This weekend, News Corp. scored a well-needed knockout at the North American box office with the one-two punch of Fox’s actioner Max Payne which debuted in the top spot and Fox Searchlight’s The Secret Life of Bees which bowed in third with the best average of any film in wide release. Lionsgate also performed well with its new presidential flick W. which landed in fourth allowing three new releases to post averages north of $5,000 each. The frame’s fourth new player was a dud – Summit’s teen comedy Sex Drive found few takers. Overall, the marketplace remained ahead of last year’s pace but was about even with 2006’s solid October session.
Enjoying its first number one hit in seven months, Fox brought in solid sales for its stylish video game-inspired action pic Max Payne which grossed an estimated $18M to lead the weekend race. The PG-13 film attacked 3,376 theaters and averaged a commendable $5,332 per site. Males made up 64% of the audience for the testosterone pic which surprised nobody. Only three films this fall have opened better – Beverly Hills Chihuahua ($29.3M), Eagle Eye ($29.2M), and Burn After Reading ($19.1M). The bow was a bit ahead of the $15.5M debut for another video game actioner from mid-October, Doom starring The Rock from 2005.
For Fox, Payne came as a badly needed hit following a string of seven films that all opened to under $12M, with many debuting poorly with less than $8M. It was the best opening for the studio since June’s The Happening ($30.5M) and its first top spot debut since March’s Horton Hears a Who ($45M) which remains 2008’s biggest non-summer opener. The rest of the year’s slate for Fox includes the risky Nicole Kidman-Hugh Jackman epic Australia on Thanksgiving weekend, the Keanu Reeves sci-fi actioner The Day the Earth Stood Still in mid-December, and the Jennifer Aniston-Owen Wilson romantic comedy Marley and Me on Christmas Day.
In a close race for the runnerup spot, Disney’s two-time champ Beverly Hills Chihuahua took the lead with an estimated $11.2M for a moderate 36% decline in its third weekend. With a potent $69.1M after 17 days, the G-rated comedy is aiming for a place in the century club. Compared to other live-action hits from the Disney factory, Chihuahua is running 17% ahead of The Game Plan from this time last year but 4% behind the pace of The Pacifier from the spring of 2005. Those films went on to gross $90.6M and $113.1M, respectively. Look for the studio’s newest kidpic darling to conclude its run right near the $100M mark.
Just $157,000 behind in third was the 1960s-set drama The Secret Life of Bees which exceeded expectations to score an estimated $11.1M in its first weekend of play. With the fewest theaters of any new wide pic, the PG-13 film averaged a muscular $6,945 from only 1,591 sites. African American women made up a large segment of the audience for the film which stars Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keys. Reviews were mixed but thanks to a buiilt-in audience of fans of the original novel, moviegoers still showed up in impressive numbers. Bees delivered the third biggest opening in company history for Fox Searchlight trailing only the 2006 horror remake The Hills Have Eyes ($15.7M from 2,620 sites) and last April’s actioner Street Kings ($12.5M from 2,467).
Multiplex voters put Oliver Stone’s new presidential drama W. into fourth place in the polls with an estimated $10.6M in ticket sales on opening weekend. The Lionsgate release averaged a sturdy $5,199 from 2,030 locations. Starring Josh Brolin as President George W. Bush, the PG-13 film played to a much older crowd than other films. Studio research showed that 47% of the electorate was over 40 years old while males made up 52%. Produced for $30M, W. attracted mixed reviews from critics who generally felt that the film did not have the bold controversial slant that many of the director’s past films had. Stone’s previous effort World Trade Center starring Nicolas Cage bowed to $18.7M and a $6,334 average in August 2006.
Paramount’s action hit Eagle Eye dipped only 33% to an estimated $7.3M for fifth place and boosted its cume to a robust $81.3M. Close behind was Ridley Scott’s star-driven disappointment Body of Lies which tumbled 47% to an estimated $6.9M in its second weekend. The Warner Bros. release, which is estimated to have cost north of $100M to produce, has grossed just $24.5M in ten days and looks likely to finish its domestic run with roughly $40M. Overseas audiences will have to respond to the DiCaprio and Crowe names in a big way in order for the terrorism flick to approach breakeven. So far Lies has grossed $6.1M overseas from eight markets with openings set for South Korea this coming weekend, much of Europe and Latin America in November, and Japan in December.
The horror hit Quarantine took an understandably large drop from second to seventh place with an estimated $6.3M. Down 56%, the R-rated fright film has banked a solid $24.7M for Sony and looks set to reach $35M. Studio stablemate Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist followed with an estimated $3.9M, down 39%, for a $26.7M sum.
Striking out in ninth place was the new teen comedy Sex Drive with an estimated $3.6M from 2,421 theaters. Averaging a limp $1,473 per site, the R-rated pic was distributed unusually wide for a no-star laugher of its kind. A much better life on video awaits the Summit title. Rounding out the top ten was the Richard Gere-Diane Lane reunion pic Nights at Rodanthe with an estimated $2.7M, off 41%, for a $36.9M total for Warner Bros.
Four films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. The faith-based drama Fireproof eased a mere 15% to an estimated $2.7M bumping the cume to a healthy $20.7M. Budgeted at a mere $500,000, the Samuel Goldwyn release has displayed great staying power and could end up with $30M making the Kirk Cameron starrer one of the surprise hits of the year in terms of profitability. The football drama The Express got sacked in its second weekend falling 50% to an estimated $2.3M after what was a less-than-stellar debut. With only $8.3M in ten days, the PG-rated Universal release will end with a very poor $12-14M. Most inspirational sports dramas perform better.
The arthouse pic The Duchess dropped 33% to an estimated $2.2M giving Paramount Vantage $9.2M to date while playing wide in 1,207 playdates. Yet another period drama Appaloosa grossed an estimated $2M, off 40%, for a $14.3M cume for Warner Bros. Final tallies should reach about $15M and $19M, respectively.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $81.5M which was up 12% from last year when 30 Days of Night opened in the top spot with $16M; but off a scant 0.5% from 2006 when The Prestige debuted at number one with $14.8M.