April 3, 2006

‘Ice Age’ Sequel Heats Up Worldwide Box Office

By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES -- The animated sequel "Ice Age: The Meltdown" froze out its rivals at the box office, selling about $114 million worth of tickets in North America and a slew of foreign territories during its first three days of release, distributor 20th Century Fox said on Sunday.

The North American haul of $70.5 million ranks as the best opening of the year, and exceeded the News Corp.-owned studio's expectations of about $55 million. Its 2002 predecessor, "Ice Age," opened with $46 million, and went on to earn $176 million.

The foreign contribution of $43.4 million came from "about half the world," the studio said, including Mexico and Argentina, where it set all-time opening records. The film has yet to open in such key markets as Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Australia.

Ray Romano, Denis Leary and John Leguizamo return as the voices of, respectively, a woolly mammoth, a saber-toothed tiger and a sloth, who must confront the threat of global warming. They are joined by Queen Latifah, who also voices a woolly mammoth.

The sequel cost about $80 million to make, up from its original estimate of $65 million, because Fox sped up production to 14 to 18 months instead of the usual 18 to 24 months, in order to get the movie in theaters before a rush of summer cartoons, such as the June 9 entry "Cars" from Walt Disney Co.'s Pixar Animation Studios Inc.


Fox has not locked in the talent for a third "Ice Age" film but doubts that will be a problem, said Chris Meledandri, president of 20th Century Fox Animation, which oversees the Blue Sky Studios production unit where the films were made. The next Fox/Blue Sky release will be an adaptation of Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hears a Who" in spring 2008, he said.

Until "Ice Age: The Meltdown," the biggest three-day opening this year in North America had been recorded by the comedy "Madea's Family Reunion," with $30 million in February.

Overall business was quiet in the first quarter, with few movies garnering much mainstream support. Even most of the major Academy Award-nominated films failed to click with moviegoers.

Ticket sales through last weekend stood at about $2 billion, up less than 1 percent from the year-ago period, according to box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. The number of tickets sold fell by 2 percent to about 300 million, it said.

"Ice Age: The Meltdown" earned more than the combined total of the other movies in the top 10. Last weekend's champion, Universal Pictures' heist thriller "Inside Man," slipped to No. 2 with $15.7 million. Warner Bros.' "ATL," an urban romantic drama set at an Atlanta skating rink, opened at No. 3 with $12.5 million, exceeding the studio's expectations by about $3 million. It cost $22.5 million to make, it said.

Sharon Stone bombed again, this time with "Basic Instinct 2," the belated sequel to her 1992 hit. The erotic thriller earned just $3.2 million, said distributor Columbia Pictures, tying at No. 10 with Lionsgate's comedy "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector."

The top-10 contained one other new release, Universal's low-budget horror film "Slither," which opened at No. 8 with a similarly disappointing $3.7 million.

Universal Pictures is a unit of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal Inc. Warner Bros. Pictures is a unit of Time Warner Inc. Columbia Pictures is a unit of Sony Corp. Lionsgate is a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.