This weekend, in a virtual dead heat for first place, Fox’s new comedy Date Night opened with about as much in ticket sales as the second session of the Warner Bros. 3D epic Clash of the Titans. Sunday estimates from the studios had the films separated by only $225,000 which is not enough to claim a decisive victory, but both films certainly pulled in solid amounts powering the overall marketplace to another very strong spring frame. Final grosses to be reported on Monday, after Sunday sales are counted, will determine the official rankings.

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The new Steve Carell-Tina Fey film Date Night attracted an impressive turnout grossing an estimated $27.1M in its first weekend of release. Debuting in 3,374 locations, the PG-13 film about a married couple’s disastrous evening out averaged a very impressive $8,032 per theater. Reviews were mixed but generally upbeat as audiences instead responded to the starpower of the two leads who have enjoyed much success in television and at the movies. In fact, this is Fey’s third number one hit comedy in April following 2004’s Mean Girls which she wrote and co-starred in as well as 2008’s Baby Mama. Produced for $55M, Date played as mainstream entertainment for adult audiences. Fox estimated a 34% Saturday-to-Sunday drop nearly matching the 35% decline Warner Bros. estimated for its Titans. If the rankings stay the same after final numbers are reported, Date Night will be the first 2D movie to take the top spot in six weeks.

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As expected, the 3D mythology remake Clash of the Titans fell sharply in its second weekend falling 56% to an estimated $26.9M. If estimates hold, it will finish the frame close behind in second place with a cume of $110.5M after 10.5 days. Titans was number one on Saturday and is estimated to be tops on Sunday too, but Date Night‘s stronger Friday on its opening day gives it the advantage over the three-day period. Warner Bros. could end up with roughly $160M by the end of Clash‘s run.

The big story this weekend came in third place where the 3D animated film How To Train Your Dragon witnessed a remarkably low 13% decline in its third round for an estimated $25.4M gross boosting the 17-day total to a terrific $133.9M. Short-sighted film industry watchers and impatient Wall Street investors prematurely dismissed Dragon and DreamWorks Animation after its less-than-stellar opening weekend two weeks ago. The company’s stock dropped 8% on the first trading day after the debut with analysts lowering their estimates for the final domestic take to just $152M. Dragon will now crush that mark next weekend and looks on course to break the $200M barrier too becoming the second biggest 3D toon of all-time behind just the $293M of Up.

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Beating Pixar’s Oscar winner may not be possible, but outgrossing other competitors like Monsters vs. Aliens, Ice Age 3, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs makes Dragon a powerful performer. The PG-rated film was indeed slow out of the gate, but amazing word-of-mouth coupled with school holidays for spring have made Dragon the must-see film for kids and parents. Competition for families and 3D screens remains extremely light for the next five weeks so the Viking pic’s strong run should continue. Reaching $250M cannot be ruled out at this point given the road ahead since Dragon will be able to earn at least five times its opening figure, if not more.

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Tyler Perry’s latest film Why Did I Get Married Too? followed his usual pattern – big opening, big drop. The Lionsgate release grossed an estimated $11M in its second frame tumbling 62% for a ten-day tally of $48.5M. A final take of roughly $65M seems likely. Fellow sophomore The Last Song starring Miley Cyrus fared much better declining by just 37% to an estimated $10M. With $42.4M in 12 days, Disney should reach a similar $65M.

The Mouse House also claimed the number six slot with its 3D juggernaut Alice in Wonderland which grossed an estimated $5.6M, off only 32%, for a $319.3M cume. The Johnny Depp smash now sits at number 22 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters behind Shrek the Third which hauled in $321M in 2007. The ogre returns next month with his own 3D installment.

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A trio of comedies followed. The time-travel pic Hot Tub Time Machine took in an estimated $5.4M, down 33%, for a $37M total for MGM. Sony’s The Bounty Hunter dipped 29% to an estimated $4.3M for a $56M sum to date. And the kidpic em>Diary of a Wimpy Kid eased by just 23% grossing an estimated $4.1M for Fox lifting the cume to $53.8M.

Vivendi opened the faith-based drama Letters to God in tenth place with weak results. The PG-rated film about a boy battling cancer bowed to an estimated $1.3M from 897 locations – very wide for this type of pic – for a poor $1,394 average.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $121M which was off 1% from last year which was Easter when Hannah Montana The Movie opened in the top spot with $32.3M; but up 56% from 2008 when Prom Night debuted at number one with $20.8M.

This week at the movies, we’ve got a wild night on the town (Date Night, starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey) and some supernatural snail-mail (Letters to God, starring Tanner Maguire and Jeffrey S. Johnson). What do the critics have to say?



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Date Night

Steve Carell and Tina Fey are two very funny people. So it seems like a no-brainer that a comedy featuring the two of them as a married couple out on the town would be a can’t-miss proposition, right? Well, sort of: critics say Date Night is best when its two stars are riffing off each other, and adrift when it focuses on its caper elements. Our heroes are a bored New Jersey couple that gets all gussied up for a trek to Manhattan – and, after a case of mistaken identity, find themselves on the run from assorted underworld characters. The pundits say Carell and Fey have tangible chemistry, and there are some excellent turns from various supporting players (including Mark Wahlberg, Taraji P. Henson, and James Franco), but ultimately, the action movie clichés push the comedic elements to the side. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Carell’s best-reviewed movies.)



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Letters to God

It remains to be seen if the Christian-themed drama Letters to God will warm hearts and jerk tears, since it was barely screened for critics prior to its release. Letters to God is the tale of an eight-year-old suffering from terminal cancer who writes missives to the Almighty – an act that inspires a down-on-his-luck postal worker to change his life. Kids, time to Guess that Tomatometer!


Also opening this week in limited release:

  • The Misfortunates, a coming-of-age dramedy about a young man growing up in a wildly dysfunctional Belgian family, is at 100 percent.

  • The Aussie import The Square, a thriller about a man who becomes entangled in an adulterous affair, is at 96 percent.

  • Women Without Men, a drama about four Iranian women set during the era when the Shah seized power, is at 80 percent.

  • When You’re Strange: A Film About the Doors, a documentary about the Lizard King and his associates, is at 58 percent.

  • Who Do You Love, a musical bio of the legendary blues label Chess Records, is at 45 percent.
  • After.Life, starring Liam Neeson and Christina Ricci in a drama about a young woman on the cusp of death who attempts to revive herself, is at 31 percent.

Finally, mad props to De A Twist, who came the closest to guessing Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too‘s 35 percent Tomatometer.

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