* Fourth “Shrek” falls short of forecasts
* Film earns $71.3 million in North America
* “MacGruber” bombs with $4.1 million (New throughout, quotes, details of other films)
By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES, May 23 (Reuters) - Shrek is not as green as he used to be.
“Shrek Forever After,” the fourth movie in DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc’s DWA.O lucrative series about a jolly green giant, took the top spot at the weekend box office in North America, but it fell short of expectations, according to studio estimates issued on Sunday.
The film earned $71.3 million during its first three days of release, far short of industry predictions that it could surpass $100 million.
Of the previous “Shrek” films, “Shrek the Third” opened to $121.6 million in 2007, “Shrek 2” earned $108 million during its first weekend in 2004, and “Shrek” kicked off the franchise with $42 million in 2001.
The new film opened “on the low end” of forecasts, said Anne Globe, the company’s head of worldwide marketing and consumer products, but she noted that it still ranks as the fourth-biggest opening of all time among animated films, behind the previous two Shreks and “The Simpsons” ($74 million).
Moreover, it broke new territory for both the company and for animation in general by being the fourth film in a franchise, Globe said. The studio has promised this will be the final film in the series.
Sales from 3D theaters accounted for 61 percent of the total. Such locations charge a premium, and reports surfaced last week that the AMC theater chain had broken the $20 per ticket barrier for the first time. By Saturday, the closely held firm said that was a mistake, and prices for 3D screenings range ranged between $17 and $19.
Globe expected the movie to hold up well over the next few weeks, because the next big family offering, rival animation powerhouse Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) “Toy Story 3,” does not open until June 18.
DreamWorks Animation’s previous release, “How To Train Your Dragon,” was considered a disappointment after it earned a relatively modest $44 million during its first weekend in March, and the studio’s share price fell 8 percent the following Monday.
But the movie has displayed strong staying power, with sales to date of $211 million. Still, the stock price closed at $34.87 on Friday, down 18.5 percent since “Dragon” opened. The Nasdaq — and Disney — are each off 7 percent in the same period.
“Shrek Forever After,” with the voice cast including Michael Myers, Antonio Banderas, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, cost about $135 million to make. Worldwide marketing costs will be about $165 million, Globe said.
The film also earned about $26 million after opening in seven countries. Russia accounted for $20 million — narrowly beating “Avatar” to claim the country’s all-time record. The bulk of the other openings were in Asian markets, such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand.
After leading the North American box office for the previous two weekends, “Iron Man 2” slipped to No. 2 with $26.6 million. The superhero sequel has earned $251.3 million to date, and an additional $268 million internationally. The film was produced by Disney’s Marvel Studios. Its 2008 predecessor ended its worldwide run with $585 million.
Both “Shrek Forever After” and “Iron Man 2” were distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc VIAb.N.
Russell Crowe’s “Robin Hood” fell to No. 3 with $18.7 million in its second weekend. The 10-day total for the Universal Pictures release stands at $66.1 million. The foreign total rose to $125 million after a $30 million weekend.
The North American top-10 included two other new releases, neither making much of a splash. “MacGruber,” a comedy based on a “Saturday Night Live” skit came in at No. 6 with $4.1 million. Pundits had forecast an opening in the high single digits for the low-budget movie. General Electric Co (GE.N)-owned Universal distributed on behalf of closely held financier Relativity Media.
The Bollywood movie “Kites” flew in at No. 10 with about $1 million from 208 theaters, reportedly the widest release of any Hindi film to date and the first time such a film has cracked the top tier. The Las Vegas-set action romance was released by Reliance Big Pictures, a unit of Indian conglomerate Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman To read more about our entertainment news, visit our blog "Fan Fare" online at blogs.reuters.com/fanfare/