Box Office Guru Wrapup: Will Smith Rescues Industry With Explosive Opening For I Am Legend

Movies make a comeback, big Willie style.

by | December 16, 2007 | Comments

Will Smith
cemented his standing as the number one box office draw in Hollywood with his
latest action thriller
I Am Legend
soared past lofty expectations to open on top and drive the overall marketplace
to an explosive weekend ending the recent slump. Also debuting much bigger than
expected and playing to a different audience was the family comedy
and the Chipmunks
which scored a red hot bow. Together the dynamic duo
generated a jaw-dropping $121M in ticket sales and accounted for a whopping 75%
of the entire box office. Audiences starving for entertainment returned to the
multiplexes in droves thanks to two high-profile films that delivered exactly
what moviegoers were looking for driving the box office to its highest level
ever for a non-holiday weekend in December.

Scoring his eleventh career number one opening and seventh in a row,
Will Smith
ruled the box office with ease with the new sci-fi smash
I Am Legend

which commanded an estimated $76.5M on its first weekend to rank as the
superstar’s biggest debut ever by a wide margin. Averaging a sensational $21,224
from 3,606 theaters, the PG-13 film also broke the record for the biggest
December bow in history edging past the $72.6M of 2003’s

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
. Also impressive was the
fact that Legend delivered the fifth best non-summer debut ever behind a
trio of Harry Potter films which all wee November launches and
The Passion of
the Christ
which was a February release. At this time of year, movie
openings don’t get much bigger than this.

I Am Legend was backed by a massive marketing campaign from Warner
Bros. which excited the core audience of sci-fi and action fans, but a broader
showing of ticket buyers also hit the cinemas. The big-budget film was also
released in 77 IMAX theaters where patrons were given the additional treat of
seeing the six-minute IMAX prologue for next summer’s much-anticipated Batman
Dark Knight
. That helped to make Legend a hot ticket for hard
core comic book fans and assisted in fueling the grosses as tickets on the large
format screen ran as high as $16 each.

In just three days, Legend grossed as much as last weekend’s top
fifteen films combined and helped to power this weekend’s top ten to its best
performance since early August. With no co-stars, no well-known director, and no
other bells and whistles, I Am Legend‘s success relied completely on Will
Smith’s shoulders and the superstar proved how bankable he really is by blasting
past even the highest industry expectations this weekend. The former Fresh
Prince is well on his way to enjoying his seventh consecutive $250M+ global
grosser. No other star comes close to this achievement.

Warner Bros. launched I Am Legend in eight Asian territories over the
weekend and grabbed an additional $20M in business from key markets like Japan
and South Korea which kicked in more than $6M each. The sci-fi pic bowed at
number one in all markets except Hong Kong where it was the runnerup behind the
local film Warlords. Numerous European markets will open Legend
this coming weekend.

Setting off its own fireworks in second place was Fox’s family comedy

Alvin and the Chipmunks
with a stunning estimate of $45M in its
first weekend. That was good enough to be the second largest December opening in
history for a PG-rated film behind only

The Chronicles of Narnia
which debuted to $65.6M two years ago. The
gross doubled the studio’s expectations going into the frame and is now
well-positioned to be a monster hit with families once children begin their
winter breaks in the coming week. The Chipmunks also scored the third
largest opening of the year for a G or PG film trailing just
Shrek the Third
$121.6M and
‘s $47M.

Alvin also took advantage of a marketplace that was lacking options
for young kids. Studios typically have an abundance of titles for children in
December but this year’s menu is surprisingly light. Competition in the weeks
ahead will come primarily from

National Treasure: Book of Secrets
opening on Friday and
The Water Horse

bowing next Tuesday, Christmas Day. Both carry PG ratings. Alvin‘s solid
A grade from CinemaScore also hints at a prolonged run ahead.

With big Will pulling in all ticket buyers looking for an action
extravaganza, last weekend’s top film

The Golden Compass
saw its sales sink a troubling 65% to an
estimated $9M. The New Line release has grossed only $41M in its first ten days
and looks headed for a final domestic tally in the neighborhood of $60M.
carries a production budget of more than $180M.

Two-time chart-topper Enchanted
fell a reasonable 44% to an estimated $6M in its fourth round boosting Disney’s
total to a solid $92.3M. Inching up one spot to fifth was the Coen brothers hit
No Country for
Old Men
which took in an estimated $3M, down 27%, for a $33.6M cume.
The Miramax release earned four major Golden Globe nominations on Thursday
including Best Picture – Drama and enjoyed the smallest decline of any wide

Opening poorly in sixth was the romantic comedy
The Perfect
which grossed an estimated $3M from 1,307 locations.
Averaging a dismal $2,269, the PG-rated film starring
Queen Latifah,
Gabrielle Union
, and
appealed mostly to the African American audience which was
unavailable thanks to the drawing power of Will Smith. Holiday‘s total
since its Wednesday bow is $3.6M.

A pair of Christmas comedies followed with an estimated $2.3M each.
Vince Vaughn‘s Fred
dropped 50% and boosted its total to $69M for Warner Bros.
This Christmas
fell 54% and has banked an impressive $46M thus far which is more than triple
its production cost.

The historical romance
all films with seven Golden Globe nominations and expanded into more theaters
allowing it to pop into the top ten at number nine. Focus collected an estimated
$1.9M for the
pic from just 117 sites for a potent $15,838 per theater. Cume
sits at $3M and more markets will be added each week throughout the holiday
season. Rounding out the top ten was
August Rush

with an estimated $1.8M, off 49%, for a $28.1M sum for Warner Bros.

Getting off to a solid start in limited release was the DreamWorks production
Kite Runner
which Paramount Classics opened to an estimated $451,000
from 35 theaters for a strong $12,884 average. The controversial film was based
on the best-selling novel of the same name and garnered two Golden Globe
nominations including one for Best Foreign Language Film. Reviews were good but
not spectacular, however audience reactions were very positive with 90% of those
polled calling the film "excellent" or "very good." That could bode well for the
expansion this Friday when The Kite Runner widens to 350 runs.

Fox Searchlight continued to see healthy results from its two arthouse
offerings. The teen pregnancy comedy
expanded from
seven to 40 sites and grossed an estimated $1.4M putting the quirky pic at
number eleven nationwide despite its very limited play. The PG-13 film scored a
trio of Globe nods for picture, actress, and screenplay and posted a sensational
$36,000 average. The performance was similar to that of the distributor’s
dysfunctional family comedy
Little Miss
which in its second weekend of limited release grossed $1.5M
from 58 sites for a $25,521 average. A year ago, that film also earned Globe
nods in the Comedy category for picture and actress before going on to become a
major Oscar contender. Juno will expand to more than 200 theaters on Friday,
then to over 850 runs on Christmas Day, and will reach 1,500+ playdates on
January 4.

Three one-word-titled films tumbled out of the top ten over the weekend.
Paramount’s animated adventure
lost 70%
of its audience and grossed an estimated $1.4M. With an impressive $79.2M from
North America, the $150M production should go on to finish its domestic run with
$80-82M. Overseas where Warner Bros. is releasing the epic tale, Beowulf
smashed through the $100M mark boosting the global tally to $180M and counting.

Fox’s stylish assassin pic Hitman
also crumbled by 70% and took in an estimated $1M for a total to date of $38.2M.
A decent final of about $40M seems likely. MGM’s suspense thriller
grossed an
estimated $1.1M, down 66%, leaving the pic with a dismal $13M cume. Look for a
final of $14-15M.

The top ten films surged to an estimated $150.8M which was up a stunning 47%
from last year when
The Pursuit of
opened at number one with $26.5M; and up a solid 26% from 2005
when King Kong
debuted on top with $50.1M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,