Too bad today isn't Easter. Captain America: The Winter Soldier pulled a near-miraculous Sunday-morning resurrection, coming back from second place most of the weekend to defeat the new Rio 2, another sequel to a 2011 movie. The squeaky-cleanest of Marvel's Avengers copped $41.4 million at North American theaters, according to preliminary studio estimates, while the Fox/Blue-Sky cartoon snagged $39 million.
Budgeted at a mediumish $103 million, the PG-rated Rio 2 reunites two rare Spix's macaws (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway) for a trip to the Brazilian rain forest, where the male exhibits city-bird neuroses, the female bonds with her country-bird family and the entire brood is imperiled by environmentally rapacious loggers. The 3-D animated feature gleaned an airborne "A" rating from the CinemaScore survey of its young fanciers — as we've noted before, kids tend to give the grades they'd like to receive at school — but couldn't even match the $39.2 million notched by the first Rio, three Aprils back. Its real strength is abroad, where it has earned $124.3 million, or 76% of its total revenue.
Stateside, though, what slammed into Rio 2 like an eco-predator's earthmover? Blame Saturday. Action movies typically earn a high proportion of their weekend haul on Thursday nights and Fridays, while animated features find their strength at Saturday matinees (when families show up). Three years ago, on its second weekend, Captain America: The First Avenger rose a modest 26% from Friday to Saturday, while the original Rio enjoyed a 69% leap on its first Saturday. But this weekend the norm was reversed: The Winter Solider jumped an impressive 49%, and Rio 2 a mere 28%. That's how the red-white-and-blue muscle man beat the blue macaws.
CA:TWS did fall from 56% its first weekend — a drop less than The First Avenger's 61% and the 2008's The Incredible Hulk (60%) but more severe than those for the first Iron Man (48%), the first Thor (47%) and 2012 megahit The Avengers (50%). Among the Core Four of Marvel's Avengers team, 56% is a middling sophomore slump. But the new movie, benefitting from its positioning as a sort of sequel to The Avengers, has already earned $159 million in 10 days in North America, just shy of the total domestic take ($176.7 million) of the first Captain America. Abroad, it's gangbusters: $317.7 million in fewer than weeks, or more than $100 million above what The First Avenger managed in its entire overseas run.
(READ: Corliss's review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Among other new releases, the horror film Oculus (no relation to the virtual-reality headset company) earned a preternatural $13 million on a thrifty $5-million budget. Its CinemaScore was a bogeyman's C, about average for R-rated thrillers. The more expensive Draft Day, starring Kevin Costner as an NFL GM trying to land the best college player, pulled in just $9.75 million, though it aced a CinemaScore of A for females, B-plus for males. It could hang around until the real draft day, on May 8; but, as a business investment, the movie is fourth and long.
In theology-related cinema, the low-budget God's Not Dead continued to shadow the big-budget Noah (aka The Creator's All Wet). The Christian-fundamentalist movie, made for just $2 million, is also battling The Grand Budapest Hotelfor the year's top gross among indie productions. Both have earned around $40 million, which in the nano-world of off-Hollywood movies is a bonanza.
Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as a rock-star vampire and his undead bride, led this weekend's specialty releases with a smart $97,000 at four theaters. David Gordon Green's rural drama Joe, with Nicolas Cage as an ex-con uncomfortably mentoring a troubled teen, earned $106,000 at 48 venues — a per-screen average of $2,208, or less than a tenth of the Jarmusch film's.
The Railway Man, a post-World War II trauma thriller headlined by Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, opened to $64,500 on four screens. And Cuban Fury, a salsa dance comedy with Nick Frost, Rashida Jones and Chris O'Dowd, broke a leg on its way to a lame $550,000 at 79 theaters. That factors to about $700, or 80 people, at each venue for the whole weekend. In second-week action, the minimalist sci-fi mystery Under the Skin, with Scarlett Johansson as an alien sent to Scotland to kill human males, expanded from four to 54 theaters and scared up $309,o00.
(READ: Rashida Jones on Cuban Fury — and Selfies)
BURYING THE LEDE: This is the last of my weekly box-office reports: 262, plus some specials, over five years. The gig has been fun and instructive, for me anyway. But as a believer in the wisdom of statistics — for baseball players and movie grosses — I can't justify the effort and bandwidth for a column that attracts fewer readers than the stories I wrote for my high school newspaper (and St. Joe's Prep did not have a huge student body). I may occasionally write about certain box-office trends, and perhaps contribute seasonal wrapups, but for now this is it. Look for me to do more coverage of show business news items and recommendations of new and old movies outside the B.O. top 10.
I enthusiastically recommend the box office columns of Tom Brueggemann at Thompson on Hollywood and Scott Mendelson at Forbes, both of which are posted on Saturdays and Sundays. Brueggemann, who draws on decades of experience as a film-booking executive, always provides a sensible sense of the long view — wisely wary, for example, of hype about record-breaking grosses that doesn't consider ticket-price inflation. Mendelson, who grins mischievously from his Forbes photo like a young John McEnroe, is firstest with the mostest in his Saturday B.O. insights. You should be as happy reading their work as Mary Corliss will be to find her husband again available for Sunday strolls and museum visits.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, $41.4 million; $159 million, second week
2. Rio 2, $39 million, first weekend
3. Oculus, $12 million, first weekend
4. Draft Day, $9.75 million, first weekend
5. Divergent, $7.5 million; $124.9 million, fourth week
6. Noah, $7.45 million; $84.9 million, third week
7. God's Not Dead, $4.5 million; $40.7 million, fourth week
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel, $4.05 million; $39.5 million, sixth week
9. Muppets Most Wanted, $2.2 million; $45.7 million, fourth week
10. Mr. Peabody & Sherman, $1.8 million; $105.2 million, sixth week