Moviegoers were just plain mad for Madea.
Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, the sequel to Perry's surprise hit Diary of a Mad Black Woman, pulled in $30 million to dominate the weekend box office.
That was almost double the runner-up, Eight Below, whose super sled dogs delivered $15.9 million in their second week.
Madea's Family Reunion, a PG-13 Lionsgate release, stars writer-director-producer Perry in several roles including in drag as the ballsy, pistol packing granny. Supporting players include Maya Angelou, Cicely Tyson, Blair Underwood, Jenifer Lewis and Lynn Whitfield.
Steve Rothenberg, president of distribution for Lionsgate, said the company knew the return of the fearless Madea would resonate with African-American audiences, as did Diary of a Mad Black Woman, so they had booked the new movie into more theaters than the earlier hit, which debuted as number one exactly a year ago with $21.9 million at 1,483 locations. Madea's return engagement was booked into 2,194 theaters, where it averaged, per Rothenberg, a "whopping" $13,688 despite not being screened for critics.
But whereas Diary's audience had been 58 percent African-American women over 35, Reunion had 52 percent of that demo, proving that Perry's empowerment-themed sequel is crossing-over to a broader, more ethnical diverse crowd. Rothenberg also reported that the movie scored a remarkable "definitely recommend" response from 93 percent of ticket buyers.
In a press release, Perry said, "I believe that my films and stage plays have universal themes and characters that can appeal to a broad spectrum of audiences, and Lionsgate is the ideal partner in helping to reach these audiences in an innovative and inclusive way."
The weekend's other two wide releases failed to generate much interest--with critics or audiences.
The G-rated computer-generated 'toon Doogal, adapted from the British kiddie series about a sugar-addicted shaggy dog and his chums, earned $3.6 million in eighth place. Unleashed at 2,318 sites it averaged a mere $1,556.
Running Scared, starring Paul Walker, earned $3.4 million in ninth place. The hyper-violent R-rated New Line release opened in 1,611 sites, where it averaged only $2,099.
Walker's other high-profile release, Eight Below, is proving to be a hit. The Disney flick dropped just 21 percent from last weekend and has now mushed its way to $45.2 million.
Also holding strong is Steve Martin's take on The Pink Panther. The Sony comedy only fell 34 percent while remaining in third place in its third week with $11.1 million, pushing its gross to $60.8 million.
But the drop-off was steeper from two other second week holdovers. Fox's Date Movie fell 52 percent, down from second to fourth, but the spoof still scored $9.1 million for a lively $33.8 million total. Freedomland fell 51 percent, from seventh to 10th with just $2.9 million. That brings the gross for Sony's Julianne Moore-Samuel L. Jackson drama to only $10.8 million.
In limited release, the Russian import Night Watch continued its strong showing. Fox Searchlight expanded the supernatural fantasy from three theaters to 34, where it averaged $6,091 for a total of $207,114--a 130 percent increase from last weekend's debut. The R-rated flick not stands at $335,389.
But the top screen average in limited release was for the South African import Tsotsi, a bleak drama about shantytown life that is considered the favorite for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. The R-rated Miramax release, adapted from an Athol Fugard novel, opened at just six sites, where it averaged a strong $12,721 for $76,324.
Of the major Oscar players, Brokeback Mountain continues to do the strongest business. The gay cowboys roped in $2.3 million in 14th place to bring the Focus release's 12-week gross to $75.4 million.
Despite the big debut for Madea's Family Reunion, the overall box office was off 4 percent from last year, when Diary of a Mad Black Woman was the top draw.
Here's a rundown of the top 10 films based on estimates complied by Exhibitor Relations (final figures are due Monday):
1. Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, $30 million
2. Eight Below, $15.9 million
3. The Pink Panther, $11.1 million
4. Date Movie, $9.1 million
5. Curious George, $7.2 million
6. Firewall, $6.7 million
7. Final Destination 3, $5.5 million
8. Doogal, $3.6 million
9. Running Scared, $3.4 million
10. Freedomland, $2.9 million
(Originally published Feb. 26, 2006 at 2:05 p.m. PT.)