Easter went to the birds. Fox's animated adventure "Rio" led the box office for the second weekend in a row, earning $26.8 million according to studio estimates. That's a slim 32 percent drop for the G-rated film, which was produced for $90 million by Blue Sky Studios, of "Ice Age" fame. The tropical toon held up so well in part because most kids were out of school on Friday, giving the film a larger-than-normal start to the weekend. In just two weeks, "Rio," which features the voices of Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway as the world's last two blue macaws, has collected an impressive $81.3 million.
Trailing "Rio" by $1 million was "Madea's Big Happy Family" with $25.8 million. The PG-13 comedy marked Tyler Perry's tenth directing effort in six years, and was the multihyphenate's fourth-best debut, behind "Madea Goes to Jail" ($41 million), "Madea's Family Reunion" ($30 million), and "Why Did I Get Married Too?" ($29.3 million).
Once again, the majority of Perry's audience was older African-American women - "Big Happy Family" drew a crowd that was 81 percent African-American, 72 percent female, and 69 percent over the age of 25. And those fans turned out in big happy numbers, as the film posted the weekend's largest per-theater average ($11,254) for a wide release, and received a superb "A" rating from CinemaScore graders. The Lionsgate release was produced by Perry for only $25 million.
In third place was the PG-13 romantic drama "Water for Elephants," which opened to a solid $17.5 million. Fox's $40 million movie stars Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, and is based on Sara Gruen's bestselling novel. It attracted an audience that was 70 percent female, and earned an overall "A-" grade from CinemaScore moviegoers.
According to CinemaScore's exit polling, Witherspoon and Pattinson carried equal amounts of star power - 42 percent of the audience said the Oscar-winning actress was one of the reasons they attended the movie, while 43 percent said the same thing for the Twilight hunk.
Fourth and fifth place went to two holdovers, with one holding up much better than the other. The Easter Bunny comedy "Hop" took advantage of the holiday by jumping up 16 percent from last weekend for $12.5 million, and should cross the $100 million mark today. "Scream 4," however, couldn't avoid the horror-movie rule about second-weekend drops, as the R-rated film fell 62 percent for $7.2 million.
The weekend's third new wide release, Disneynature's "African Cats," opened somewhere between a meow and a roar with $6.4 million at 1,220 theaters. That's a better debut than last year's "Oceans" ($6.1 million), but worse than 2009's "Earth" ($8.8 million). CinemaScore participants gave the feline documentary an "A-" mark, with the minus likely coming from dog owners.
Also premiering in limited release was Morgan Spurlock's product-placement documentary "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," which secured a decent $135,000 from 18 theaters. And the foreign-language Oscar nominee Incendies took in $54,600 at three locations.
Check back next week as the car-fetish action flick "Fast Five" pops the lid off of the box office. Also opening: the high-school drama "Prom," the animated "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil," and the horror comedy "Dylan Dog: Dead of Night".