You Hear That, 'Horton'? You're No. 1

HOLLYWOOD -- Twentieth Century Fox's G-rated "Horton Hears a Who!" opened to an estimated $45.1 million at the box office this weekend, the studio said Sunday, the latest potent performance by a movie aimed at family audiences.

The animated picture, produced for about $90 million, follows a string of G- and PG-rated hits since the fall including Walt Disney Co.'s "Enchanted" and "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour" and Fox's partly animated musical-comedy "Alvin and the Chipmunks."

For years the G rating has been seen as a stigma, a turnoff for teenagers and adult moviegoers who snicker at wholesome fare. But "Horton," adapted from the classic Dr. Seuss book, attracted a diverse crowd estimated at 53 percent families and 47 percent non-families, including unaccompanied teens.

"We played to all 'Whos' from 2 to 92, and I'm not just being cute," said Chris Aronson, Fox's senior vice president of domestic distribution. "It was an all-audience film."

The heavily marketed movie, whose voice cast includes Jim Carrey and Steve Carell, matched most industry expectations and easily topped the charts over Warner Bros.' prehistoric epic "10,000 BC," which slid 54 percent in its second weekend to $16.4 million.

Like many Hollywood spectacles, "10,000 B.C." continued to draw massive crowds overseas. Through two weekends the movie, which U.S. critics ripped into like hungry predators, has grossed $134 million worldwide.

Warner and its partner Legendary Pictures produced the epic for about $125 million.

Among the two other major new movies hitting the domestic market, Summit Entertainment's mixed-martial-arts drama "Never Back Down" fared best, grossing $8.6 million to open at No. 3. The apocalyptic thriller "Doomsday," from Universal's Rogue Pictures label, mustered $4.7 million to rank seventh for the weekend.

The PG-13-rated "Never Back Down" cost about $20 million to produce; the budget for the R-rated "Doomsday" was $19 million.

Richard Fay, Summit's president of domestic distribution, said the upstart studio was pleased with the opening for "Never Back Down," the first movie it fully financed, developed and released since the company expanded operations last year. "Penelope," a comedy starring Christina Ricci and Reese Witherspoon, was an acquisition.

As expected, the audience for "Never Back Down," starring Sean Faris and Djimon Hounsou in a story described as "The Karate Kid" for a new generation, was 59 percent male, 60 percent younger than 21 and skewed heavily toward fans of martial arts.

Because both their movies play young, Fox and Summit believe the spring school holidays will help their films hold up in the marketplace over the next two weeks.

Aronson said "Horton" might be able to hang as tough as the first "Ice Age" in 2002 " which opened on the same weekend in mid-March "- or "Alvin and the Chipmunks," which came out in December. Those pictures, which also opened in the $45 million neighborhood, went on to ultimately gross $176 million and $215 million, respectively, at the domestic box office.

Critics have cottoned to "Horton," with 82 percent of notices positive, according to review compendium Audiences also have reacted warmly, according to Fox: 85 percent of customers surveyed called the movie "excellent" or "very good."

"Horton" notched the biggest opening weekend of the year so far, eclipsing "Cloverfield," which launched to $40.1 million, and "10,000 B.C.," which started at $35.9 million.

Fox has been a roll in the animated genre. Its Blue Sky Studios made the first two "Ice Age" movies and has a third in the works for 2009, and last summer Fox released the global hit "The Simpsons Movie."

Other than Disney's Pixar Animation Studios and DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., Fox has enjoyed the most success in the category lately.

Selling the film overseas could prove to be a challenge, however. Two previous Seuss adaptations in recent years, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "The Cat in the Hat," did 75 percent of their business in the United States and Canada.

"Horton" opened in 29 foreign markets, including Germany, Brazil and Spain, and grossed $14.2 million altogether. "The jury is out," Aronson said.

Two holdovers in the domestic market, Sony Pictures' political thriller "Vantage Point" and Lionsgate's heist tale "The Bank Job," fared well over the weekend.

"Vantage Point" stayed in the top five by grossing $5.4 million in its fourth weekend, bringing its total to $59.2 million.

"The Bank Job" dipped only 17 percent in its second weekend, lifting its total to $13.1 million. In today's market, movies typically drop around 50 percent in their second weekends.


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