Fox's "Rio" got out to a solid $10.2 million start Friday at the domestic box offie, putting the Blue Sky Studios-animated 3D film on pace to meet the $30 million-plus expectations of tracking firms, according to studio estimates.
Fox officials said they had hoped the movie would at least get to the mid-$20 million area.
In second place, filmmaker Wes Craven's return to Weinstein/Dimension's "Scream" franchise for a fourth go-around produced disappointing results, grossing $8 million on Friday and pacing for a weekend of just under $20 million.
The studio had hoped the movie would open in the mid-$20 million range.
Overall, the domestic box office is flat with the same weekend last year — it's only the second weekend it hasn't been in the red on a frame-to-frame basis.
Here's how the top 10 looks:
"Scream 4" ($8.0m)
"Soul Surfer" ($2.1m)
"Source Code" ($1.8m)
"Your Highness" ($1.3m)
The domestic box office could do something this weekend that it hasn't done very often at all in 2011: beat its year-over-year performance.
The odds look pretty good heading into this weekend, with two films projected to easily break the $30 million barrier.
Produced by Blue Sky Studios — the same CG shop that renders the mega-profitable "Ice Age" franchise — the Fox-distributed "Rio" is on pace to open to a 2011 best $45 million this weekend, according to one bouyantly optimistic tracking forecast. Most box-office watchers have the 3D-animated family film, produced after tax breaks for around $90 million, pegged between $35 mllion to $40 million.
Studio executives are far less bullish, looking for an opening somewhere in the mid-20s, given that the recent competition from "Rango" and "Hop."
"Scream 4," Wes Craven's return to his genre-making tongue-in-cheek horror franchise after an 11-year dormancy, is also enjoying strong pre-release tracking: studio Weinstein/Dimension is projecting a start in the high 20s, but several tracking firms predicting bigger things — $30 million-plus — for the film, which was shot for under $40 million.
One other opening of note: Roadside Attractions will debut Robert Redford's Lincoln-assasination-themed period drama "The Conspirator" in 707 locations.
But the big story at the domestic box office is the possibility of a film breaking the $40 million opening barrier — no movie has done it this year.
There also could be a horse race between "Rio" and "Scream 4," for those interested in that kind of benchmarking.
Directed by veteran "Ice Age" overseeer Carlos Saldana, "Rio" voice stars "The Social Network's" Jessie Eisenberg as a rare macaw who gets shipped off from his home in Minnesotta to a distant city in South America to mate with a bird voiced by Anne Hathaway.
Rotten Tomatoes is scoring the movie somewhat strongly — 75 percent fresh — and tracking firm NRG is showing 37 percent "definite interest" among both males and females under 25.
The film opens in 3,826 theaters across the U.S. and Canada, but will not have the market to itself, with Universal's Easter Bunny-themed "Hop" entering its third week, but still going somewhat strong.
"Scream 4," meanwhile, re-unites Craven with writer Kevin Williamson, along with core franchise cast members David Arquette, Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell. New blood has been added to the mix, with actors Hayden Panettie, Kristen Bell, Emma Roberts and Anna Paquin joining in.
Among men 25 and older, many of whom remember the first three films, which grossed $507.2 million from 1996-2000, recollection seems to be fond. Awareness of the film is registering at 88 percent, with definite interest scoring at 40 percent and "first choice" at 14 percent, according to tracking firm NRG.
"We still have the master in the director's chair, and people remember this franchise fondly," said Weinstein theatrical distribuiton president Erik Lomis.
As for "The Conspirator," the film is based on the story of Mary Surratt, the one woman implicated — and executed by military tribunal — in connection to the killing of Lincoln.
Robin Wright plays Suratt, alongside Kevin Kline and James McAvoy, with Redford directing.
The film was shot for around $25 million, and was acquired from Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts American Film Company by Roadside at the Toronto Film Festival last year.
The movie will open up in 706 locations — one of Roadside's bigger openings — and the studio is expecting to gross somewhere between $3 million – $4 million this weeekend.
Among limited openings, upstart Rock Mountain Pictures will release a film adaptation of Ayn Rand's Libertarian manifesto "Atlas Shrugged" in around 300 theaters.