LOS ANGELES — One-hundred-million-dollar mega-openings are now long ago and “far, far away” for Shrek and pals.
“Shrek Forever After,” the fourth and purportedly final chapter in the most successful animated film series of all time, opened to $71.3 million, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures.
That’s 41 percent less than the opening weekend grosses of “Shrek the Third,” which also had a mid-May release date back in 2007. The actual number of people who saw the new film from DreamWorks Animation tumbled by more than half from its predecessor, when ticket-price inflation and 3-D surcharges are taken into account.
“Shrek” wasn’t the only disappointment this weekend as “MacGruber,” based on the “Saturday Night Live” skit parodying 1980s television series “MacGyver,” posted the worst opening — $4.1 million — for any movie in wide release so far this year.
While bigger than most animated features, the launch of “Shrek Forever After” was below even the most conservative estimates going into the weekend, based on pre-release surveys. It wasn’t immediately clear what led to the softer-than-expected start for the picture, which once again featured the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz and was heavily promoted by DreamWorks as “the final chapter” in the 9-year-old “Shrek” saga.
Possibilities include audience fatigue with sequels and with fast-rising ticket prices, particularly for 3-D pictures.
Those who saw “Shrek Forever After” gave it an average grade of A, according to market research company CinemaScore. DreamWorks is hoping that means good buzz will drive the film to play well at least until June 18, when the hugely anticipated “Toy Story 3” will take nearly all of its 3-D screens.
But after its weak start, “Forever After” has a tough climb just to reach the $323-million domestic total of “Shrek the Third.”
Internationally, the story may be different. Although it won’t open in most foreign markets until late June and July, after soccer’s World Cup, the new “Shrek” movie launched in Russia this weekend, where it squeaked past “Avatar” to post the biggest-ever opening there with $20 million. It still could end up coming close to or exceeding the $476-million international total of “Shrek the Third” and ultimately make a healthy profit on its production budget of about $165 million.
“This was on the low end for a ‘Shrek’ film,” DreamWorks Animation worldwide marketing chief Anne Globe said of the domestic start. “But we’re very optimistic that (‘Forever After’ is) on its way to becoming a worldwide hit.”
DreamWorks executives are likely glad they have developed other franchises such as “Kung Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon” that can replace Mike Myers’ green ogre in the future, though the studio does have a “Shrek” spinoff featuring the character Puss in Boots in the works.
“MacGruber,” meanwhile, set a new low in the undistinguished commercial history of movies based on “Saturday Night Live” skits. Even “The Blues Brothers” had a bigger opening in 1980, when ticket prices were a fraction of what they are today.
Financed by Relativity Media through its Rogue Pictures label for less than $10 million, “MacGruber” didn’t get much love from those who saw it, garnering an average audience grade of C-minus.
“We wanted to do more, but the production costs were minimal and we took a shot,” said Relativity marketing President Geoff Ammer.
“Robin Hood” didn’t fall off too quickly the weekend after its tepid start, as ticket sales for the big-budget adventure starring Russell Crowe declined 49 percent to $26.6 million. Romantic drama “Letters to Juliet” held up better, dropping only 33 percent to $9.1 million.