SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM, 3RD UPDATE: After some initial uncertainty, this was indeed the comeback weekend that finally ended Hollywood’s extended 2011 slump at the North American box office. Because after a weak Friday, most of these pics grossed stronger on Saturday. The overall total is around $134 million, 11.7% ahead of last year’s $119M. Meanwhile, this weekend Twentieth Century Fox’s Rio 3D posted the best G-rated family pic opening since Toy Story 3, The Weinstein Co’s Scream 4 whimpered, Warner Bros’ Arthur slipped still more, FilmDistrict’s Insidious and Soul Surfer stayed strong, and Robert Redford’s The Conspirator debuted #9 in the Top 10 despite playing in only 707 theaters:

1. Rio 3D (Fox) NEW [3,826 Theaters]
Friday $10.2M, Saturday $17.1M, Weekend $40M, Global $168M

Twentieth Century Fox’s Latin-flavored toon Rio 3D already is #1 internationally with after opening in 92 territories and a premiere in Rio De Janeiro. With this weekend’s $53.5M earned overseas from 20 territories adding to its already $79.2M from 72 territories last week, plus domestic tally of $40M, its worldwide cume is now $168M. It finally opened in the U.S. and Canada Friday and earned a top “A” CinemaScore as well as the top spot. Made by Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha as a tribute to his hometown’s natural beauty and upbeat lifestyle, the bird flew past the studio’s mid-$30s target and even Hollywood’s $38M projections. With not many schools out Friday, Saturday’s kiddie matinees overperformed. Made for just a $90M budget because of tax breaks in Connecticut where Blue Sky Studios is based, the pic is playing in 3,826 theaters, of which 2,591 are 3D with higher ticket prices. Still, many made the point that Rio should have made a lot more than 2D Hop‘s $37.5M opening. (Hop‘s budget was under $65M.) Which once again raises the question whether moviegoers and especially families are willing to pay the premium for 3D. Still, it’s yet another win for Blue Sky Studios, the digital animation house wholly owned by Twentieth Century Fox and responsible for the blockbuster Ice Age franchise films.  “We have always managed to make our animated films for much less and because we are based back East, we don’t succumb to the West Coast animation arms race that escalates prices,’ a 20th exec tells me. Marketed as a comedy-adventure about a domesticated Macaw taking a walk on the wild side, Rio has a voice cast including Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Jemaine Clements, Leslie Mann, Tracy Morgan, will.i.am, George Lopez and Jamie Foxx; and music by award-winning Brazilian producer Sergio Mendes and composer John Powell. Blue Sky’s productions include Robots (2005) and Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who

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Rio‘s world premiere took place in Rio De Janeiro on March 22 with people singing and sambaing all night long. Sergio Mendes and Carlinious Brown played a concert afterward, while Jamie Foxx and Taio Cruz rocked out. As one Fox exec recalls: “It really was a cross cultural explosion, with the movie as a metaphor for the creative melting pot of pop culture. Really hip, but really heartfelt at the same time. Most of the audience had tears in their eyes at the end.” That same day, Fox and Rovio launched the much-hyped “Angry Birds Rio” app. The toon also made Super Bowl commercial history when the 30-second Rio commercial became the first ever to air with an embedded code. That code directed them to a special level and to a Rio sweepstakes. Twentieth Century Fox lined up an impressive list of promotional partners including creative and non-traditional alliances like Overstock.com, Benjamin Moore, McDonalds, and Chiquita. Eschewing traditional package goods tie-ins for family films, Fox and Overstock created a boutique inspired by Rio showcasing a variety of products themed to the movie and its personalities. This was Benjamin Moore’s and Chiquita’s first motion picture partnerships. Fox and McDonalds took a somewhat more traditional promotional approach, though the fast food restaurants mounted giant branded beach balls atop its roofs. Key international promotional partners included Nestle Cereals, Ferrero Chocolates, Chupa Chups, Oreo (turned cookies blue), Duracell, The Gap, Peugeot, etc. 

2. Scream 4 (Miramax/Dimension/Weinstein Co) NEW [3,305 Theaters]
Friday: $8.2M, Saturday $6.6M, Weekend $19.2M, Global $49.2M

Before Scream 4 was released this weekend, tracking indicated an opening in the mid- to high $20sM for this 4th film in the Scream franchise which comes 11 years after the 3rd film. But after Friday’s so-so debut and Saturday’s declining grosses, it won’t make even the lower end of predictions. The Miramax/Dimension/Weinstein Co’s 15-year-old Scream franchise kept the formula that made it so popular in the first place — including producer/director Wes Craven, screenwriter Kevin Williamson who bailed mid-production because of Weinstein meddling, and orignal castmembers Courteney Cox, David Arquette, and Neve Campbell — then added Hayden Panettiere and Emma Roberts (Julia’s niece and Eric’s daughter). Maybe the entire concept should have been reworked. The result is that Scream as a franchise has little life left in it domestically even though the Weinsteins kept insisting that it had a lot. Overseas, it earned an estimated $18M across 30 territories releasing day & date this weekend. 

3. Hop (Universal) Week 3 [3,608 Theaters] 
Friday $2.3M, Saturday $5.2M, Weekend $11.1M, Cume $82.6M, Global $112M

The little fella is heading to $115M domestic all in. Now, let’s look at international, which shaped up as a feathers vs fur box office battle dominated by pre-Easter family films Rio and Hop. Not every foreign land has a tradition of an easter bunny (let alone one that poops jelly beans). Hop grossed another $10.3M from 45 territories for a new foreign cume of $29.4M. But it still trails Rio almost everywhere. As a Universal rep admits to me, “Rio is outperforming us, in part because of the higher 3D ticket price. The above examples show that family films are dominating the international box office. There is room in the marketplace for two family films and Hop is holding its own against Rio.” Opening outside of school holidays almost everywhere, Rio took the #1 ranking in nearly every market’s debut, with several openings that were the biggest in their markets to date this year. Fox International co-presidents Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus are even more hopeful with UK and Australia school holidays that began this week.

4. Soul Surfer (FilmDistrict/Sony) Week 2 [2,214 Theaters]
Friday $2.1M, Saturday $3.2M, Weekend $7.4M (-30%), Cume $19.9M

Look at that impressive word of mouth! And this is just one of FilmDistrict’s moneymakers in theaters now.

5. Hanna (Focus Features) Week 2 [2,545 Theaters]
Friday $2.1M, Saturday $3.4M, Weekend $7.3M (-41%), Cume $23.3M

A very decent hold for the little lady…

6. Arthur (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,276 Theaters]
Friday $2.1M, Saturday $3.2M, Weekend $6.9M (-43%), Cume $22.3M

Yikes! Who else thinks Russell Brand will be lucky to star in a sitcom for the 2012-2013 TV season?

7. Insidious (FilmDistrict) Week 3 [2,233 Theaters]
Friday $2.3M, Saturday $3M, Weekend $6.8M, Cume $35.9M

Now this is a horror movie, and made for only $1 million by the Paranormal Activity people. Kudos to FilmDistrict president of theatrical distribution Bob Berney for continuing smart marketing and only a -27% drop from last weekend (and Soul Surfer staying strong…).

8. Source Code (Summit) Week 3 [2,557 Theaters]
Friday $1.8M, Saturday $3.1M, Weekend $6.3M, Cume $36.9M

9. The Conspirator (Roadside Attractions) NEW [707 Theaters]
Friday $1.1M, Saturday $1.7M, Weekend $3.9M

At first Robert Redford’s dramatic thriller about “the story you dont know about the Lincoln assassination” scripted by James Solomon (story by Solomon and Gregory Bernstein) couldn’t find a distributor. Then Howard Cohen’s Roadside Attractions saw the indie’s potential and stepped up for the highest profile acquisition title at the Toronto Film Festival, and now it exceeded box office gross projections despite a limited release. The pic went up 44% from Friday to Saturday, and is selling out matinees across the country. “Looks like we motivated an older audience to come out opening weekend, which is a big thing, for a $5,550 per screen average,” a rep for financier The American Film Cimpany tells me. “The movie came in at the high end of our expectations.” With classy stars like James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, and Tom Wilkinson, plus Redford at the helm, there was thinking this was an Oscar pic. But there wasn’t time to get a campaign together for 2010′s race. No question this under-$25M budgeted film is nice inaugural success for TAFC’s planned series of historical American pics. TAFC is owned by billionaire Joe Rickets, founder of Ameritrade and owner of the Chicago Cubs. Which is why, on April 1st, Redford — star of The Natural – threw out the opening pitch at the Cubs game in connection with a premiere of the film in Chicago. 

Redford fronted a huge PR effort for the film, ranging from a cool sepia-toned cover of Parade magazine this past Sunday which reaches 30 million homes, to the cast doing a full hour on CNN’s Piers Morgan talker, to a full-page Time magazine 10-question interview with Redford (with Lincoln on the cover of the magazine). And of course one of the pic’s premieres was at the Ford’s Theatre. Marketing was targeted to the over-25 audience, and a combo of heartland audience and high-end arthouse as well as history buffs and Redford fans. “Our materials tested significantly above norm: people are fascinated by the Lincoln assassination,” an exec tells me. National Geographic aired a companion documentary on the subject this week that the filmmakers made. Next weekend, the film expands for another 300 runs. Greg Shapiro, Brian Falk, Robert Stone, Bill Holderman produced while Ricketts, Jeremiah Samuels and Webster Stone were exec producers.

10. Your Highness (Universal) Week 2 [2,772 Theaters]
Friday $1.2M, Saturday $1.8M, Weekend $3.8M (-58%), Cume $15.9M

What a complete flop. The last of the previous Universal administration’s losers.