Long Distance Box Office: Prometheus vs. Madagascar 3

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This will probably be the last one of these for a while since our upcoming Summer Box Office preview should cover a lot of ground, but guess what, kids? This time, you get not one but two long distance box office projections in one as we look at the two movies opening on June 8, very different movies, both which have the potential to be huge blockbusters reaching different audiences.

In this case we have Ridley Scott’s anticipated science-fiction thriller Prometheus, which opens opposite DreamWorks Animation’s second threequel Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.

It’s not that unusual for two very different movies with the potential to bring in large audiences to open against each other once summer begins, because moviegoing audiences tend to increase once the temperature starts going up. For instance, last year, DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2 opened against the R-rated The Hangover Part II, and who could forget the famous case of the Angelina Jolie action movie Wanted opening against Pixar Animation’s WALL•E with both of them opening with over $50 million?

We’ll begin with the movie that should be more of a known quantity, which is the 16th CG-animated movie from DreamWorks Animation. As we can tell by the number behind the title, this is a threequel, which is generally a dangerous thing, especially if it’s following a sequel that didn’t live up to the original movie. DreamWorks Animation has only done one other threequel, which was Shrek the Third, opening in the summer of 2007, and while that did huge business, it was considered a disappointment in terms of quality compared to the previous two movies and ended up grossing $100 million less.

The original Madagascar opened over Memorial Day weekend 2005, just a year after DreamWorks Animation’s first sequel Shrek 2, which set a new opening record for an animated film with $108 million, going on to gross $441 million domestically. Madagascar introduced family audiences to zoo animals voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith, who would escape from the zoo and be shipped off elsewhere only to have their boat get beached in Africa leaving the domesticated animals stranded in the wilds of Madagascar. The movie opened with $61 million over the four-day weekend on its way to $193 million, establishing a sold base for another franchise for Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Its sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa opened three-and-a-half years later, kicking off the holiday season of 2008 with an early November release, grossing just over $60 million over three days on its way to $180 million, which wouldn’t be so worrying except that an animated movie opening in early November should generally get a big bump from the holidays. Of course, a lot of what audiences like about the movie are the characters created by Ben Stiller, who has stared in numerous family blockbusters, and Chris Rock, who has a strong draw with African-American audiences, and those two actors are likely to bring people into theaters.

DreamWorks Animation by The-Numbers gives us a good of the range of grosses the animation company has been able to pull in and how their sequels have generally done okay… with one exception. Their last three movies haven’t cracked the $200 million mark, which makes you think that they may be losing steam, even if the original Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon were solid, leading to both of them having sequels. Last year, DreamWorks Animation released the sequel Kung Fu Panda 2 and the “Shrek” spin-off Puss in Boots, neither which delivered the type of box office (at least domestically) that their blockbuster predecessors established.

Prometheus is an interesting case because it started out as a prequel to Ridley Scott’s early classic Alien but slowly evolved into something different, which has connections to that world and is hoping to set up a new sci-fi horror franchise. More than anything, it just looks pretty cool and a real turning point may have come when “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof came on board to co-write the movie, which immediately upped the geek fanboy interest in the movie. They’ve done a good job keeping the general plot of the movie a mystery, which has helped drive the fan fervor to learn exactly what the connection is with the original Alien.

You may want to check out Ridley Scott by The-Numbers to get some idea how erratic the filmmaker’s career has been as a filmmaker, at least in terms of box office, but having a movie released during the summer isn’t new territory for Scott as his most recent movie, the 2010 take on Robin Hood, reteamed him with Russell Crowe for an opening of $36 million before grossing $105 million. It wasn’t as well regarded by moviegoers or critics as two of Scott and Crowe’s previous collaborations in American Gangster, co-starring Denzel Washington, which opened with $43.5 million on its way to $130 million. Scott’s biggest opening movie was the sequel Hannibal, which opened with $58 million, while his highest-grossing movie was the Oscar-winning Gladiator with $187 million.

Scott has assembled an amazing cast for this one with the most known being Oscar winner Charlize Theron, who will be appearing in the equally anticipated Snow White and the Huntsman just one week earlier. That’s quite a fantastic summer double whammy for Theron for sure. Guy Pearce, who is currently appearing in a Ridley Scott-inspired sci-fi action movie Lockout, plays a character with direct connections to the world of “Alien,” while it also stars Noomi Rapace, the original Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in her second major Hollywood studio film following last year’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The name that’s really gotten a lot of attention is that of Michael Fassbender, who played Magneto in last year’s X-Men: First Class.

Fox has also started the marketing push for the movie quite early with television commercials during much-watched season finales and NCAA championships to make sure they get a lot of eyes – and this is two-and-a-half months before the movie’s release, which other than Super Bowl spots is fairly unheard of. The movie’s also been responsible for some of the most anticipated trailers and teasers of the last few months, and while none of them really play up the “Alien” connection, that’s certainly out there for those who may be interested for that reason.

Madagascar 3 on the other hand seems like old hat, and older moviegoers seem to be tiring of the endless sequels from DreamWorks Animation, as seen by the disappointing domestic showing for last year’s Kung Fu Panda 2. That ennui towards sequels may keep Madagascar 3 from opening much bigger than the previous movie and it may not even make the $60 million opening of the original Kung Fu Panda on the same weekend. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get two weeks to bring in family audiences before the release of Disney•Pixar’s latest release Brave, which we covered in a recent Long Distance Box Office.

As might be expected, the two movies will split audiences with women and children under 13 going with Madagascar and guys 15 and over going with Prometheus. The problem is that DreamWorks often relies on teen and older moviegoers and parents to help their openings, but with guys preferring to see Prometheus, it will reduce Madagascar 3‘s potential business, so we see it opening in the low-$50 million range and ending up with roughly $180 million total by summer’s end.

Since we think there will be a lot more interest in Prometheus, we can see that winning the weekend and getting dubbed as this year’s Inception with there being a huge rush to see it opening weekend, allowing it to make roughly $62 to 62 million, and then word-of-mouth driving it for the rest of the month of June until the release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation and The Amazing Spider-Man. It may be able to gross as much as $250 million by summer’s end.

That’s it for Long Distance Box Office at least until July or August, but look for our annual Summer Box Office Preview very soon.