‘Rango’s’ Tepid $38M Leads Another Downer Box Office

Not even the drawing power of Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski can warm ice-cold multiplexes, which were down about 34% this weekend; Damon’s “Adjustment Bureau” did OK, grossing $20.9M

Not even Johnny Depp and Matt Damon could help the box office this weekend.

Continuing to trend way behind 2010, the overall domestic market was down again, 34 percent year-to-year, as Depp's CG-animated family movie, Paramount's "Rango," led the market with a softer-than-expected $38 million opening.

Damon's Philip K. Dick adaptation for Universal, "The Adjustment Bureau," actually did better than what was several weeks earlier expected, grossing $20.9 million. Opening in 21 territories day and date, the movie also grossed $10.5 million overseas.

There were two other wide-openings: CBS Films' youth-oriented "Beastly" outpaced tracking for a solid $10.1 million performance. (The Alex Pettyfer fantasy drama cost CBS only $17 million to make.)

Relativity's R-rated raunchfest "Take Me Home Tonight" tanked, grossing just $3.5 million. Relativity acquired the Topher Grace homage to '80s fratboy comedies from Universal and Imagine for $10 million.

Here's the top 10. Full report continues below chart:

So, there you have it — with over two months of the calendar year completed, only one week has been up year-over-year at the box office, which is down nearly 30 percent overall at this point. Time to panic?

"I think it's too early to press the panic button," said Paramount G.M. of distribution Don Harris.

Universal domestic distribution president Nikki Rocco, meanwhile, noted that last year's first weekend of March was led by the $116.1 million performance of another Depp film, "Alice in Wonderland," which grossed $116.1 million.

Like it was with "Avatar" in January, Rocco said the market is suffering year-to-year with comparisons to another "anomaly."

"You look at the overall total this weekend, and it's like $130 million," she said. "That's actually pretty decent."

Spending what studio officials said was $135 million to get into the CG family-film business, sans DreamWorks Animation, Paramount said its expectations were at about $40 million  for "Rango," while outside estimates from tracking firms came in at around $50 million.

Scoring an 88 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Harris compared the movie favorably to DreamWorks' "How to Train Your Dragon," which Paramount opened as a distributor to $43.7 million in late-March of last year.

With "Dragon" commanding premium 3D and IMAX 3D ticket prices, Harris noted, "Rango" actually had more admissions than the DreamWorks film.

And with "Dragon" recovering from what was perceived to be a slow start, ultimately grossing $217.6 million domestically and $494.9 million worldwide, Paramount saw value in getting "Rango" out into market even earlier in the spring-break cycle.

"The idea was to put it at the front of spring vacation and have the movie play with kids as they get out of school (at various times) over the next six weeks," Harris explained.

Regardless of "Rango's" initial performance, Harris said the film's quality put Paramount on the map in the animation business.

"It is the best of what Pixar and DreamWorks Animation try to do," he said, "which is try to make a film that's for a family audience but that's also interesting for adults."

Universal, meanwhile, paid $62 million to acquire "Adjustment Bureau" from Media Rights Capital, getting domestic rights, as well as rights to 21 overseas territories.

With Damon coming off a dud leading-man performance in last year's "Green Zone" for Universal, there was some second-guessing of the studio — from TheWrap, included — for giving the actor another headlining role in an action-oriented movie.

But Damon came through, getting his best overseas opening since 2007's "Bourne Ultimatum." Domestically, it was the best opening for a Philip K. Dick adaptation since the Tom Cruise-led "Minority Report" opened to $35.7 million in 2002.

The film garnered a B grade from movie customer-satisfaction grader Cinemascore.

As for "Beastly," the romantic drama surpassed its studio's publicly stated pre-release estimates, which called for an opening somewhere between $5 million-$7 million.

The film commanded a B-plus Cinemascore, and managed to do what few films have this year — get an audience that was mostly under the age of 25 (albeit narrowly at 53 percent).

In terms of holdovers, Disney's CG-animated 3D film "Gnomeo and Juliet" finished in fifth place with $6.9 million after winning the box office in its third weekend. The movie has made an impressive $83.7 million after four weekends.

Sony Adam Sandler film "Just Go With It," meanwhile, added another $6.5 million to its domestic total, pushing Sandler closer to maintaining his streak of $100 million comedies with $88.2 million after four weeks.

And a week after cleaning up at the Academy Awards, "The King's Speech" became The Weinstein Company's top-grossing film of all time, adding another $6.5 million and passing "Inglourious Basterds'" $120.5 million total.

While Depp and Damon can't spark the box office, maybe director Kevin Smith will be able to do something. Doing a sneak preview at New York's Radio City Music Hall Saturday, his "Red State" grossed an impressive $161,590.