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‘The Croods’ Leads Weekend Box Office Race

The CroodsI’ll have an even fuller report later today. But it shaped up as a hot Friday with 3 films about to score $20M-plus this weekend. An estimated 13% of K-12 were on school break for the start of the Passover/Easter holidays so family fare ruled. Specifically, DreamWorks Animation‘s PG pre-historic newcomer The Croods (4,046 theaters, including over 3,000 in 3D) led the domestic box office with $11.6M in the widest release and an ‘A’ CinemaScore from audiences. That will help word of mouth despite only 64% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes endangering its multiple. It looks like a $42M weekend opening (after the expected Saturday kiddie bump) for cost of $135M. Rival studios stress that this would be the softest of 3 March openers from DreamWorks Animation and believe it could max out around $155M domestic. (One of those was 2010′s How To Train Your Dragon which debuted to a soft $43M and went on to make $217M all in. But its reviews were 98% positive.) Fact is that in recent years DWA’s films are badly trailing Pixar’s in terms of domestic openings and multiples – and Wall Street is taking note and depressing the share price of this publicly held company. (Katzenberg should blame himself: he personally lobbied theaters to drive up the price of 3D tickets beyond what parents are willing to pay now after the technology’s novelty wore off.) Distributor Twentieth Century Fox claims this is still a “strong opening” for a non-sequel animated film and are likely correct to believe The Croodswill really toon up for the next two weeks when kids are on vacation everywhere. Then again, this is the first DWA release by Fox after Jeffrey Katzenberg switched distribution from Paramount so all the execs are relentlessly upbeat. “Terrific opening for DreamWorks Animation/Fox and the beginning of a great partnership,” one suit gushed to me via email Friday evening. Film isn’t exactly The Flintstones in terms of comedic campiness for animation, but TV ads succeeded in making this pic look pleasantly palatable to parents and kids. Directed by Chris Sanders & Kirk DeMicco, and produced by Kristine Belson and Jane Hartwell, voice cast includes Nic Cage, Emma Stone, and Ryan Reynolds none of whom are considered marquee names these days. About 25 overseas markets opened for previews last weekend but only 5 of the top markets (UK, Russia, Germany, Brazil, Mexico). Rival studios claim it’s telling that Fox kept the grosses quiet. But the studio says The Croods will add a big number this weekend to the $16M already in the international till…

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