Friday Box Office: ‘Hop’ Jumps Tracking, on Pace for $38M

Universal/Illumination family film has better-than-expected $11.4M start; Summit’s “Source Code” is slightly below projections at $5M; overall box office is down 30% year-to-year

Saturday update:

Universal's second Christopher Meledandri-produced family film, "Hop," had a better-than-expected first day in theaters, grossing $11.4 million Friday, according to studio estimates.

Predicted to finish with only around $30 million, the $63 million CG-animation/live-action hybrid is on pace to gross over $38 million this weekend.

Summit's Jake Gyllenhaal action thriller "Source Code" came in second Friday with an estimated $5 million. The well-reviewed $32 million movie is on pace to make about $15 million this weekend (pre-release estimates were in the high teens).

In third place, Oren Peli-produced indie horror movie "Insidious" grossed $4.8 million, and is poised to surpass $10 million predictions.

And yep, once again, the overall box office is pacing way behind (about 30 percent) the same weekend last year, which saw the huge debut of Warner's "Clash of the Titans."

Here's how the top 10 shaped up:

"Hop" ($11.4m)
"Source Code" ($5.0m)
"Insidious" ($4.8m)
"Limitless" ($3.0m)
"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules" ($2.8m)
"The Lincoln Lawyer" ($2.1m)
"Sucker Punch" ($1.9m)
"Paul" ($1.3m)
"Rango" ($1.2m)
"Battle: L.A." ($1.1m)

Friday update:

Universal and Illumination's second 3D-animated film, "Hop," got off to a better-than-expected start Friday, jumping out to an early pace that could deliver the film a $35 million three-day opening, according to preliminary estimates.

Universal widely predicted an opening in the mid-'20s for the film, which should convince moribund European-owned entertainment trades and their followers that this is a solid start … and it's certainly not bad, if the studio's claim of a $63 million production budget is credible.

Of course, at this same spring-break vantage point last year, DreamWorks Animation debuted its own original 3D family-film concept, "How to Train Your Dragon," to $43.7 million, causing the company's stock to crater the following Monday.

My point? The wild success of U/Illumination's first effort, "Despicable Me," gave the global box office the impression that Universal was going to compete at the highest level of the 3D-family film business — that rare air of critical acclaim and box-office success ($528.4 million worldwide) that only big-time players like Pixar and DWA achieve.

All "Hop's" $35 million opening and 24-percent Rotten Tomatoes score show is that, when it comes to 3D family films, the newly purchased NBC U is good at what it has corporately said it is good at for the last several years, managing for margin.

Sorry, Christopher Meledandri, this is not an encore worthy of "Despicable Me."

Meanwhile, among other films opening wide this weekend with better reviews, Summit's Jake Gyllenhaal thriller "Source Code" (nearly 90 percent according to Rotten Tomateos) is on pace to meet pre-release tracking estimates in the mid-to-high teens.

Oren Peli-produced indie horror film "insidious," meanwhile, is narrowly missing pre-release predictions of the movie cracking the $10 million barrier.

We'll post a full top 10 with numbers tomorrow morning. Get some sleep.

Thursday preview:

So the tough part comes for Universal and its new CG-animation division Illumination: they've got to come up with an encore.

Following last summer's breakout success with "Despicable Me," a film that debuted to $56.4 million domestically before going on to gross $528 million worldwide, Universal and Illumination will bring live-action/CG combo film "Hop" into 3,577 theaters this weekend.

The lightly-regarded 3D film (scoring only a 19 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) is expected to win the weekend with a gross of around $30 million.

Opening in 2,961 U.S. and Canadian locations, Summit's Jake Gyllenhaal thriller "Source Code" is expected to finish second with a gross in the high teens … and could be a dark horse this spring, given its solid critical reception (89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).

Oren Peli-produced indie horror film "Insidious" — which is being opened in 2,408 theaters in North America by FilmDistrict — could bring in as much as $10 million this weekend.

The Weinstein Company, meanwhile, is re-releasing a PG-13 version of the Oscar-dominating "King's Speech" in 1,011 locations.

As for "Hop," the Relativity-co-financed film's reasonable price tag ($63 million, according to Universal) should render it fairly profitable — especially when strong international play and cute-character-based ancillary products are thrown in.

Released in early April instead of the blockbuster season of early July, "Hop's" backers aren't necessarily eager to compare the film to "Despicable Me."

One rival-studio marketing official compares the film, which features Russell Brand voicing a CG bunny rabbit that interacts with the live-action James Marsden, more to Fox's "Alvin and the Chipmunks" franchise than your typical CG-animated movie.

"You can almost hear Jason Lee screaming, 'Alvin!'" the exec noted, referencing what he said was the effectiveness of a recent trailer.

It's worth noting, however, that on the same weekend last year, DreamWorks Animation got its stock hammered when it opened "How to Train Your Dragon" to $43.7 million. "Hop" probably won't even come close to that level.

According to one tracking firm, the pre-release data is not that dynamic for "Hop," with the under-25 set reporting 63 percent total awareness among young males and 73 percent awareness among young females, with "definite interest" coming in at 30 percent and 40 percent respectively for the two groups.

"Source Code," meanwhile, stars Gyllenhaal as a soldier locked into a "Groundhog Day"-like relationship with a train accident.

Financed by Vendome Pictures and shot for $32 million after rebates, the film has received solid reviews (89 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), with pre-release tracking suggesting an opening-weekend gross of somewhere around $15 million-$20 million.

Total awareness among all quadrants for "Source Code" is only 62 percent, with 37 percent registering definite interest and 6 percent calling it their "first choice."

"Insidious," meanwhile, has also garnered solid reviews (69 percent fresh). The $1.5 million  horror film — which stars Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey — was acquired by FilmDistrict for $5 million, which also committed about $25 million for prints and advertising.

Pre-release tracking estimates the film will do about $10 million this weekend, with total awareness coming in at a paltry 50 percent.