LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon" is about mythical creatures, but the film's box office performance owes more to the turtle and the hare, as it shows the race does not always go to the swift.
The film about a Viking who domesticates a dragon had been expected to open in the $65 million to $70 million range the weekend of March 26-28. When it made $43.3 million, many Hollywood watchers viewed that as a disappointment.
But since then, "Dragon" has become one of the most consistent box office performers of recent months, dropping only 21 percent this past weekend compared to the previous weekend, to rake in $19.6 million.
Box office analysts said "Dragon" and even the record-breaking "Avatar" show that judging a film's ultimate performance by its opening weekend can be a losing game.
In this era of social-networking websites, audiences' reaction to movies they enjoy can markedly reverse the box office fortune of films, analysts said.
"You can sometimes buy your way to a huge opening weekend with a massive marketing campaign, what you can't buy is word-of-mouth," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of tracking firm Hollywood.com Box Office.
DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc suffered an 8 percent drop in its share price to $39.34 the day after "Dragon's" opening weekend. The stock has not fully recovered from that plummet, but on Monday it closed up 2.4 percent to $41.57.
So far, "Dragon" has made $335.3 million in worldwide ticket sales, according to tracking firm Box Office Mojo.
DreamWorks chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg told Reuters on Thursday that it was still too early to tell if "Dragon" would beat the $381.5 million in ticket sales for the company's 2008 hit "Monsters vs. Aliens."
"Certainly the performance of ('Dragon,') subsequent to its opening weekend, which was a little soft, has been great and was very promising," Katzenberg said.
"That's word-of-mouth, and I think the quality of the film and the reviews and how much people loved it really kicked into gear," he said.
Marla Backer, an analyst with Hudson Square Research, said on Monday that the staying power of "Dragon" indicates it will likely outperform "Monsters."
"Generally it's premature to count a film out after the first weekend, unless it's really significantly off from expectations," Backer said.
Movies typically drop about 40 to 50 percent from their first to second weekend, Dergarabedian said. But a number of recent films have done better than analysts had expected based on their opening.
Dergarabedian pointed to last year's action movie "Taken," which opened to only $24.7 million in the U.S. and Canada but showed holding power, and ended with $145 million.
And "Avatar's" record-breaking $2.7 billion performance at worldwide box offices could not have been predicted from its opening tally of more than $230 million, analysts said.
It remains to be seen if Lions Gate Entertainment Corp's action comedy "Kick-Ass" can overcome a lower-than-expected opening.
The film made $19.8 million and edged out "How to Train Your Dragon" this past weekend in the second photo-finish in a row in the race for the No. 1 spot.
The studio says that exit polling shows that audiences liked "Kick-Ass." And despite a scathing review from Roger Ebert, the film has a 78 percent approval rating from critics at the website RottenTomatoes.com.
Editing by Dean Goodman