‘Rio’ Soars To Box-Office #1 With Biggest Debut Of 2011

Animated 3-D flick draws big bucks, while 'Scream 4' scares up disappointing #2.

Hollywood accountants got just what they needed from two little bluebirds over the weekend as “Rio” enjoyed the biggest debut of any movie in 2011 thus far. The latest animated outing from the company behind the “Ice Age” franchise, about a pair of endangered South American birds, beat the weekend openings of rival kid flicks “Rango” and “Hop” with its estimated $40 million weekend.

Featuring the voice talents of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, George Lopez, will.i.am and more, “Rio” did 58 percent of its business in 3-D screenings, which helped lift the overall box office 11 percent, marking the first increase against 2010 numbers in eight weekends. The “Rio” debut is still far behind the opening of last spring’s “How to Train Your Dragon” and previous Blue Sky Studios hits like the “Ice Age” series, “Robots” and “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!”

Meanwhile, the first “Scream” movie in 11 years fell well below expectations with its $19.2 million opening. “Scream 4″ was #2 on the box office tally, according to studio estimates. Uniting returning castmembers Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox with a cast of younger newcomers wasn’t enough to beat the debuts of either of the other sequels to the 1996 original.

“Scream 3″ debuted with $34.7 million in 2000, which would be about $52 million adjusted for ticket price inflation. It remains to be seen whether Dimension Films, director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson will forge ahead with more chapters of their self-referential horror franchise following the past weekend’s numbers.

Robert Redford’s post-Civil War drama “The Conspirator” was the weekend’s other new release. It opened at #9 with $3.9 million in limited release, playing on just over 700 screens across the country, versus the 3,826 screens where people could see “Rio.” Redford directed James McAvoy and Robin Wright Penn in the story about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

The Easter-themed “Hop” crossed the $80 million mark over the weekend with another $11.1 million in box office receipts. Featuring the voice of Russell Brand as a conflicted young Easter Bunny, the Universal Pictures mix of live action and animation has earned an estimated $82.6 million. On the other hand, the remake of the Dudley Moore classic “Arthur” (which features Brand in the title role) fell to #6 during its second weekend of release with just $6.9 million for a $22.3 million total.

Telling the true story of a teenage surfer who was back on the board one month after losing most of one arm in a shark attack, “Soul Surfer” was #4 with $7.4 million for a $19.9 million total. The faith-driven inspirational tale has recouped its estimated $18 million budget in just two weeks.

Teen assassin flick “Hanna” was just behind at #5 with $7.3 million for a $23.3 million total. Film critic Richard Roeper called “Hanna” a “kinetic, vibrant, sometimes completely insane adventure” and declared it “one of the best times you’ll have at the movies this year.”

Next weekend’s new releases include best-selling-novel-turned-drama “Water for Elephants” with Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz; “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family”; and a pair of documentaries: “African Cats” (narrated by Samuel L. Jackson) and “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” from “Supersize Me!” director Morgan Spurlock.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Rio.”

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