Eddie Murphy scored the 14th number one hit of his career this weekend by playing three eccentric characters in the new comedy "Norbit," which generated the largest opening of any film this year by far.
Debuting far back in second place with less than half the ticket sales was the revenge thriller "Hannibal Rising." With the Academy Awards just two weeks away, many moviegoers caught up on the major nominees which all displayed fantastic holds. The explosive "Norbit" bow, however, was not enough to keep the box office from dipping below year-ago levels for the sixth consecutive weekend.
Returning to the type of crude comedy that launched his career over a quarter-century ago, Eddie Murphy proved once again how strong of a box office draw he still is with "Norbit" which opened in the top spot with a very strong $33.7M, according to estimates. The PG-13 film, which was written by the comedian and his older brother Charlie Murphy, averaged a sizzling $10,759 from 3,136 theaters. Eddie Murphy also saw his Oscar-nominated turn in "Dreamgirls" sit in the top ten at the number nine spot. Both films were produced by DreamWorks and distributed by its new owner Paramount.
"Norbit," which finds the former "Saturday Night Live" star playing a skinny timid man as well as his outrageous and overweight wife, gave Murphy his biggest opening for a live-action film since 2000’s "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps" which bowed to $42.5M in July of that year. That comedy also found the star putting on latex fat suits to play other characters. For DreamWorks, "Norbit" represented the studio’s third biggest live action opening ever and second largest for a non-sequel following the $34.8M of 2000’s "Gladiator."
Critics trashed "Norbit," but then again the target audience for this kind of comedy would never care about reviews anyway. The Murphy brand name plus effective marketing sold this movie and a broad audience turned out. Plus the actor has not been seen in these kinds of comedies in many years prompting a healthy appetite from fans. African Americans and Latinos were especially responsible for the stellar business. Budgeted in the vicinity of $65M, the battered husband pic should utilize the upcoming Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day holidays to help keep the tickets selling. That would allow "Norbit" to join "Dreamgirls" as the 12th and 13th $100M blockbusters of Eddie Murphy’s career with this May’s "Shrek the Third" set to become number fourteen after its first few days of release.
The return of screen villain Hannibal Lecter was not met with as much enthusiam. The prequel story "Hannibal Rising" debuted in second place with an estimated $13.4M from 3,003 theaters. Averaging a decent $4,446 per venue, the R-rated thriller about Lecter’s younger years and the revenge he sought upon those who killed his sister was marketed by The Weinstein Co. and distributed by MGM. The gross was less than half the $36.5M bow of the last film in the series, 2002’s "Red Dragon" which starred Anthony Hopkins in his final turn as the famed cannibal. "Hannibal Rising" may have opened on the exact same day of the year as 2001’s blockbuster "Hannibal," but the grosses could not have been more different. That Hopkins starrer shattered the February opening weekend record with a summer-like $58M launch. Reviews were mostly negative for the new installment.
Despite atrocious reviews, Diane Keaton‘s mother-daughter comedy "Because I Said So" held up very well in its second weekend slipping only 31% to an estimated $9M. That gave the Universal release a decent $25.6M in ten days and could put the film on track to reach about $50M. Fellow sophomore "The Messengers" dropped from first to fourth place in its second scare grossing an estimated $7.2M. Falling a steep 51%, the $16M thriller has banked $24.7M in ten days and should conclude in the neighborhood of $35M.
Ben Stiller‘s "Night at the Museum" enjoyed its eighth consecutive weekend in the top five and grossed an estimated $5.8M slipping a mere 10%. Despite the new star-driven comedy on the block, audiences still made time for the adventure pic which this weekend joined the list of the top 50 domestic blockbusters of all-time. "Museum" saw its cume rise to $232.1M putting it at number 50 just behind the $233.6M of another Fox holiday blockbuster, 2000’s "Cast Away."
Fox’s spoof comedy "Epic Movie" dropped 47% to an estimated $4.5M and bumped its cume up to $35.5M. Universal’s crime thriller "Smokin’ Aces" ranked seventh with an estimated $3.8M, down 38%, for a $30.9M total.
A trio of Oscar contenders rounded out the top ten. "Pan’s Labyrinth," the fairy tale for adults, continued showing superb legs and dipped just 4% to an estimated $3.5M. With $26.6M in sales thus far, the Picturehouse release has more than doubled its gross since earning six Academy Award nominations and is still expanding into more markets as solid word-of-mouth spreads.
Eddie Murphy’s second film in the top ten was "Dreamgirls" which slipped 23% to an estimated $3.1M. Paramount has collected $97.1M to date and is a week away from joining the century club. American subjects were still flocking to "The Queen" which eased only 5% to an estimated $2.5M lifting the cume to a stellar $49M.
A pair of Sony hits fell out of the top ten over the weekend. The Will Smith blockbuster "The Pursuit of Happyness" grossed an estimated $2.4M, down only 19%, and pushed its sum to $160.5M. The homelessness drama is Smith’s sixth consecutive $100M+ hit and tenth career blockbuster overall. His last six smashes together have grossed nearly $2 billion worldwide. "Pursuit," which earned its star an Oscar nod for best actor, could end its domestic run with close to $170M.
Sony’s $14M step dancing drama "Stomp the Yard" also took in an estimated $2.4M this weekend and boosted its incredible tally to $59.1M. Off 41%, a $65M final seems likely.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $86.5M which was off 12% from last year when "The Pink Panther" opened at number one with $20.2M; and down 12% from 2005 as well when "Hitch" debuted on top with $43.1M.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com