“The Croods” leads a crew of weekend contenders

LOS ANGELES — The animated caveman tale “The Croods” may have hunted down the competition this past weekend, but it still couldn’t light a fire under the box office.

The 3-D family film took No. 1, grossing a solid $44.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor 20th Century Fox. Despite a respectable start, the DreamWorks Animation picture and the weekend’s three other new releases were unable to lift overall ticket sales.

The 2013 slump continued, as receipts are down 13 percent compared with last year, and attendance is off 14 percent, according to Hollywood.com. The combined gross of all of this weekend’s releases — $139.5 million — doesn’t even add up to the $152.5 million opening gross of “The Hunger Games,” which launched during the same three-day period a year ago.

Though it is far from being a blockbuster of “Hunger Games” proportions, “Olympus Has Fallen” did beat industry expectations over the weekend. The White House-set action thriller debuted with a healthy $30.5 million — about $10 million more than anyone in Hollywood had predicted.

Meanwhile, the Tina Fey-Paul Rudd comedy “Admission” started off with an underwhelming $6.4 million. And “Spring Breakers,” the raunchy art-house party film that expanded to 1,100 theaters this weekend, collected $5.4 million.

Those who saw “The Croods” liked it a lot, assigning it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That’s good news for the $135 million film, as it will need strong word of mouth if it is to become a bona fide hit.

Jeffrey Katzenberg’s company is in need of a success story after taking an $87 million write-down on its last release, November’s “Rise of the Guardians.” “The Croods,” which features the voices of Nicolas Cage and Emma Stone in a prehistoric story about a family of cave dwellers, will have to perform well overseas to avoid a similar fate.

Thus far, the movie has made $63.3 million in 47 foreign markets. It is performing best in the United Kingdom, Mexico and Russia, where the picture has so far sold $12.9 million worth of tickets — 74 percent from 3-D business. The movie has yet to open in roughly two dozen countries, including Australia and France.

Despite its mediocre reviews, “Olympus Has Fallen” resonated with moviegoers, as the opening-weekend crowd gave it an A-minus grade. The R-rated movie overperformed at the box office largely because older males turned out in force: About 73 percent of the audience was older than 25.

The film’s opening is the highest for independent distributor FilmDistrict, whose biggest success since launching three years ago had been “Looper.” That sci-fi action film debuted with $20.8 million last September and ultimately grossed $66.4 million domestically.

But “Olympus Has Fallen,” which stars Gerard Butler as a disgraced Secret Service agent trying to save the White House from a terrorist takeover, is also one of the costliest movies FilmDistrict has released. Avi Lerner’s Millennium Films spent about $70 million to make the film, which was acquired by FilmDistrict at no cost. (FilmDistrict is helping to pay the marketing of the movie, however.)

Butler, 43, was badly in need of a good opening. The actor — who also produced “Olympus” — has recently appeared in a string of box-office bombs, including last year’s sports-themed “Playing for Keeps” and “Chasing Mavericks” — neither of which ended up with even $15 million in ticket sales. The actor, who rose to fame in the sword-and-sandals epic “300,” tends to do well with commercial action films — in 2009, his “Law Abiding Citizen” brought in $126.7 million worldwide.

“I think this confirms his status as an action star,” said Jim Orr, FilmDistrict’s president of distribution. “Often women were grading the film as high as men — and that no doubt has something to do with Mr. Butler.”

The movie did particularly well in regions near military bases such as Oklahoma City and Honolulu, Orr said, noting that the picture was screened for members of the military in recent weeks.

Both critics and audiences were unenthused about “Admission,” which stars Fey as a college admissions counselor on a mission to help a high-schooler get accepted to Princeton. The movie was the worst reviewed of any of the weekend’s new releases and also notched the lowest CinemaScore — a B-minus. The few who turned out to see it were mostly older females — 68 percent of the audience consisted of women, and 63 percent was over the age of 35.

The film is the first major disappointment for the former “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” star, who helped to lead both 2008’s “Baby Mama” and 2010’s “Date Night” to box-office success. “Admission,” a $13 million Focus Features release, is not as broad a comedy as her previous efforts.

“I really don’t think it’s her. She’s really a very popular woman,” said Jack Foley, Focus’ domestic distribution president. “There were some really negative reviews out there, and I think that was a challenge for us. It’s clearly a disappointing opening and discouraging all the way around.”

As for “Spring Breakers,” the Harmony Korine film did decently after getting off to a fantastic start in limited release last weekend. The movie, featuring formerly squeaky-clean Disney stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in more provocative roles, was produced for less than $5 million. Though the picture is certainly a success for a low-budget film initially conceived for the art house, this past weekend’s results indicate that it’s unlikely to become a nationwide hit.


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