Warner Bros. Builds a Hit with 'The Lego Movie'

When it was first announced, The Lego Movie likely wasn't at the top of many must-see lists. Once Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) Warner Bros. studio started releasing trailers and clips for the movie, though, that changed. On its opening weekend, The Lego Movie earned an estimated $69.1 million, giving it the second-largest February opening of all time, behind only The Passion of the Christ and the $89 million it earned when it was released in 2004.

Perhaps more importantly, the film has been earning glowing reviews from critics and moviegoers alike. Aggregate review scores at Rotten Tomatoes have the film currently at 95% fresh from critics (with an average review score of 8.2 out of 10 from 122 reviews) and an audience rating of 93% fresh (with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 from 42,393 users.) Similar results can be found at MetaCritic, where the film currently has a Metascore of 82 (based on 38 reviews) and a user score of 9.1 (based on 121 ratings.)

Dominating the box office
The Lego Movie's impressive take put it clearly in first place for the weekend, beating out the no. 2 film The Monuments Men by nearly three times the latter's take. Distributed by Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) Sony Pictures, the George Clooney-directed World War II film brought in a respectable $22.7 million on its opening weekend. Third place was captured by Ride Along, the Ice Cube-starring buddy cop film that had held the top spot for the past three weeks. The film earned only $9.3 million, though this helped it to cross the $100-million mark for $105 million in total domestic earnings.

It remains to be seen whether the film will hold on to the no. 1 spot for longer than a week, however. Sony Pictures is releasing RoboCop on Feb. 12, which should be the primary competition for The Lego Movie heading into the Valentine's Day weekend. The following weekend, Sony Pictures' Pompeii will release to add more competition to the box-office struggle. The positive word-of-mouth for The Lego Movie might help it to overcome, though, so this might not be the only weekend that the film rules.

What's the appeal?
The Lego Movie had two things in its favor going into the opening weekend. The first was a general lack of family-friendly offerings in the theaters of late, with the exception of Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Frozen (and the subsequent "sing-along" rerelease of the film), many of the films being released lately have been aimed more at adults. The Lego Movie also had a strong marketing campaign behind it that showed off the fact that despite being about Lego minifigs, it had smart and funny writing that helps the wide range of characters to interact naturally.

Of course, while these two factors helped to bring audiences in, the quality of the film is what's kept the positive buzz going. Warner Bros. assembled a collective of filmmakers a year ago to begin producing high-quality animated films on a yearly basis, with The Lego Movie being the first release from this "creative consortium." Significant effort was put into making sure that the film would not only meet but exceed expectations and would be on par with anything put out by more renowned animation studios. 

A sequel already?
It's no surprise that a sequel would be an option after The Lego Movie's strong opening, but it might be a bit surprising how quickly Warner Bros. has moved on getting it into development. A script for the sequel was ordered last week, before the film opened, based on initial projections that the movie would have a $60 million opening weekend. Screenwriters Jared Stern and Michelle Morgan, members of the Warner Bros.' creative consortium, have been selected to write the script.

A journey starts with a single brick
With The Lego Movie having such a strong opening and Warner Bros. having the confidence to begin work on a sequel before the original film opened, it's all but a given that it will develop into a full multi-film franchise. It's also a good restart to Warner Bros.' animated offerings, which in the past have had less-than-stellar performances despite some of them being highly beloved films after the fact.

The importance of The Lego Movie is that it not only more than made back its $60 million production budget in a single weekend, but that it showed that Warner can produce funny, polished animated theatrical films that are accepted right alongside releases from major animation studios like Disney.

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