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Why ‘The Boss Baby’ Trumped ‘Ghost in the Shell’ at the Box Office: Top 10 Takeaways

Alec Baldwin's unrestrained infant behavior lured a wider audience than male-driven sci-fi actioner "Ghost in the Shell."

Alec Baldwin the Boss Baby

“The Boss Baby”

It was animated “The Boss Baby” (20th Century Fox) vs. manga remake “Ghost in the Shell” (Paramount) starring Scarlett Johansson at the weekend box office.

As expected, the week’s two new wide releases combined to gross just under $70 million, but with a shocker: the latest DreamWorks Animation release took the lion’s share of that total. $100-million actioner “The Ghost in the Shell” turned out to be yet another pixel-packed movie to be met by blah critical and domestic audience response. Foreign will have to save the day on this one.

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (Disney) barely missed its third #1 weekend, but propelled the Top Ten box office to a 37 per cent ($43 million) improvement over last year (when nothing much was going on). The year-to-date uptick remains a steady five per cent. And that’s ahead of the expected huge April 14 opening for F. Gary Gray’s “The Fate of the Furious” (Universal), which played well at CinemaCon.

Scarlett Johansson plays Major in Ghost in the Shell from Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures.

“Ghost in the Shell”

Paramount Pictures

The Top Ten

1. The Boss Baby (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 50; Est. budget: $(est.) 100 million+

$49,000,000 in 3,773 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $12,987; Cumulative: $49,000,000

2. Beauty and the Beast (Disney) Week 3; Last weekend #1

$47,543,000 (-47%) in 4,210 theaters (no change); PTA: $11,293,000; Cumulative: $395,460,000

3. Ghost in the Shell (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 53; Est. budget: $110 million

$19,000,000 in 3,440 theaters; PTA: $5,523; Cumulative: $19,000,000

4. Power Rangers (Lionsgate) Week 2; Last weekend #2

$14,500,000 (-64%) in 3,693 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,926; Cumulative: $65,062,000

5. Kong: Skull Island (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #3

$8,800,000 (-40%) in 3,141 theaters (-525); PTA: $2,802; Cumulative: $147,848,000

6. Logan (20th Century Fox) Week 5; Last weekend #5

$6,200,000 (-40%) in 2,323 theaters (-840); PTA: $2,669; Cumulative: $211,868,000

7. Get Out (Universal) Week 6; Last weekend #6

$5,814,000 (-34%) in 1,844 theaters (-630); PTA: $3,153; Cumulative: $156,888,000

8. Life (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #4

$5,625,000 (-55%) in 3,146 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,788; Cumulative: $22,369,000

9. CHiPS (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #7

$4,055,000 (-47%) in 2.464 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,646; Cumulative: $14,367,000

10. The Zookeeper’s Daughter (Focus)  NEW – Metacritic: 58

$3,349,000 in 541 theaters; PTA: $6,191; Cumulative: $3,349,000

The Takeaways

The Kids Are Alright … and Better When Adults Respond

“The Baby Boss” joined “Beauty and the Beast” as an initial success that initially targeted younger audiences, but then sold smart adult elements to broaden its appeal. Yes, its opening gross falls within a range of Dreamworks Animation precedents (the best within the last two years was “Home” at exactly the same time of year, which came in slightly higher at $52 million).

But “Trolls” and “Kung Fu Panda 3” came in a bit lower. As well as DreamWorks Animation movies have performed, particularly overseas, they usually tag behind Disney/Pixar and Universal’s Illumination.

So the surprise is “The Boss Baby” beating “Beauty and the Beast,” at least for the weekend (with a normal second week drop for “Boss,” “Beauty” could reclaim the top spot).

Despite competition from “Beauty” for family audiences, “Boss” is the first new animated offering in several weeks after “The LEGO Batman Movie” and arrives amid spring vacations when audiences are eager to sample new fare. Parents taking kids to movies is the most reliable source of ticket sales these days, and this took full advantage. The trailer playing ahead of smash “Beauty” might have helped.

And the cartoon comedy offered something moviegoers really want right now: laughs. The marketing played heavily on this.

Then throw in its adult appeal. Per Fox, a third of its audience included adults not taking kids. That’s with an infant as the title character. It’s not unusual for adults to patronize Pixar or other well-reviewed animated pictures. But about $16 million of the gross for “The Boss Baby” came from grownups not going with kids. That’s just a little less than the entire audience for “Ghost in the Shell” this weekend. They made a choice, and unexpectedly for Paramount, much of its potential audience pool chose the comedy cartoon over the live-action adaptation of a comic.

Is This the First Trump-Driven Hit?

The zeitgeist always plays a role in breakout hits. A big movie reveals something about the public mood, and when a new release defies expectations, it often has to do with factors beyond strong marketing and the right release date.

DreamWorks didn’t know who would be president when they greenlit this movie. But it is hard to avoid some connections with the current White House occupant. For one thing, Alec Baldwin, recently front and center for his Trump impersonations, voices the baby. He has been the focus of the publicity for this mainstream family-audience movie. Even though that might have backfired with Trump supporters, Fox reported that the film was stronger overall in rural Trump-friendly areas than more sophisticated coastal cities.

But somehow this baby — with its lack of restraint and immature take-charge anarchic attitude — represents something more than the constraints of a fictional cartoon character.

Another movie that tapped into the post-Trump zeitgeist is Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” although its take on racial relations and skewering the attitudes of upscale liberal whites punched a different set of buttons.

Given how much better “The Boss Baby” performed domestically than foreign, this may be one animated comedy that hits home more than overseas.

A Ghost of Its Former Self

The failure of “Ghost in the Shell” is stunning. It came in at two thirds of the lower end of its upper $20 million estimates. Paramount’s pricier entries haven’t been performing lately. “Ghost,” at $110 million their most expensive, follows “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage,” “Allied,” and “Jack Reacher” as domestic under-achievers (“xXx” was saved overseas, which brought in 85 per cent of its gross).

“Ghost” opened lower than all of these but “Allied.” Look at the numbers on Scarlett Johansson’s last action film. Universal’s “Lucy” in summer 2014 opened at $44 million and scored $126 million domestic and $463 million worldwide (on a $40 million budget).

“Lucy” scored despite (or because) it was an original project. The calculation for “Ghost” was that its roots as one of the best-known Japanese Manga comics plus two animated films with strong domestic cult appeal gave the Johansson vehicle a chance to succeed.

While slapping Johansson into a skin-tight bodysuit certainly appealed to males, the costume may have backfired with women, who made up only a third of its audience. The sci-fi actioner played like an extreme fan boy film — that’s the 18-39 demo that has regularly lagged of late. But even if women turned out in equal numbers, the gross would still have been around $25 million, way below its target.

The initial foreign results — $41 million, with Japan and China to come — are within range of several male-centered sci-fi like “Elysium,” “Oblivion” and “Edge of Tomorrow.” Those ended up with $200 million or more overseas. We’ll see how the movie holds and plays in two upcoming key Asian markets which would help to make up for a shortfall in domestic grosses, not likely to get much over $50 million.

"Get Out"

“Get Out”

Holdovers

“Get Out” led the way with just a 34 per cent drop. And that came as it lost about a quarter of its theaters. This looks like it has a month or more of strong play ahead and an ultimate $180 million gross. That would place it ahead of both “Hidden Figures” and “Straight Outta Compton.” It also would make it (by far) the biggest horror genre film (even in adjusted numbers) this century. All on a budget of $4.5 million, with a sophisticated comedic sensibility and a cast not guaranteed to pull a crowd.

Power Rangers

“Power Rangers”

Lionsgate

The biggest collapse went to the second weekend of “Power Rangers,” down 64 per cent. It’s now likely to top out around $90 million. With a $100-million budget, and foreign not certain to make up the difference, it’s a big disappointment for Saban and Lionsgate, who had announced plans for multiple sequels. Maybe, but not at this budget.

Two second-weekend studio films fared slightly better. “Life” saw a 55 per cent drop, not strong after its weak start. “CHiPS” fell less at 47 per cent, but after an even worse launch, and will barely hit $20 million domestic.

“Kong: Skull Island” and “Logan” dropped 40 per cent amid losing playdates, continuing their great runs. “Kong” looks like it could approach $600 million worldwide, enough to put the expensive project a little into the black. “Logan” at half the cost is already almost there.

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