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‘The Avengers’ takes the bite out of ‘Dark Shadows’

By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Even an A-list star like Johnny Depp was no match for “The Avengers” at the box office this weekend, as the superhero adventure dominated ticket sales yet again and flew past the $1 billion mark worldwide.

After its $207.4 million debut broke the record for the biggest opening — not adjusting for inflation — “The Avengers” raked in an additional $103.2 million in its second weekend of domestic release, according to an estimate from distributor Walt Disney Pictures. The film featuring Marvel comic book characters such as the Hulk, Iron Man and Thor sucked the life out “Dark Shadows,” leaving Depp’s vampire comedy looking pallid with a lackluster $28.8 million start.

“The Avengers” made more on its second weekend than any other film in history, a record previously held by the three-day $75.6 million take of “Avatar.” But the Joss Whedon-directed picture crossed an even bigger milestone this weekend, surpassing $1 billion in global ticket sales after just 19 days in release. Playing in 54 foreign countries this weekend, the movie grossed $95.4 million, raising its international total to $628.9 million. Combined with the film’s $373.2 million domestic tally, the movie grossed enough to join the ranks of the 11 other films in the elite $1 billion club, a group including blockbusters such as “Avatar,” “Titanic” and “The Dark Knight.”

“This entire run has been one of those don’t-wake-me-up from a dream things,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s executive vice president of distribution. “The only way you can put up a number like this is to do repeat business. So I’m hopeful, more than anything, that people who are coming into the theater again having a great time will be energized to show up for a summer full of big movies.”

But with so many moviegoers still rushing out to see the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson trying to save the world, Depp didn’t get as much love as usual at the box office. Heading into the weekend, even distributor Warner Bros. thought the Tim Burton-directed film would open with at least $35 million. Given that Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow co-financed the picture for close to $150 million, the movie’s debut is especially disappointing.

“We were on the low side of expectations for the weekend, but it’s hard for me to really digest where we’re going when you’re up against the second weekend of a blockbuster like ‘The Avengers’,” said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.’ president of domestic distribution. The movie performed best in the Midwest and the South, he said, adding: “I think that has to do with ‘The Avengers’ doing staggering business in big cities. So the old vampire got a bite from ‘The Avengers,’ and there’s no recourse except to ride out the storm.”

The majority of those who saw “Dark Shadows” this weekend — 55 percent — were over age 35, indicating that the movie appealed mostly to those familiar with the old ABC soap opera upon which it was based. The film attracted a slightly more female crowd, at 57 percent of the audience. But moviegoers didn’t respond very positively to the picture about an 18th-century vampire transported to 1972, assigning it an average grade of B-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

“Dark Shadows” marks the eighth partnership for Depp and Burton, who began collaborating on eccentric projects in 1990 with “Edward Scissorhands.” The pair have a pretty good track record at the box office, putting their quirky spin on classic tales such as “Alice in Wonderland” — also a member of the $1 billion club — and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” There are only a few titles that have failed to resonate with broad audiences, including 2007’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which made a moderate $52.9 million domestically.

But like most of Depp’s films, “Sweeney Todd” performed better overseas than it did in the U.S., grossing $99.6 million internationally. That will likely be the case for “Dark Shadows,” which debuted in 43 foreign countries this weekend and grossed a so-so $36.7 million. The movie performed best in Russia, where it collected $5.3 million, and has yet to open in the major markets of Japan and Brazil.

Meanwhile, the Weinstein Co.’s attempt to capitalize on the Mother’s Day crowd with its re-release of 2012’s best picture winner, “The Artist,” was a failure. Playing in 751 theaters, the movie grossed $161,000, amounting to a dismal per-screen average of $214. The mostly silent black-and-white picture, originally released in November, has now grossed $44.4 million.

In limited release, Pantelion Films opened “Girl in Progress,” starring Eva Mendes as a single mother trying to balance her professional and personal duties. Playing in 322 theaters, the film grossed $1.4 million, amounting to a solid per-location average of $4,193. This is the second film from Pantelion — Lionsgate’s co-venture with Mexican media company Televisa — to debut in the top 10, following March’s Will Ferrell comedy “Casa de Mi Padre.” The picture, which appealed to a 70 percent female audience, received an average grade of B-plus from those who saw it this weekend.

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