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Brit Import ‘Paddington’ Bears Up at Box Office With $25 Million Opening

Rescheduling by The Weinstein Company pays off for the family film from “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman

“Paddington,” the big-screen comedy about the marmalade-loving bear adored by Brits, debuted with a surprisingly strong $25.2 million at the box office over the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

The family film produced by David Heyman of “Harry Potter” fame even beat Kevin Hart’s R-rated comedy “The Wedding Ringer” for second place behind the breakout hit “American Sniper.” That makes The Weinstein Company’s decision to shift the release of “Paddington” from Christmas Day to the MLK weekend look pretty smart right now.

“We’re glad we found a date where it could stand alone and we’re glad audiences found and liked it,” said Erik Lomis, TWC’s distribution chief.”

“Paddington” was written and directed by Paul King and combines a computer-generated bear with live-action stars including Nicole Kidman, Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Bonneville of PBS’s “Downton Abbey.”

With R-rated fare and weighty Oscar hopefuls crowding the market, “Paddington” proved ideal counter-programming.

“I think audiences wanted some good, clean family fun. It has the pedigree with David Heyman producing, it was embraced by the critics (98 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and it got an ‘A’ CinemaScore, so people clearly liked it,” said Lomis.

TWC’s exit polling found that parents and older moviegoers gave it the same high marks that kids did.

“That was a nice surprise, and so was it playing so well in the middle of the country,” he said. “Cities like Milwaukee and Cincinnati were among the top locations, and that’s unusual.”

“Paddington” is the first film released by TWC-Dimension, the company’s new niche label specializing in high-end commercial fare.

The Peruvian bear at the center of Michael Bond’s children’s books is as cuddly and polite as another big-screen bear, the trash-talking “Ted,” was lewd and rude. And there’s not much comparison at the box office, either. The raunchy, R-rated comedy “Ted” took in $550 million globally for Universal Pictures in 2013, and a sequel is scheduled for June. But “Paddington” is looking like a financial winner after this weekend.

Studio Canal financed the $55 million family film, the most expensive ever for the French company. It stepped in when Warner Bros., where Heyman originally developed the film, bowed out. TWC came aboard as U.S. distributor soon after.

Lomis said that the key to success in the U.S. was familiarizing American kids and their parents with Paddington, who is beloved in the U.K. where the film is a hit and has grossed more than $40 million. To that end TWC organized a national tour and even had a Paddington balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“I think people know who Paddington is now,” said Lomis. “And I think he’ll be around for awhile.”