Weekend Box Office

Box Office Guru Wrapup: Christmas Carol Tops, Precious Rocks

Michael Jackson's This Is It, The Men Who Stare at Goats round out the top three.

by | November 8, 2009 | Comments

This weekend Moviegoers powered Jim Carrey’s holiday kidpic A Christmas Carol to a number one opening but some fans remained stingy preventing the Disney 3D toon from meeting industry expectations. On the complete other side of the movie spectrum, the inner city drama Precious debuted to spectacular results enjoying one of the most impressive limited release debuts ever. Three other new wide releases were sprinkled across the top ten with mixed results as the overall marketplace fell behind year-ago levels.

The 3D yuletide pic A Christmas Carol bowed on top this weekend grossing an estimated $31M from 3,683 locations and performed better than previous motion capture pics from director Robert Zemeckis, but worse than most animated films that kick off the holiday movie season in early November. Averaging $8,417 per site, the PG-rated adaptation of the classic Dickens story featured Carrey playing multiple roles. But the lack of comedy may have impacted grosses as today’s children are used to a huge serving of laughs when they see toons on the big screen, especially 3D ones. Mixed reviews also hurt its case. The opening was only slightly better than the $30.3M bow of September’s 3D animated pic Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs which did not have a megastar anchoring it and debuted in 500 fewer theaters during a slower month.

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Carol performed much like The Polar Express, another motion capture project from Zemeckis with an A-list star and Christmas theme released in early November. The Tom Hanks-led Express launched on a Wednesday and grossed $23.3M over three days and $30.6M over five days. Factor in Carol‘s Friday launch, five years of ticket price increases, and surcharges collected this weekend by the 3D and IMAX 3D screens, and the audience size was about the same. Christmas flicks opening at this time of year usually enjoy good legs and reach totals five to six times their opening weekend takes so Disney is hopeful that the big-budget Carrey vehicle will continue to play in the weeks ahead.

Michael Jackson’s This Is It held up well in its second weekend, thanks in part to a Wednesday debut which softened the Friday-to-Sunday launch period, and dropped 40% to an estimated $14M. After 12 days, the Sony release has grossed $57.9M and could be headed for a $85-90M finish now that its original two-week run has been extended. Overseas, it was the top grosser once again taking in an estimated $29M which boosted the international cume to $128.6M and the global haul to a sturdy $186.5M. 69% of the worldwide take has come from outside of North America. This Is It has performed best in Japan ($23.6M), the United Kingdom ($13.3M), Germany ($11.1M), and France ($10.6M).

The military dramedy The Men Who Stare At Goats enjoyed a commendable start grossing an estimated $13.3M from 2,443 locations this weekend for a $5,448 average. The R-rated film stars George Clooney as a psychic in the U.S. military being followed by a journalist played by Ewan McGregor. Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey also star. Critics had mixed feelings for the Overture release which played evenly to adult men and women.

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Although the pumpkin holiday has come and gone, Universal released its supernatural thriller The Fourth Kind and wound up with a decent debut in the appropriate fourth place slot with an estimated $12.5M. The PG-13 pic about alien abduction stories averaged a good $4,955 from 2,527 sites. Sold almost like a follow-up to Paranormal Activity with creepy camcorder footage in its television commercials, Fourth played to young men as studio research showed that males made up 55% of the audience while 61% was under 25. Reviews were dismal for the Milla Jovovich starrer.

Paranormal finally acted like a normal movie and fell 48% to an estimated $8.6M in its seventh weekend of release. Paramount’s much-talked-about thriller saw sales decline since the Halloween season was over and there was hardly any expansion of screens. The R-rated smash is now within striking distance of the century mark with a cume of $97.4M.

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Yet another creepy film followed. Moviegoers spent only $7.9M on the opening weekend of the Cameron Diaz suspense thriller The Box, according to estimates. The Warner Bros. release bowed in 2,635 locations but averaged a weak $2,981 per site. The R-rated pic told the tale of a mysterious box with a button that when pushed would give a person one million dollars but also kill an unknown person somewhere else in the world. Reviews were mixed but audiences did not buy into it, especially with many other scary movie options out there.

Universal’s relationship comedy Couples Retreat enjoyed a remarkable fifth frame as its weekend take dipped by only one half of one percent to $6.4M. Flat with last weekend, the Vince Vaughn pic is still taking advantage of a fall box office curiously lacking funny choices for adults. Part of the strong hold can be attributed to a solid Saturday which bounced back 30% from last weekend’s Halloween-affected gross. Total stands at $96M and Couples will cross the $100M mark by the end of the week following right behind Paranormal Activity.

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Also enjoying a solid hold was the revenge thriller Law Abiding Citizen which slipped only 17% to an estimated $6.2M for a $60.9M sum. Where the Wild Things Are followed in ninth with an estimated $4.2M, down 29%, while fellow kidpic Astro Boy ranked tenth with an estimated $2.6M, off 25%. Totals are $69.3M and $15.1M, respectively.

The weekend’s big story came in limited release with the sensational launch of the award-winning drama Precious which debuted in just 18 theaters but grossed an estimated $1.8M for an eye-popping $100,000 average per location. Lionsgate opted to open the critically acclaimed awards contender in four markets – industry towns New York and Los Angeles plus Chicago and Atlanta, homes of executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry respectively who have pledged their full support to the pic. The R-rated film has generated buzz all year from the film industry’s top three festivals (Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto), attracted fans of the popular book which the pic was based on, and played to the large crowds that the two media moguls have.

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The Precious numbers were among the best ever seen by any film. Other notable limited release films with sensational opening averages include 2006’s Dreamgirls with its $25 tickets ($126,317 average from 3 theaters), 2005’s Brokeback Mountain ($109,485 from 5), the same year’s Memoirs of a Geisha ($85,313 from 8), 2007’s Juno ($59,124 from 7), 1999’s American Beauty ($53,846 from 16), and that same year’s The Blair Witch Project ($56,002 from 27). Last month after two amazing weeks of only midnight shows, Paranormal Activity‘s first regular weekend of limited play resulted in a stellar $49,379 average from 160 playdates.

The Precious numbers were among the best ever seen by any film. Other notable limited release films with sensational opening averages include 2006’s Dreamgirls with its $25 tickets ($126,317 average from 3 theaters), 2005’s Brokeback Mountain ($109,485 from 5), the same year’s Memoirs of a Geisha ($85,313 from 8), 2007’s Juno ($59,124 from 7), 1999’s American Beauty ($53,846 from 16), and that same year’s The Blair Witch Project ($56,002 from 27). Last month after two amazing weeks of only midnight shows, Paranormal Activity‘s first regular weekend of limited play resulted in a stellar $49,379 average from 160 playdates.

Lionsgate will expand Precious into five more markets on Friday (San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.) and then go wide on November 20. It should jump into the top ten next weekend ahead of what could be a prolonged run through awards season leading up to the Oscars in early March.

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Elsewhere in limited release, the French art film La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet bowed to an estimated $14,000 from only one New York theater with most shows selling out over the weekend. The Zipporah Films release banked a solid $21,220 since its Wednesday launch and will expand to Los Angeles and Chicago on November 20. Also doing well in its debut in a solo Manhattan house was the romantic comedy Splinterheads which grossed an estimated $12,000 for new distributor Paladin. It widens to Austin and Portland on Friday.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $106.7M which was down 14% from last year when Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa opened in the top spot with $63.1M; but up 13% from 2007 when Bee Movie climbed into the number one spot in its second weekend with $25.6M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, Box Office Guru

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