'Monsters vs. Aliens' fuels booming box office

Sun Mar 29, 2009 3:36pm EDT
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - What recession?

Hollywood's overflowing cash registers rang even louder on Sunday as the cartoon "Monsters vs. Aliens" scared up the biggest opening of the year at the North American box office.

DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc's first big 3-D film sold an estimated $58.2 million worth of tickets across the United States and Canada during its first three days, the studio said.

The opening was at the upper end of analysts' forecasts within a $50 million to $60 million range. The year's previous best start was $55.2 million for "Watchmen" earlier this month, though that superhero film quickly stalled, and finally crawled across the $100 million mark last Thursday.

"Monsters vs. Aliens" also set a record for a 3-D opening -- $32.6 million, or about 56 percent of the gross, the studio said. The balance came from traditional movie theaters.

Hollywood is betting a lot on 3-D, with about 40 films scheduled to run in 3-D over the next three years in hopes that audiences will pay $3 to $5 more per ticket than they typically do to watch movies that feature characters and objects popping out of movie screens.

One of the biggest 3-D proponents has been DreamWorks Animation's Chief Executive Officer, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who has pledged to release all the company's movies in 3-D at an additional cost of $15 million per film.

The production budget for "Monsters vs. Aliens" was about $165 million to $170 million, including that 3-D premium. Worldwide marketing costs are estimated at $175 million, consistent with past DreamWorks Animation releases.

The film, featuring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Rainn Wilson, was distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. Witherspoon plays a 50-foot-(15-meter-)tall newscaster recruited to help battle an alien invasion. Reviews from top critics were mixed.   Continued...

<p>Actress Reese Witherspoon, who gives voice to Ginormica in the movie, poses at the premiere of "Monsters vs. Aliens" at the Gibson amphitheatre in Universal City, California March 22, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>