- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2007

LOS ANGELES — The big, green ogre keeps getting bigger.

“Shrek the Third” took in $122 million in its first weekend, breaking the franchise’s own record for best debut for an animated film, according to studio estimates yesterday.

The latest adventure of the ogre shot past 2004’s “Shrek 2,” the previous record-holder for animated openings with $108 million.

Produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by Paramount, “Shrek the Third” was the third-biggest debut, coming in behind the $151.1 million haul of this month’s “Spider-Man 3” and the $135.6 million gross of last summer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

Executives at DreamWorks Animation and Paramount had expected “Shrek the Third” to open more in range with the debut of “Shrek 2.” Strong business from audiences across the board lifted “Shrek the Third” well above projections.

“The opening was significantly beyond our expectations,” said Anne Globe, head of marketing for DreamWorks Animation. “The movie played much more like an all-audience movie. It played broadly to general and family audiences.”

Adding in $900,000 the movie grossed during previews Thursday night, “Shrek the Third” has taken in $122.9 million.

“Shrek the Third” also took in $13.3 million in four overseas markets: Russia, Ukraine, Romania and the Philippines. The film rolls out to most major countries between mid-June and early July.

The movie reunites Mike Myers, voice of the lovably gruff ogre, and co-stars Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas. Justin Timberlake joins the cast as the voice of the future King Arthur, an awkward teenager whom Shrek grooms to rule the land.

After ruling the box office for two weekends, Sony’s “Spider-Man 3” slipped to second place with $28.5 million, raising its domestic total to $281.9 million. Worldwide, “Spider-Man 3” has taken in $747 million.

“Shrek the Third” will likely have a short reign as the No. 1 movie. On Friday, Disney releases “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” with Johnny Depp returning as woozy buccaneer Jack Sparrow in the franchise’s third installment.

Box-office analysts say “At World’s End” has a shot at breaking the debut record of “Spider-Man 3,” though it faces stiff competition from the Spidey sequel and “Shrek the Third.” “At World’s End” also runs nearly three hours, limiting the number of screenings theaters can fit in each day.

“The third film of this massive triumvirate is on the way. Given the strength of ‘Spider-Man 3’ and ‘Shrek the Third,’ anticipation is running extremely high for ‘Pirates 3,’ ” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers. “Both ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Shrek’ exceeded expectations, so who knows with ‘Pirates’? The marketplace is just exploding right now.”

Like “Spider-Man 3,” “Shrek the Third” boosted the overall box office. The top 12 movies took in $172.9 million, up 12 percent from the same weekend a year ago, when “The Da Vinci Code” opened at No. 1 with $77.1 million.

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