The animated sequel won the weekend with a huge $63.5 mil haul, while ''Role Models'' exceeded expectations and ''Soul Men'' had little to sing about

By Joshua Rich
Updated November 10, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST

It was a zoo at the multiplex this weekend, as the animated sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa easily won the box office crown, and flocks of filmgoers helped several holdovers stay strong while propelling Role Models to a bigger than expected debut. Meanwhile, the other major new release, Soul Men, had little to celebrate.

Madagascar 2 grossed a huge $63.5 mil from Friday through Sunday, according to early estimates. That sum far exceeds the $47.2 mil that the first Madagascar flick grossed over Memorial Day weekend 2005, and it’s the biggest bow for any movie since The Dark Knight‘s record-breaking $158.4 mil haul way back in July. It’s also the second-best premiere ever for an animated movie that didn’t open during the summer (The Incredibles holds the current high mark, $70.5 mil), and the first-weekend total ranks seventh among those for all feature-length cartoons. By comparison, this past summer WALL-E opened with $63.1 mil and Kung Fu Panda premiered to $60.2 mil.

The causes of this success should be no mystery by now. Kids continue to be the most important and decisive cohort out there, the movie had little family-film competition, and that A- CinemaScore review (from a rare ”four quadrant” audience that hit all major demographics) underscored how people took a shine to Madagascar 2 — and how it should hang on well for a few weeks to come.

Performing remarkably well at No. 2 was the R-rated comedy Role Models, which banked $19.3 mil, a gross that would have been enough to win just about any other non-Madagascar weekend. A successful bit of counterprogramming, the adult farce also drew an A- CinemaScore grade (from an audience that was mostly between the ages of 18 and 34), and it tallied the biggest opening ever for a movie in which Paul Rudd has a lead part. So, yes, it’s now official: Everybody does, in fact, love Paul Rudd.

Three super-solid stalwarts dominated the rest of the top five. High School Musical 3: Senior Year (No. 3) grossed $9.3 mil on a 39 percent decline; the young-skewing Disney flick likely benefited from Madagascar 2‘s overflow traffic. Changeling (No. 4) dropped a mere 22 percent to bring in another $7.3 mil. And Zack and Miri Make a Porno (No. 5) fell just 35 percent in grossing $6.5 mil over the course of its second weekend. Thus, the Bernie Mac-Isaac Hayes swan song, Soul Men, got pushed out of the top of the chart: It banked a disappointing $5.6 mil despite garnering its own A- CinemaScore mark.

Among smaller releases, the Holocaust drama The Boy in the Striped Pajamas averaged a nice $15,000 in 17 theaters, while the cult rock musical Repo: The Genetic Opera underperformed in eight locations, grossing just $51,578.

Still, thanks to the big winners at the top of the chart, the overall box office was up 29 percent from the same frame a year ago, when Bee Movie and American Gangster held off newcomers Fred Claus and Lions for Lambs. And things continue to look up at the multiplex as the latest James Bond adventure, Quantum of Solace, which has been breaking records elsewhere in the world, is due to premiere Stateside next time around. In other words, prepare to be shaken and stirred.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

  • Movie
  • PG
  • 89 minutes
  • Eric Darnell
  • Tom McGrath