Weekend Box Office (January 7 - 9, 2005)

by Gitesh Pandya

** Top 50 Box Office Hits of 2004 **

THIS WEEKEND For the first time in nearly five years, Universal Pictures claimed the top two films at the North American box office as the smash comedy Meet the Fockers held onto the number one spot for the third straight frame and the new suspense thriller White Noise debuted in second with a stronger than expected turnout. Together, the one-two punch accounted for more than half of all ticket sales in the marketplace and drove the box office to a higher level than usually seen at this time of year.

The runaway hit comedy Meet the Fockers again dominated the time of moviegoers this weekend laughing up $28.5M in its third session, according to final studio results, dropping only 32% from the New Year's frame. After 19 days of release, the Universal megahit watched its cume surge to a towering $204.3M making it the sixth release of 2004 to cross the double-century mark. Playing in an ultrawide 3,527 venues, the star-studded pic averaged a still-strong $8,080 per theater. The $80M film, which was co-produced with DreamWorks, now looks on course to gross more than $270M domestically far surpassing all industry expectations. The record Fockers hopes to break is for highest-grossing live-action comedy which has been held for fourteen years by Home Alone with $285.8M.

Terrifying audiences in second place was the supernatural thriller White Noise which scared up $24.1M from only 2,261 theaters for a haunting $10,665 average per location. Starring Michael Keaton as a man who learns to communicate with his dead wife, the PG-13 release was panned by critics, but took advantage of a clever marketing campaign revolving around the character's discovery of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) to lure in moviegoers looking for a scare. With a commercially-friendly rating and an intriguing premise, White Noise was able to tap into a teen audience hungry for entertainment but neglected by most holiday films which catered either to young children or older adults.

Studio research showed that a whopping 67% of the crowd was under the age of 25. White Noise claimed the fourth biggest opening weekend for films debuting or expanding nationally in January trailing only 1997's Star Wars - Special Edition ($35.9M), 2002's Black Hawk Down ($28.6M), and last year's Along Came Polly ($27.7M). Universal's last claim to the gold and silver medals came in April 2000 with U-571 and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.

Martin Scorsese's The Aviator remained in third place with $7.5M, down 34% in its third weekend of national release. Averaging a decent $4,013 from 1,867 locations, the Miramax/Warner Bros. co-production has grossed $42.8M to date. By comparison, Miramax's recent Oscar contenders Cold Mountain and Gangs of New York reached higher tallies of $55.3M and $47.1M, respectively, after their third weekends. The Aviator, however, has been playing in 400 fewer theaters and should be able to fly to $75M or more depending on how it fares with Golden Globe and Oscar voters.

Ending a year-and-a-half drought, Paramount finally pushed a film over the $100M mark this weekend with Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events which grossed $7.4M in its fourth chapter. The Jim Carrey hit crumbled 49% but still raised its 24-day total to $105.6M making it the ninth such blockbuster of the comedian's career. Snicket looks to finish with $120-125M.

Fox's live-action update on Fat Albert followed in fifth place with $5.7M falling 44% from last weekend. With $41M in 16 days, the PG-rated family comedy looks to conclude with about $55M. Swiping sixth place in its fifth heist was newly-single Brad Pitt's caper sequel Ocean's Twelve with $5.3M, off 44%, for a cume of $115.3M. The Warner Bros. release is running 24% behind the pace of Ocean's Eleven which opened at the same time of year, and should find its way to around $130M. The international total on Twelve rose to $137M this weekend.

Declining 31% in its fourth weekend was Sony's Spanglish with $4.3M. The Adam Sandler-Tea Leoni pic has grossed $37.5M to date and is holding up well so a final tally of roughly $55M seems likely. Disney's National Treasure claimed $4.3M in its eighth adventure falling 37%. Nicolas Cage's top-grossing film ever has collected $160.5M and should finish with close to $175M.

Arthouse-type films from the major studios rounded out the top ten. The Warner Bros. musical The Phantom of the Opera held up well after the holidays slipping just 28% to $3.4M while still in only 622 theaters. Averaging a solid $5,499, the acclaimed pic has totaled $21.5M and still has a full national expansion ahead of it. Buena Vista's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou rounded out the top ten with $2.7M, down 38%. The Bill Murray comedy has taken in $19.4M to date and looks headed for a $25-30M final.

Two very different films fell out of the top ten over the weekend. Miramax's spookfest Darkness dropped 53% to $2.2M in its third scare and pushed its sum to $20.3M after 16 days of release. The PG-13 title should conclude with around $25M. Like previous yuletide movies before it such as Elf, The Santa Clause, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express saw sales tumble with the passing of the holiday season. The Tom Hanks hit grossed $2.1M in its ninth journey, down a steep 63%, lifting the blockbuster cume up to $158.7M. The $170M-budgeted animated film should conclude its domestic run with $162-164M.

With the current awards season getting hotter, a pair of contenders generated strong results expanding into wider but still limited release and popped into the Top 20. Warner Bros. widened its boxing tale Million Dollar Baby from nine to 109 theaters and grossed $1.9M for a potent $17,618 average. The Clint Eastwood-directed drama, which over the weekend was named the best film of the year by the National Society of Film Critics, has punched up $3.1M thus far. MGM/UA expanded its genocide tale Hotel Rwanda from seven to 105 locations and collected $1.2M giving the Don Cheadle starrer a powerful $11,154 average. Cume stands at $1.7M. Fox Searchlight's Sideways remained a force collecting $1.9M, easing just 11%, for a $25.1M total.

The top ten films grossed $93.3M which was up 12% from last year when The Return of the King remained at number one with $14.2M in its fourth battle; and up 13% from 2002 when Just Married opened in the top spot with $17.5M.

Compared to projections, White Noise powered well ahead of my $15M forecast.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the opening weekend of Elektra. In last week's survey, readers were asked if they thought Star Wars Episode III would be the highest grossing film of the coming summer season. Of 2,278 responses, 68% said Yes while 32% thought No.

For a review of The Assassination of Richard Nixon, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Wednesday for the annual 2004 Box Office Wrapup and again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Elektra, Coach Carter, Racing Stripes, and In Good Company all open.

Marketplace: Shop for videos, DVDs, music, books, and posters at discounted prices using search engines

# Title Jan 7 - 9 Dec 31 - Jan 2 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Meet the Fockers $ 28,498,160 $ 41,741,785 -31.7 3,527 3 $ 8,080 $ 204,297,870 Universal
2 White Noise 24,113,565 2,261 1 10,665 24,113,565 Universal
3 The Aviator 7,492,647 11,364,664 -34.1 1,867 4 4,013 42,798,842 Miramax
4 Lemony Snicket's A Series... 7,438,867 14,587,219 -49.0 3,343 4 2,225 105,568,980 Paramount
5 Fat Albert 5,748,443 10,176,065 -43.5 2,675 3 2,149 41,022,439 Fox
6 Ocean's Twelve 5,310,434 9,433,199 -43.7 3,010 5 1,764 115,312,023 Warner Bros.
7 Spanglish 4,251,776 6,183,965 -31.2 2,587 4 1,644 37,508,732 Sony
8 National Treasure 4,250,658 6,768,112 -37.2 2,177 8 1,953 160,521,536 Buena Vista
9 The Phantom of the Opera 3,420,307 4,762,233 -28.2 622 3 5,499 21,548,803 Warner Bros.
10 The Life Aquatic 2,744,639 4,424,122 -38.0 1,105 5 2,484 19,449,138 Buena Vista
11 Finding Neverland 2,264,995 2,590,313 -12.6 1,077 9 2,103 27,893,366 Miramax
12 Darkness 2,181,876 4,615,762 -52.7 1,714 3 1,273 20,253,304 Miramax
13 The Polar Express 2,068,051 5,609,096 -63.1 2,007 9 1,030 158,656,180 Warner Bros.
14 The Incredibles 2,057,544 4,160,395 -50.5 1,619 10 1,271 254,738,382 Buena Vista
15 Million Dollar Baby 1,920,418 271,472 607.4 109 4 17,619 3,107,704 Warner Bros.
16 Sideways 1,907,439 2,150,398 -11.3 365 12 5,226 25,123,613 Fox Searchlight
17 Closer 1,712,924 2,231,133 -23.2 1,098 6 1,560 30,301,153 Sony
18 Flight of the Phoenix 1,578,988 3,050,635 -48.2 1,643 4 961 19,351,986 Fox
19 Blade: Trinity 1,449,611 3,000,202 -51.7 1,507 5 962 50,674,554 New Line
20 Hotel Rwanda 1,171,250 142,378 722.6 105 3 11,155 1,673,743 MGM/UA
Top 5 $ 73,291,682 $ 87,302,932 -16.0
Top 10 93,269,496 115,242,100 -19.1
Top 20 111,582,592 141,073,926 -20.9
Top 20 vs. 2004 111,582,592 99,152,613 12.5

Last Updated : January 10, 2005 at 6:30PM EST