Weekend Box Office: ‘300’ rises above ‘Mr. Peabody’

Seven years after the record-breaking run of its predecessor, 300: Rise of An Empire still managed a robust opening of $45.04M over the weekend, beating out DreamWorks Animation’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman. While this is a step down from 300’s $70.88M opening in 2007, which at the time was the largest spring opening ever, it’s one of the better weekends for a March action film, beating out last year’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation ($40.5M) and 2012’s Wrath of the Titans ($33.5M).

The original 300 did so well because it tells the original underdog story: the tale of the 300 Spartans facing the largest army of the ancient world. It’s a story that has been told for thousands of years because it’s understandable and compelling.

Beyond the historical significance of the battle, the hyper-stylized look was distinctive and revolutionary for the time. Nearly every period action film since has copied the look and Zack Snyder has made a career out of the hyper-kinetic slo-mo aesthetic.

The film had a difficult sale (how can you make a sequel without the 300 Spartans?), so the marketing promised more of the same, with events taking place prior to, during, and after the battle of the first film. The battle took the combat to different settings, with a centerpiece on the naval battle. It lacked a premise as straightforward and compelling as the first film,however, and it also lacked a hook (nothing on the level of “THIS … IS … SPARTA!”).

The large opening can be seen as a testament to the goodwill of the first film and the fact that the market hasn’t had a blockbuster action film yet this year. It’s likely to do especially well overseas, opening to a great $87.8M in international markets, pacing nearly 20 percent ahead of the first 300.

In second place was the latest film by DreamWorks Animation, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which opened to a modest $32.2M. Featuring the duo of Mr. Peabody, a hyper-intelligent dog, and Sherman, his adopted boy, traveling through time with the WABAC machine to prevent a space-time catastrophe, the opening is a marked decrease from previous DreamWorks’ March releases (last year’s The Croods opened to $43.64M) and is only slightly better than past disappointments Rise of the Guardians ($23.77M) and Turbo ($21.31M).

Having acquired Classic Media, which owns the rights to a vast amount of characters ranging from Felix the Cat, Betty Boop, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Gumby and the Rankin-Bass Christmas characters, it’s interesting that DreamWorks decided to adapt these characters first. While they were memorable, Mr. Peabody and Sherman were always supporting characters to Rocky and Bullwinkle, and weren’t deep by any means. In fact, Mr. Peabody was somewhat of a jerk in the original shorts, so the new film had to revamp the relationship between the characters to create a more sympathetic father-son dynamic.

However, the film’s marketing didn’t try to emphasize that aspect of the characters, or the shenanigans of time travel, instead trying to hype up Mr. Peabody. Nearly all of the posters and marketing featured Mr. Peabody, but the fatal flaw seems to be that even those who can remember the shorts weren’t told why it was worth going to see this character from a new perspective in a feature-length film.

It also had the misfortune of following two massive animated blockbusters: Frozen, which is nearing closer to $400M each week, and The Lego Movie, which is slowing down, having finished at $11M for the weekend and now stands at $224.97M. It’s likely to have good legs, though; it’ll have family demographic to itself for the entire month of March before Blue Sky Studios’ Rio 2 is released in April.