‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ fuels booming box office

LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) – What recession?
Hollywood’s overflowing cash registers rang even louder yesterday as the cartoon “Monsters vs. Aliens” scared up the  biggest opening of the year at the North American box office.

DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc’s first big 3-D film sold an  estimated $58.2 million worth of tickets across the United  States and Canada during its first three days, the studio  said.

The opening was at the upper end of analysts’ forecasts  within a $50 million to $60 million range. The year’s previous  best start was $55.2 million for “Watchmen” earlier this month,  though that superhero film quickly stalled, and finally crawled  across the $100 million mark last Thursday.
“Monsters vs. Aliens” also set a record for a 3-D opening  — $32.6 million, or about 56 percent of the gross, the studio  said. The balance came from traditional movie theaters.

Hollywood is betting a lot on 3-D, with about 40 films  scheduled to run in 3-D over the next three years in hopes that  audiences will pay $3 to $5 more per ticket than they typically  do to watch movies that feature characters and objects popping  out of movie screens.

One of the biggest 3-D proponents has been DreamWorks  Animation’s Chief Executive Officer, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who  has pledged to release all the company’s movies in 3-D at an  additional cost of $15 million per film.

The production budget for “Monsters vs. Aliens” was about  $165 million to $170 million, including that 3-D premium.  Worldwide marketing costs are estimated at $175 million,  consistent with past DreamWorks Animation releases.

The film, featuring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Paul  Rudd and Rainn Wilson, was distributed by Paramount Pictures, a  unit of Viacom Inc. Witherspoon plays a 50-foot-(15-metre-)tall  newscaster recruited to help battle an alien invasion. Reviews  from top critics were mixed.

Sales for all films were up about 40 percent from the haul  this time a year ago, reaching $148 million, according to  tracking firm Media By Numbers.

Year-to-date revenues stand at $2.4 billion, up 12 percent  from the same period in 2008. The number of tickets sold is up  by 10.4 percent.
The windfall presents something of an embarrassment of  riches for Hollywood. Lawmakers have looked askance at the  moguls’ pleas for bailout money. The studios are also engaged  in a lengthy standoff with the Screen Actors Guild, whose film  and TV contract expired last June.

But box office revenues are just “one piece of a giant  jigsaw puzzle,” said Media By Numbers president Paul  Dergarabedian. For starters, the studios generally split sales  about 50/50 with the movie theaters, he said.

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