100 million mark at the domestic box office) and Gnomeo & Juliet and Rio will surely pass all of them. This weekend's top 10 comprises movies that appeal mainly to women (Water for Elephants, Soul Surfer and Hanna) and an even smaller minority of people who don't get enough nature docs on PBS (African Cats). Granted, the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller Source Code landed in 10th place this week. But aside from him, the only male star to carry a top-grossing movie was Tyler Perry the man who plays a granny.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Rio, $26.8 million; $81.3 million, second week
2. Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family, $25.75 million, first weekend
3. Water for Elephants, $17.5 million, first weekend
4. Hop, $12.5 million; $100.5 million, fourth week
5. Scre4m, $7.2 million; $31.2 million, second week
6. African Cats, $6.4 million, first weekend
7. Soul Surfer, $5.6 million; $28.7 million, third week
8. Insidious, $5.4 million; $44.2 million, fourth week
9. Hanna, $5.3 million; $31.7 million, third week
10. Source Code, $5.1 million; $44.7 million, fourth week