Weekend Report: It's a Draw Between 'Cowboys' & 'Smurfs'

At an estimated $36.2 million apiece, Cowboys & Aliens and The Smurfs are headed for a photo finish for the weekend top spot, flouting pre-weekend tracking that indicated Cowboys would easily rope in more dollars. Captain America: The First Avenger retreated to third, the final Harry Potter hit another milestone, and Crazy, Stupid, Love. rounded out the Top Five in its debut.

Smurfs led on Friday with an estimated $13.40 million opening versus Cowboys' $12.99 million, but Cowboys pulled ahead on Saturday, $13.07 million to $12.70 million. Cowboys' distributor Universal Pictures projected $10.14 million on Sunday, while Smurfs' distributor Sony Picture projected $10.10 million, leading to both movies garnering $36.2 million estimates. For what it's worth, Universal reported its Cowboys estimate before Sony issued its Smurfs estimate, and, even if Smurfs ends up in second, it's likely to gross more in the long run, given the historical patterns of the movies' genres. (Poll: Which movie will come out ahead with Monday's actuals? Vote here.)

Cowboys & Aliens lassoed approximately 5,500 screens at 3,750 locations for its run, and claiming a first-place opening would only slightly mitigate an otherwise disappointing gross for a movie that tried desperately to be a blockbuster. The sci-fi Western's launch was on par with Super 8 ($35.5 million) and Battle: Los Angeles ($35.6 million) but behind District 9 ($37.4 million), and none of those movies reached blockbuster territory. Universal's exit polling indicated that 53 percent of Cowboys' audience was male and 63 percent was age 30 years and older.

Hybrid Westerns have not fared well in the past (Wild Wild West, Jonah Hex, The Warrior's Way), but Cowboys & Aliens had other troubles. While Monsters Vs. Aliens worked, Cowboys' premise came off as contrived in its marketing, like a creatively bankrupt movie executive randomly combining genres in a bid for the next big thing, and left both the Western and alien invasion components wanting. The marketing's serious tone belied the movie's fun title, which itself had a Snakes on a Plane effect: title tells all in a goofily blunt way, so no need to see the movie. It also didn't help to have two sourpuss lead actors (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford) instead of a contrast. Like Warner Bros. and Green Lantern, Universal seemed to get a decent sampling out of the sheer will of its relentless year-long ad campaign.

Playing on around 5,300 screens at 3,395 locations, The Smurfs out-grossed G-Force's $31.7 million from the same weekend in 2009 and nearly tripled Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore's $12.3 million from the same weekend last year. 2,042 of Smurfs' locations showed the movie in 3D and accounted for around 45 percent of business. G-Force had a 56 percent 3D share (from just 1,604 locations out of a 3,697 total), which means Smurfs likely sold more tickets as well. Smurfs was directed by talking critter specialist Raja Gosnell, but its opening weekend rated lower than his previous movies Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed and Scooby-Doo when normalized for ticket-price inflation.

Sony's Smurfs marketing was formulaic, aping Alvin and the Chipmunks and others, but it hit the genre beats many seem to enjoy. It's a formula that works more often than not. Add in brand recognition, and Smurfs scored the tenth best-attended start ever for a talking critter picture. Sony's research showed that 65 percent of Smurfs' audience was parents (40 percent) and their children under 12 years old (25 percent). Overall, the audience breakdown was 64 percent female and 55 percent age 25 years and older.

Down 62 percent, Captain America: The First Avenger took a steep hit, earning an estimated $24.9 million. It held better than Green Lantern but worse than G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra among comparable movies. The fall caused Captain to lose its gross-to-date lead over fellow Avenger Thor: Captain's made $116.8 million in ten days versus Thor's $119.5 million at the same point.

After crossing the $300 million mark on Friday, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (which crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide) became the top-grossing Potter movie yet with $318.5 million in 17 days, surpassing Sorcerer's Stone's $317.6 million (though Deathly Hallows Part 2 still ranks last in estimated attendance). Off 54 percent, the final Potter dropped considerably from last weekend, which was steeper than the third-weekend declines of the previous July Potters, Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince.

Meanwhile, Crazy, Stupid, Love. bagged an estimated $19.3 million on around 3,300 screens at 3,020 locations. The romantic comedy performed much better than Larry Crowne earlier this month and improved on comparable past titles like The Dilemma and Must Love Dogs, but it opened lower than star Steve Carell's Dinner for Schmucks's $23.5 million on the same wekeend last year. Distributor Warner Bros. noted that Crazy's audience was 64 percent female and 71 percent age 25 years and older.

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