In true straightforward comic-book style TMNT starts with a brief backstory (without the laborious explanation on why four turtles and a rat become human-like in the first place) and then launches into the heart of the movie. After the defeat of their old arch nemesis The Shredder the Turtles—fun-lovin’ Michelangelo (Mikey Kelly) tech guru Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) hotheaded Raphael (Nolan North) and pragmatic leader Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor)--have grown apart as a family. While Leo is off honing his craft the turtles no longer fight crime--except Raphael who still fights crime under the pseudonym Nightwatcher. Struggling to keep them together is their rat sensei Master Splinter (the late Mako). But strange things are brewing. Tech-industrialist Max Winters (Patrick Stewart) is amassing an army of ancient monsters to apparently take over the world. With the help of old allies April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Casey Jones (Chris Evans) the Turtles finally come together as brothers to fight the good fight and once again face the mysterious Foot Clan who have put their own ninja skills behind Winters' endeavors. As opposed to hiring just A-list actors TMNT is a nice eclectic mix of veteran voice-over artists who give the Turtles their voices and regular actors such as Gellar Stewart and Evans. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’s Ziyi Zhang also gets in on the action providing the voice of the Foot Clan leader Karai who was once an enemy of the Turtles but now sees the value in what they do. Of course there isn’t a Robin Williams or Ben Stiller to laugh with but Kelly is pretty funny as Michelangelo who has had to resort to entertaining kids at birthday parties as “Cowabunga Carl ” a clown-for-hire in a “fake” turtle suit. It will all depend on whether those ninja-fightin’ pizza-eatin’ giant turtles still have a monetary appeal but methinks a new TMNT movie franchise has been born. The comic book was created in 1984 by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman as a spoof to the superhero stories and quickly took off into merchandising heaven with a toy license and then a television series. The original 1990 live-action movie used state-of-the-art animatronics but somehow felt static and fake. Since the last TMNT movie in 1993 the whole Turtle phenomenon has sort of fallen off the radar at least in the U.S. so the time was ripe for a renovation. Using the innovative CGI we know and love this new TMNT--created by a team of animators from California and Hong Kong under the watchful direction of Kevin Munroe--gives the Turtles not to mention all the otherworldly monsters they have to fight a realistic look and feel. With this kind of freedom the film can focus on the action which is the best part of the TMNT lore. Though the demographics may skew male ages 8-11 (as well as those 8-to-11-year-old boys who loved it back in the day and are now grown men) TMNT is just your basic supercharged animated fun.
Julia Roberts showed great box-office legs as Universal's "Erin Brockovich" held on to the top spot on the chart.
"Erin Brockovich" The R-rated dramatic comedy, co-financed by Universal and Columbia, finished first in its second week with a sexy estimated $19.03 million (-32%) at 2,851 theaters (+3 theaters, $6,675 per theater). Its total to date is approximately $56.3 million.
"This is a picture that is obviously a crowd pleaser," Universal Distribution President Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "The exit polls were very indicative that the picture would have legs, and now we're just playing out.
"It's a difficult marketplace because the Academy Awards (Best Picture nominees) did take a huge visibility on a weekend like this. It's quite obvious when you look at what 'Cider House Rules' and 'American Beauty' did. There were tons of activity last night on the Academy nominated films. We had calculated this into the (release) plan. That's why we opened last weekend."
How will Sunday's Oscar telecast affect "Erin"? "We certainly feel that 'Erin' will suffer," Rocco replied. "We would normally have a great Sunday with this kind of film, and we know it will be impacted to some extent. We show that we're down 32% in our estimate. If it weren't for the Oscars, we probably would have been down 20%."
A drop of only 20% would have given "Erin" a gross of about $22.5 million for the weekend, about $3.5 million more than it's likely to wind up with, given its Oscar competition.
"We've got our version of Super Tuesday going the weekend of April 7, where we have six major (international) territories releasing, including the U.K., Spain and Germany," Sony Pictures Releasing President Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
"I think it's a real sign of the times that even though Erin Brockovich is not a familiar name (abroad), certainly Julia Roberts is not an unfamiliar name. So we felt good about being aggressive and putting the international territories very close to the U.S. date. I think the tremendous publicity it's getting out of its back-to-back No. 1 finishes -- and I wouldn't bet against it next week, either -- will really put us in a great place. I think pretty much everyone around the world has now heard of 'Erin Brockovich.'"
Sony and Universal, he noted, "are 50% partners in everything around the world. They're releasing domestic, and we're releasing internationally."
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, it stars Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckart.
Warner Bros.' R-rated hip-hop, kung-fu movie "Romeo Must Die" kicked off in second place with a knock 'em dead estimated $18.58 million at 2,641 theaters ($7,035 per theater). Its total to date after five days is approximately $25.1 million.
Its per-theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak and produced by Joel Silver and Jim Van Wyck, it stars Jet Li, Aaliyah, Russell Wong, DMX and Delroy Lindo.
"'Romeo' is performing extremely well," Warner Bros. Distribution President Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "The exit polls are excellent. CinemaScore actually ranked it an A-minus, which parallels our own exits. The majority of the audience is split evenly between male and female under 25. That's driven by Jet Li, Aaliyah, the music, the MTV video and, of course, a fantastic campaign created by (Warners' creative advertising head) Joel Wayne.
"It's the second-largest three-day opening of any action-adventure movie from January through April. That's only behind 'The Matrix.' Joel Silver has one and two (having produced 'Matrix' for Warners)."
New Line's R-rated suspense thriller "Final Destination" held on to third place in its second weekend, holding well with an estimated $7.10 million (-29%) at 2,587 theaters (theater count unchanged, $2,744 per theater). Its total to date is approximately $20.3 million.
Directed by James Wong, it stars Devon Sawa, Ali Larter and Kerr Smith.
"We're thrilled out of our minds," New Line distribution head David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "For a teen-age horror picture to drop 29% when we had two teen-age pictures plus 'Romeo Must Die' open up on top of us -- it's terrific. We were hoping (for only a) 40% drop. Six million dollars would have been great."
Where does it wind up? "I would say it's going to be $35 million," Tuckerman speculated.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's "Mission to Mars" was falling in its third week, down two orbits to fourth place with a slower estimated $5.80 million (-48%) at 3,101 theaters (+41 theaters, $1,870 per theater). Its total to date is approximately $49.3 million.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13-rated romantic drama "Here on Earth" arrived in fifth place with a quiet estimated $4.60 million at 1,712 theaters ($2,687 per theater).
Directed by Mark Piznarski and produced by David T. Friendly, it stars Chris Klein, Leelee Sobieski and Josh Hartnett.
Columbia's PG-13-rated teen-appeal romantic comedy "Whatever It Takes" from Phoenix Pictures took only enough ticket sales to open in sixth place with a calm estimated $4.30 million at 2,272 theaters ($1,893 per theater).
Directed by David Raynr, it stars Shane West, Marla Sokoloff and Jodi Lyn O'Keefe.
"It's a $15 million picture (in terms of cost), and we should gross that," Sony Pictures Releasing President Jeff Blake pointed out Sunday morning. "And with spring break coming up, the weekdays should be pretty good. We certainly won't get hurt. And it should have nice ancillaries."
DreamWorks' R-rated drama "American Beauty," the front-running Best Picture Oscar contender, held on to seventh place in its 28th week with a still beautiful estimated $3.90 million (+25%) at 1,662 theaters (+1 theater, $2,347 per theater). Its total to date is approximately $108.4 million.
Directed by Sam Mendes, it stars Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening.
Warner Bros. PG-rated family drama "My Dog Skip" from Alcon Entertainment fell four rungs to eighth place in its 11th week with an OK estimated $3.24 million (-38%) at 2,331 theaters (theater count unchanged, $1,390 per theater). Its total to date is approximately $26.2 million.
Directed by Jay Russell, "Skip" stars Frankie Muniz, Diane Lane, Luke Wilson and Kevin Bacon.
Miramax's PG-13-rated Best Picture Oscar contender "The Cider House Rules" fell one notch to ninth in its 16th week with a solid estimated $2.80 million (+13%) at 1,671 theaters (-67 theaters, $1,675 per theater). Its total to date is approximately $49.7 million.
Directed by Lasse Hallström, it stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd and Michael Caine.
"It was at $23 million before the nominations," Miramax's David Kaminow, senior vice president for marketing, pointed out Sunday morning. He noted that "Cider" had more than doubled its total to date thanks to its high profile in the Oscar race (with seven nominations).
Rounding out the Top Ten was Warner Bros.' "The Whole Nine Yards," the R-rated 'hit' comedy from Morgan Creek and Franchise Pictures, down four pegs in its sixth weekend with a quieter estimated $2.08 million (-37%) at 2,109 theaters (-394 theaters, $985 per theater). Its total to date is approximately $54.2 million.
Directed by Jonathan Lynn, "Yards" stars Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry.
OTHER OPENINGS Last weekend also saw the arrival of USA Films' R-rated drama "Waking the Dead," placing 26th with a not very lively estimated $0.18 million at 63 theaters ($2,860 per theater).
Directed by Keith Gordon, it stars Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly.
SNEAK PREVIEWS Last weekend saw MGM hold 640 sneak previews Saturday night of its PG-rated romantic comedy "Return to Me."
"They were s upendous," an MGM spokesperson said Sunday morning. "About 60% were either sold out or three-quarters full. We did exit polls, and 85% were in the Top Two Boxes (excellent or very good) with an 80% definite recommend. They're pretty tremendous. It was 60% female."
"Return" opens Apr. 7 at about 2,000 theaters.
Directed by Bonnie Hunt, it stars David Duchovny and Minnie Driver.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, last weekend saw Fox Searchlight's "Boys Don't Cry" widen in its 24th week, placing 17th and benefiting from its Oscar acting nominations with an estimated $0.77 million (+51%) at 285 theaters (+25 theaters, $2,712 per theater). Its total to date is approximately $7.9 million.
Directed by Kimberly Peirce, it stars Hilary Swank, a leading contender in the Best Actress Oscar race, and Chloë Sevigny, a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee.
"It's caught four waves of publicity," Fox Searchlight Distribution President Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "The year-end Best Actress critics awards. Then it got the Golden Globes. Then it got the (Oscar) nominations. Two weeks ago, (Swank) had a round of publicity through all the talk shows -- from Charlie Rose to Rosie -- and then this week we've got the awards. With The Wall Street Journal (prediction that Swank would win), she got a whole new wave (of publicity). It's absolutely phenomenal.
"The surge that we've seen (is) in many of the theaters that have playing a long time. At the Sunset (in West Hollywood), in the 23rd week, it's up 80% this weekend. It's quite extraordinary. In New York City, theaters are up 40-50-60%, theaters that have been playing it for months. Each time we've had a round of publicity, it sort of reaches the consciousness of another group of moviegoers."
USA Films PG-rated suspense drama reissue "Rear Window" widened in its 10th week, placing 29th with a quiet estimated $0.069 million (-22%) at 39 theaters (+2 theaters, $1,780 per theater). Its total to date is approximately $1.4 million.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Robert Harris and James Katz restored the 1954 film classic.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $80.41 million, up about 23.20% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $65.27 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 6.95% from this year's previous weekend, when key films grossed $86.42 million.
Last year, DreamWorks' second week of "Forces of Nature" was first with $9.44 million at 2,224 theaters ($4,244 per theater) and Warner Bros.' fourth week of "Analyze This" was second with $8.67 million at 2,537 theaters ($3,418 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $18.1 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $37.6 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES Based on business by key films, last weekend's top six distributors were the following:
Warner Bros. was first with four films ("Romeo Must Die," "My Dog Skip," "The Green Mile" and "The Whole Nine Yards") grossing an estimated $24.52 million or 30.5% of the market.
Universal was second with one film ("Erin Brockovich") grossing an estimated $19.03 million or 23.7% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney, Touchstone) was third with four films ("Mission to Mars," "The Tigger Movie," "The Sixth Sense" and "Fantasia 2000") grossing an estimated $9.40 million or 11.7% of the market.
New Line was fourth with one film ("Final Destination") grossing an estimated $7.10 million or 8.8% of the market.
20th Century Fox (Fox and Fox Searchlight) was fifth with two films ("Here on Earth" and "Wonder Boys") grossing an estimated $5.37 million or 6.7% of the market.
Sony Pictures Releasing (Columbia and TriStar) was sixth with one film ("Whatever It Takes") grossing an estimated $4.30 million or 5.3% of the market.
(11) "The Ninth Gate"/Artisan Theaters: 1,684 (+37) Gross: $1.72 million (-51%) Average per theater: $1,015 Total to date: $15.4 million
(12) "Fantasia 2000"/BV/Disney Theaters: 54 (0) (all IMAX) Gross: $1.40 million (domestic) (-8%) Average per theater: $26,123 Total to date: $36 million (domestic)
(13) "The Sixth Sense"/BV/Touchstone Theaters: 876 (-2) Gross: $1.30 million (+25%) Average per theater: $1,500 Total to date: $290.3 million
(14) "Snow Day"/Paramount Theaters: 1,924 (-463) Gross: $0.88 million (-60%) Average per theater: $455 Total to date: $57.7 million
(15) "The Tigger Movie"/BV/Disney Theaters: 1,360 (-341) Gross: $0.90 million (-49%) Average per theater: $665 Total to date: $43.0 million
(16) "Drowning Mona"/Destination Theaters: 1,126 (-587) Gross: $0.79 million (-54%) Average per theater: $705 Total to date: $14.8 million
(17) "Boys Don't Cry"/Fox Searchlight (see EXPANSIONS above)
(18) "Wonder Boys"/Paramount Theaters: 1,210 (-248) Gross: $0.69 million (-42%) Average per theater: $570 Total to date: $18 million
(19) "The Next Best Thing"/Paramount Theaters: 1,682 (-353) Gross: $0.66 million (-60%) Average per theater: $390 Total to date: $14.5 million
(20) "Pitch Black"/USA Films Theaters: 917 (-467) Gross: $0.65 million (-55%) Average per theater: $705 Total to date: $37.6 million
(21) "The Green Mile"/Castle Rock/Warner Bros. Theaters: 438 (-335) Gross: $0.51 million (-15%) Average per theater: $1,164 Total to date: $135.1 million
(22) "Reindeer Games"/Dimension Theaters: 941 (-760) Gross: $0.49 million (-63%) Average per theater: $515 Total to date: $22.8 million
(23) "Beyond the Mat"/Lions Gate Theaters: 298 (0) Gross: $0.38 million (-61%) Average per theater: $1,260 Total to date: $1.6 million
(24) "3 Strikes"/MGM Theaters: 544 (-134) Gross: $0.36 million (-64%) Average per theater: $650 Total to date: $9.3 million
(25) "Scream 3"/Dimension Theaters: 763 (-553) Gross: $0.32 million (-65%) Average per theater: $415 Total to date: $86.5 million
(26) "Waking the Dead"/USA Films (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(27) "The Hurricane"/Universal Theaters: 306 (-30) Gross: $0.13 million (-35%) Average per theater: $425 Total to date: $50 million
(28) "Topsy-Turvy"/USA Films Theaters: 101 (-8) Gross: $0.13 million (-6%) Average per theater: $1,260 Total to date: $5.6 million
(29) "Rear Window"/USA Films (see EXPANSIONS above)