North American box office: ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ back at No. 1

And new releases fail to engage:

1. How to Train Your Dragon: $15.4 million
2. The Back-up Plan: $12.2 million (NEW)
3. Date Night: $10.5 million (3rd week; drops 37%)
4. The Losers: $9.4 million (NEW)
5. Kick-Ass: $9.3 million (2nd week; drops 53%)

actual numbers, not estimates
Ugh. It was ugly out there this past weekend, the lowest grossing weekend of 2010, down 12 percent over the same weekend last year. You know things are bad when even the new wide releases, which naturally are getting the most promotion in the lead-up to their openings, can’t really muster much enthusiasm among viewers. After the fourth weekend, I usually stop noting drops over the previous week, but I feel compelled to point out that the No. 1 movie, How to Train Your Dragon, in its fifth weekend dropped only 22 percent over last weekend, and has, as of the end of last weekend, earned more than $178 million. Go Vikings!

As with last week, there’s some nitpicking to be engaged in over the performance of How to Train Your Dragon, which isn’t, in fact, meant to impugn Dragon’s performance, which has been quite nice for a lovely, charming movie, but meant to make its weak competitors look better.

Box Office Mojo notes:

In terms of attendance, The Back-Up Plan may have been the weekend’s No. 1 draw. That’s because 67 percent of How to Train Your Dragon‘s weekend gross came from 3D showings, which carry a significant ticket price premium over regular showings. Specifically, 56 percent was from normal 3D, while 11 percent was from the even pricier IMAX 3D. Dragon‘s estimated attendance would likely rank it second for the weekend.

And I don’t mean to imply, either, that that’s not a fair way to look at the weekend, because butts-in-seats is a more than reasonable way to determine how popular a movie is. But so is the fact that people are still willing to pay premium prices to see a dragon cartoon for a third time.

More from Box Office Mojo on Dragon’s appeal:

While some movies take time to reach No. 1 (The Blind Side was the last example), it’s even rarer for a movie to start at No. 1 and then regain the top spot later on. The last time this occurred was at the end of 2005, when The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe reclaimed the lead over King Kong on New Year’s weekend. The other instances from this millennium were The Passion of the Christ in 2004, Finding Nemo in 2003 and Signs in 2002. For a picture to return to the top spot or rise up to it, it has to hold well, but, more importantly, the new movies have to be weak and the other movies have to decline faster. That was certainly the case with How to Train Your Dragon this weekend.

Regarding other new films: Oceans may have debuted down at No. 8, taking in $6.1 mililion, but it was on only 1,206 screens, far fewer than the top seven movies, and in fact its per-screen average of $5,024 is better than any other wide release of the week. Even Dragon, which was earning premiums thanks to 3D and IMAX showings, could manage only $4,188 at each of its 3,665 locations.

Anyway: do you care about box office numbers? I hate the emphasis on opening-weekend numbers, but I’ve felt compelled to report on them, even while attempting to look at the numbers beyond the horse-race aspect of it. But as I reconsider what I should be focusing my time on here, I wonder if it’s worthwhile. Lemme know…

[numbers via Box Office Mojo]

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