Preternatural films a hit at the box office this weekend

Eight, count ’em, eight films with preternatural themes or characters were top earners at the box office for the weekend ending 12 June, 2011 according to Rentrak Corp. Whether you like zombies, aliens, bigfoot, pagan deities, mutants, talking animals or spiritual questions, there was something in theaters for you to enjoy this weekend.

In its opening weekend, Super 8 topped the charts bringing in an estimated $37 million for Paramount. The story of a group of young friends – Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning, sibling of Dakota Fanning), Joe Lamb (newcomer Joel Courtney), Cary (Ryan Lee), Preston (Zach Mills), Charles (Riley Griffiths) and Martin (Gabriel Basso) – who begin investigating strange happenings around their small town after a mysterious train wreck. Produced by Steven Spielberg and written and directed by J.J. Abrams, Super 8 has been, almost inevitably compared to E.T. Despite some superficial similarities (a young cast and aliens), Super 8 is a very different and darker film. Fans who prefer some story with their monsters won’t be disappointed!

X-Men: First Class dropped to Number 2 this weekend but the mutants still manged to bring in a respectable $25 million for 20th Century Fox. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) are still battling for the minds and powers of the 1962 generation of mutants. In an interesting twist, X-Men: First Class includes the biblical mutant Azazel (Jason Flemyng, whom some will recognize as Danny Quinn from the television series Primeval) who seems drawn from the same legend as Azazeal (played by Michael Fassbender in the BBC television series Hex). X-Men: First Class was produced by Bad Hat Harry Productions and directed by Matthew Vaughn.

Po and his new group of kung-fu masters fought to hold Kung Fu Panda 2 in the Number 4 spot for the weekend. The animated sequel from director Jennifer Yuh generated more than $16.5 million at the box office this weekend. A star-studded cast of voices including Gary Oldman (Dracula, Sirius Black, The Fifth Element) and Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) join Po (Jack Black) in bringing this animated adventure to life.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides rounds out the top five box officer earners of the weekend. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) raked in another $10.8 million for Disney in this preternatural treasure hunt based on the novel On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. Director Rob Marshall assembled quite the motley crew including Geoffrey Rush (who also lent his voice to The Green Lantern) as Barbossa, Ian McShane (the voice of Captain Hook in Shrek The Third) as Blackbeard and Richard Griffiths (Harry’s Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter franchise) as King George.

The seventh highest grossing film for the weekend, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer owes its place on a list of preternatural films to the guest appearance of Bigfoot. There might be a few zombies, vampires and werewolves involved as well as third-grader Judy Moody sets out to have the most thrilling summer of her young life. Directed by John Schultz, Judy (Jordana Beatty), brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) and Aunt Opal (Heather Graham) brought in an estimated $6 million for Relativity Media.

Thor hammers his way to Number 9, grossing another $2 million over the weekend for Paramount. Chris Hemsworth (King Arthur in the television series Guinevere Jones and George Kirk, father of James T. Kirk, in 2009’s Star Trek) makes an impressive thunder-god and is in good company sharing the screen with Natalie Portman (Padme in Star Wars Episodes I, II and III) and Stellan Skarsgärd (Bootstrap Bill for the first 2, make that 3, Pirates of the Caribbean films and Ralph in Metropia with son Alexander). Kenneth Branagh directed.

Spiritual quests and the search for the meaning of life may or may not be preternatural. We’re including The Tree Of Life, on this list simply because the Kabbalah concept has strong preternatural ties and the idea of Sean Penn portraying Brad Pitt’s sun caught our attention. Box office earnings of $875,126 were enough to put the Fox Searchlight film directed by Terrence Malick in the Number 11 spot for the weekend.

Rio hangs in there at Number 12 this week, amidst a lot of competition for young movie-goer and family dollars. Director Carlos Saldanha brings the tale of a domesticated macaw from Minnesota who follows the bird of his dreams to Rio de Janeiro. Rio grossed an estimated $681,000 for 20th Century Fox this weekend.

That’s it for this weekend! Which did you see, and, more importantly, which would you recommend to others?