Debuting with $122 mil, ''Shrek the Third'' enters the record books as the biggest opening ever for an animated film

By Joshua Rich
May 21, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

There was nary a long face at the box office this weekend, as Shrek the Third scored the biggest opening ever for an animated movie while leading a diverse crop of films whose grosses exceeded expectations.

The animated franchise flick brought in $122 million from Friday through Sunday, according to early estimates. It averaged a hefty $29,597 per theater in a gargantuan 4,122 venues. And in addition to blowing past Shrek 2‘s previous animated-opening record of $108 mil, Shrek the Third‘s debut ranks No. 3 on the list of all-time best bows (behind Spidey 3 and Pirates 2) — a distinction that should last, oh, about one week. Yes, Mike Myers’ jolly green ogre will be put to the test next weekend when Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End will plunder theaters and hold family filmgoers hostage. Also complicating matters in the land of Far Far Away will be the fact that critics (whose collective displeasure garnered Shrek the Third a disappointing 57 out of 100 on and audiences (whose collective apathy is evident in the B+ CinemaScore they awarded the film) remain lukewarm on the fairy tale. So let’s allow all the folks over at DreamWorks Animation and Paramount to have their Sunday in the sun, but (hello, cheap metaphor!) let’s also keep an eye on those clouds on the horizon.

Then again, if Shrek the Third stands up to new competition as well as Spider-Man 3 did this weekend, Myers & Co. may have less to worry about. A week after plummeting more than 60 percent from its record-breaking premiere, the webslinger dropped a much more respectable 51 percent this frame, grossing $28.5 mil at No. 2. In three weeks, Spidey has banked $281.9 mil domestically and two-thirds of a billion bucks worldwide — an impressive sum, sure, but one that’s still shy of the magic $800 mil that the movie likely needs to make to become profitable. I’m not saying nay, I’m just saying.

Rounding out the top five were films that aren’t hits but at least should be commended for holding strong against two of the biggest movies ever. The zombie sequel 28 Weeks Later (No. 3) grossed $5.2 mil on a fine 47 percent drop. Disturbia (No. 4) earned $3.7 mil on another tiny decline, just 22 percent; the teen thriller’s six-week sum is now $71.3 mil. And Georgia Rule (No. 5) dropped a decent 48 percent to bring in $3.5 mil. Thanks, counter-programming! They were joined in good cheer by Fox Searchlight’s acclaimed Sundance award-winning music tale Once, which averaged a pitch-perfect $30,256 in two venues.

So it went that on such an upbeat weekend the cumulative box office ran nearly 12 percent ahead of the same frame a year ago. Moreover, there’s word that the summer of 2007 is outpacing the previous best summer on record, 2004, by a handsome 15 percent. And for this weekend, at least, everybody in movie land lived happily ever after.