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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Kids just wanna have fun -- or so DreamWorks Animation's bean counters will be hoping this weekend.
The studio's "Shrek Forever After" opens Friday via Paramount, with executives more challenged than comforted by the knowledge that each installment in the family-comedy franchise has posted successively bigger debuts.
The most recent entry -- "Shrek the Third" -- opened with $121.6 million in May 2007, en route to an eventual $322.7 million domestic tally. But honors for the biggest total go to 2004's "Shrek 2" with $441.2 million.
So that sequel's total box office and the threequel's opening tally are the marks to beat -- with the fourquel likely to fall short by both measures.
"Shrek Forever After" should top the weekend with perhaps $100 million through Sunday. Prerelease tracking suggests a lighter bow, but such projections are infamous for underrating family films, and don't account for the hefty impact of 3D upcharges. (An AMC theater in New York is selling tickets for Imax 3D screenings of "Shrek Forever" at a venue-record $20.)
As for the film's longer-term prospects, the jolly green giant will enjoy a U.S. Memorial Day-stretched second session before running into its first rival family film on June 4, when Fox unleashes live-action comedy "Marmaduke." An even more fearsome rival -- Disney/Pixar's 3D tentpole "Toy Story 3" -- hits theaters June 18.
There's been speculation on Wall Street about the possibility of a disappointing bow by "Shrek Forever" and the likely effect on DreamWorks Animation shares. But such pessimism is tempered by the recollection that the studio's "How to Train Your Dragon" opened with less than $44 million in March but now is pushing $210 million.
Production costs totaled an estimated $135 million on "Shrek Forever After," roughly in line with those on other DWA pics despite the added expense of 3D.
Also this weekend, Universal debuts action-comedy spoof "MacGruber." Taking to the big screen his sketch character from "Saturday Night Live," Will Forte stars in the title role of an ex-special ops officer recalled to duty to hunt arch-nemesis Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer).
Produced by Rogue Pictures for less than $10 million, "MacGruber" is tracking limply and looks likely to register just $8 million-$10 million through Sunday.
Elsewhere, holdovers "Iron Man 2" from Paramount/Marvel and "Robin Hood" from Universal will be eyed for signs of market fatigue. The "Iron Man" sequel has led the field for the past two weekends, while "Robin Hood" opened to a so-so $36.1 million last weekend.