An Action Star Is Born? Not Just Yet in ‘Prince’
LOS ANGELES — In the opening scenes of “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” a wise man cautions the title character, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, not to take on too much. The warning: “You’re just not ready for this.”
The words proved an omen for Mr. Gyllenhaal in real life over the weekend, as an effort to recast him as an action hero — a star capable of anchoring a big summer movie — ended in disappointment. “Prince of Persia” sold an estimated $37.8 million in tickets in North American theaters over the holiday weekend, a weak performance for a film that cost about $200 million to make and carried global marketing costs of more than $100 million.
“Prince of Persia,” from the producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney Studios, entered the market in second place. DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek Forever After” was No. 1 in its second week, with a strong $55.7 million, an indication that positive word of mouth has followed the film’s so-so box office start. Premium-priced 3-D tickets also helped. Total domestic sales for “Shrek Forever After” now stand at $145.5 million.
The other new release of note, “Sex and the City 2,” was third, with about $37.1 million, according to Hollywood.com, which compiles box office statistics. Warner Brothers released this R-rated sequel, which cost about $100 million to make, on Thursday to grab any fans who planned to travel over the holiday. Adding in Thursday sales, “Sex and the City 2” sold a total of $51.4 million.
Scathing critical reviews for the latest installment of this long-in-the-tooth franchise may have dented its appeal. Sales for the first five days of “Sex and the City 2” were down 24 percent, compared with its predecessor.
“Prince of Persia,” based on a video game, started rolling out in international markets on May 21. Its global box office take now stands at $133.3 million. “We had a sensational weekend overseas,” said Chuck Viane, Walt Disney Studio’s president of distribution, noting solid returns in Russia and China in particular.
Mr. Viane said he hoped “Prince of Persia” would get a boost in North America as the school year concluded in coming days. “I think we’re going to have a pretty good ride,” he said.
Even so, Prince of Persia” has a Herculean climb to profitability if you factor in supersize paychecks for Mr. Bruckheimer and others, and the 50 percent cut taken by theater owners.
What went wrong? Theories abound. The sensitive Mr. Gyllenhaal dived into the role, growing his hair long and chiseling his physique. But he has primarily found success in movies tailored to a narrower audience.
Films based on video games don’t have good track records. And, Mr. Viane said, “an unbelievable collision of sporting events” over the weekend may have hurt the picture too.
Marketing may also have played a role. Feedback from test audiences before the film’s release was hugely positive. When turnout is poor after good test screenings, it often suggests that the public doesn’t like what it sees in the marketing materials. Disney fired its top marketing executives in a management overhaul late last year and has only recently installed a new team.
“Prince of Persia” is the third box office letdown in a row from Mr. Bruckheimer, whose last two films were “G-Force” and “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” His next, a fantasy starring Nicolas Cage called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” is to be released July 14.
“Iron Man 2” (Marvel Entertainment) was fourth in earnings over the holiday weekend, with about $20.6 million, giving it a new domestic total of more than $279 million. “Robin Hood” (Universal Pictures) was fifth, with about $13.6 million, bringing its domestic total to $86.3 million.
Over all, domestic ticket sales stood at $182.2 million for the weekend, a 15 percent decline from the same period last year, according to Hollywood.com.