So much for the three-peat.
"Captain America: Civil War" could have come out on top for the third straight weekend. It could even have lost 45 percent of last weekend's business (when it earned $72.6 million) and still outdistanced this weekend's three new wide releases. Even after three weeks, you might still have expected the Marvel mega-movie to outdistance three seemingly-undistinguished newcomers: a period action comedy starring no-longer-a-box-office-draw Russell Crowe and never-really-a-box-office-draw Ryan Gosling; a Seth Rogen comedy sequel, and a cartoon based on an app that everyone thought was really cool six years ago.
Nonetheless, "The Angry Birds Movie" knocked down "Captain America," along with "The Nice Guys" (pictured) and "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising," as easily as a short stack of pigs. The cartoon earned an estimated $39.0 million, about $1 million more than distributor Sony had predicted. "Civil War" had to settle for second, with an estimated $33.1 million (down 54 percent from a week ago), while "Neighbors 2" debuted in third with an estimated $21.8 million, and "The Nice Guys" premiered at No. 4 with an estimated $11.3 million.
"Angry Birds" now boasts the second-biggest debut ever for a video game-based movie, behind only 2001's "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" ($47.7 million). How did the feather-tufted projectiles take down the mighty Marvel Cinematic Universe and two newer rivals? Here's what "Angry Birds" had going for it.1. The "Birds" Empire Is Bigger Than You Thought
Remember when the first "Angry Birds" game came out in 2009? You had to have the app on your phone in 2010. By 2011, maybe you'd moved on, but apparently, kids (and many grown-ups) all over the world still love game house Rovio's furious Finnish feathered friends. After all, the movie has already earned an estimated $112.0 million overseas. And every time users played an "Angry Birds" game in recent months, they were either getting an actual or in-kind ad for the movie.
The film reportedly cost between $73 and $80 million to make, but Rovio has spent more than $100 million marketing it. Plus, Sony and Rovio got at least another $300 million in promotional support from some 100 merchandising partners worldwide, including McDonald's, Ziploc, Home Depot, Nestle, French car manufacturer Citroën, and Lego (which made six different "Angry Birds" construction sets available a few weeks ago).
That giant balloon of main character Red that you saw last Thanksgiving during the Macy's parade? Not a coincidence. This is the biggest campaign Sony has ever mounted for an animated feature.
3. Fans Liked the Execution
It earned a B+ grade at CinemaScore, indicating decent (if not great) word-of-mouth from ticketbuyers. Critics were less kind, giving it a 42 percent fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, but that's actually not so bad considering how poorly they rate most movies based on video games.
Kids may not care, but grown-ups may have noticed that the voices come from performers they've liked in grown-up comic roles, including four "Saturday Night Live" stars (Simpsons" scribe Jon Vitti.
"Our movie operates on the sophistication of any sort of Judd Apatow comedy," co-director Fergal Reilly recently told Entertainment Weekly. Then there's the soundtrack, which, in addition to featuring contemporary stars like Blake Shelton and Charli XCX (who both have voice roles in the film), also features '80s hits by Rick Astley, Scorpions, and Tone Loc that few viewers under 35 will appreciate.
Sony smartly moved the film up from its initial July 1 release date. As a result, "Angry Birds" is the first major animated movie in wide release since "Zootopia" back in March and will remain the only one until Pixar's "Finding Dory" on June 17. So it has the family demographic locked up. Its competition wasn't really competing for the same viewers, with "Neighbors 2" going after young adults and "Nice Guys" after older adults. "Captain America," of course, went after all three groups, but apparently, it couldn't withstand three new movies dividing up its audience.
Don't cry for Cap, though. On Sunday, "Civil War" became the first 2016 release to earn more than $1 billion worldwide. And of course, it's going to lead into future "Avengers" movies with "Infinity War."
Meanwhile, Rovio spent so much marketing "The Angry Birds Movie" that it had to lay off 40 percent of its staff last summer. And despite the film's global take so far of $151 million, "Angry Birds" is going to have to gross about $360 million worldwide just to break even (since about half that take will go to the theater owners). It may reach that mark, and a sequel is probably inevitable, but if Rovio is really going to turn this weekend's chart-topping debut into a viable franchise, it's going to have to knock down an awfully tall pig pile.