We're off to see the lizard! Johnny Depp's heroic chameleon led 'Rango' to a No. 1 debut at the box office this weekend with an estimated $38.0 million.
The cartoon Western with the all-animal cast had been expected to open a bit higher, in the $40-44 million range. It may have been hurt by the fact that it wasn't in 3D (it's the first animated feature in recent memory that isn't), by competition from the still-strong 'Gnomeo & Juliet' and by middling word-of-mouth (kids may have enjoyed it more if so many of the jokes weren't pitched over their heads). Still, positive reviews, a broad release pattern (nearly 4,000 screens), ubiquitous marketing and the beloved Depp helped give 'Rango' the biggest per-screen average ($9,701 per venue) of any wide-release film this weekend.
Opening in second place, Matt Damon's'The Adjustment Bureau' did a a couple million better than expected, bringing in an estimated $20.9 million. The figure is especially impressive given that 'Bureau' was targeted at the same adult drama audience already being served by such films as 'Unknown,''The King's Speech,' and Damon's own 'True Grit.' The sci-fi romance benefited from evocative marketing that made it look a lot like last year's smash 'Inception.' The movie marks Matt Damon's best opening since 'The Bourne Ultimatum' four years ago.
Also opening better than expected was teen horror/romance 'Beastly,' with an estimated $10.1 million, good for third place. Predictions had suggested the movie would open at around $8 million, since neither Vanessa Hudgens nor Alex Pettyfer is a proven box office draw, and since the teen movie market already includes 'Justin Bieber: Never Say Never' and 'I Am Number Four' a very similar film to 'Beastly,' right down to the casting of Pettyfer as the unearthly, tormented lead. Nonetheless, 'Beastly' had terrific word-of-mouth, especially among viewers under 18.
Last week's top movie, 'Hall Pass,' slipped to No. 4 this week with an estimated $9.0 million. That's just a 33 percent drop from last weekend. The midlife crisis comedy's ten-day take is $27.0 million.
'Gnomeo & Juliet,' which finished just a nose behind 'Hall Pass' last weekend, came in fifth this week, earning an estimated $6.9 million. That's a drop of 48 percent from last week, not bad given competiton from 'Rango.' The Shakespeare-spoofing cartoon's four-week total is $83.7 million.
'The King's Speech' was expected to enjoy a bounce this weekend after last Sunday's Oscar sweep (including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director prizes). While it did hop up one rung fron No. 8 to No. 7, it earned slightly less this weekend, an estimated $6.5 million (down 11 percent), having also lost 145 screens. Still, it's impressive for a movie in its 15th week of release to still be earning $6.5 million. The indie drama's box office to date stands at $123.8 million; a $150 million take seems within reach.
The fourth new wide-release movie of the week, 'Take Me Home Tonight,' didn't even crack the top 10. Given the '80s-nostalgia party comedy's confused marketing (was it for teens or Gen X-ers?), Topher Grace's never-proven box office appeal as a movie leading man and the film's competition for the raunchy-comedy audience against 'Hall Pass' and 'Just Go With It,' it's no wonder the movie opened beneath optimistic projections of $6 million. Rather, it debuted at No. 11 with an estimated $3.5 million. Plus, the release had a distinct whiff of mothballs. It's been sitting on the shelf for four years, so the nostalgia it evokes best is for the heady days of 2007, when Anna Faris was still a box office draw.
The full top 10:
1. 'Rango,' $38.0 million (3,917 screens), new release
2. 'The Adjustment Bureau,' $20.9 million (2,840), new release
3. 'Beastly,' $10.1 million (1,952), new release
4. 'Hall Pass,' $9.0 million (2,950), $27.0 million total
5. 'Gnomeo & Juliet,' $6.9 million (2,984), $83.7 million
6. 'Unknown,' $6.6 million (2,913), $53.1 million
7. 'The King's Speech,' $6.501 million (2,240), $123.8 million
8. 'Just Go With It,' $6.500 million (2,920), $88.2 million
9. 'I Am Number Four,' $5.7 million (2,903), $46.4 million
10. 'Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,' $4.3 million (2,254), $68.9 million
•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.