Weekend Box Office (January 9 - 11, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Clint Eastwood scored the biggest wide opening of his career with his latest effort Gran Torino which raced past the competition in its first weekend of national play to swipe the number one spot. However, the frame's other new films all performed well too as the North American box office remained red hot. The wedding comedy Bride Wars debuted impressively in the bridesmaid slot while the horror flick The Unborn was close behind with a third place bow. Even the more narrow opening of the marital drama Not Easily Broken generated a sensational average. Studios released their first batch of new films since Christmas Day and audiences responded by filling up multiplexes powering the Top 20 films 14% ahead of last year.to $141M.

Following four weeks of amazing grosses in limited release, Gran Torino expanded from 84 to 2,808 theaters and collected $29.5M, according to final studio figures. Averaging a muscular $10,500, the R-rated pic about a grumpy old man and his community of Hmong immigrants gave the two-time Oscar winning director the best opening of his half-century career easily beating the $18.1M of 2000's Space Cowboys, also a directorial and starring effort for Eastwood. That debut at today's ticket prices would be roughly $24M which Torino still bested.

Warner Bros. has successfully used this release strategy before when targeting older adults at this time of year. Last winter, the studio opened the Jack Nicholson-Morgan Freeman film The Bucket List in 16 theaters on Christmas Day before expanding it wide this very weekend last January. It also shot straight to the top of the chart and grossed $19.4M for a $6,662 average. Four years ago, Warners platformed Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby into just eight locations in mid-December and slowly added more locations before going nationwide in its seventh weekend following the announcement of Oscar nominations. It took in $12.3M in its first wide frame and averaged $6,102. Gran Torino easily outmuscled both of those films.

What makes this weekend's gross especially impressive is the fact that Torino has not been one of the top films getting all the awards buzz this winter. The studio has spent heavily on television advertising in major markets for over a month now to keep the film in the minds of moviegoers and is seeing the investment pay off. With a $40.5M cume, Gran Torino should have no problem soaring past the $100M mark to become one of Eastwood's most popular films. His other big earners include Baby with $100.4M (about $115M at today's prices), 1992's Unforgiven with $101.2M ($173M today), and 1993's In the Line of Fire with $102.3M ($175M today). Clint pics have historically had strong legs.

The wedding comedy Bride Wars opened in second place pulling in $21.1M for Fox. Starring Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway as best friends whose weddings get scheduled on the same day, the PG-rated pic averaged a solid $6,528 from 3,226 playdates. It was the widest of the four new films opening or expanding into wide release this weekend. Bride skewed heavily female as women made up a sizable 80% of the audience. The film played to a broad age group though as 52% of the crowd was under 25. Studios often release female-skewing films in January since the football playoffs make males harder to reach.

Fox generated an opening similar to the one it enjoyed last January with another wedding-related comedy. 27 Dresses starring Katherine Heigl bowed to $23M and a $7,526 average over the three-day portion of the Martin Luther King holiday frame in 2008 on its way to $76.8M. Reviews for the $30M-budgeted Bride Wars were poor, but ticket buyers instead responded to the starpower, premise, and comedy.

Universal's supernatural thriller The Unborn was an overachiever this weekend surging past expectations to score a $19.8M opening. Creeping into 2,357 theaters, the PG-13 fright flick scared up a superb $8,405 average. The debut was on par with producer Rogue Pictures' horror hit from last summer The Strangers which also exceeded pre-release forecasts during its launch which resulted in a $21M weekend and $8,515 average. Rogue was just purchased by Relativity Media.

Unborn benefitted from being the first horror film of the new year so competition was minimal. Past terrorfests that found success in early January include 2006's Hostel which debuted to $19.6M and the prior year's White Noise which bowed to $24.1M. A slick and creepy marketing campaign plus a marketplace filled with old leftovers gave fans a reason to come out and see something new and scary. Teens and young adults made up the bulk of the audience with 75% of the crowd being under 25. Females made up 55%. Unborn kicked off a new year's feast for horror fans who will soon be attacked by My Bloody Valentine 3D next weekend, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans on the following weekend, The Uninvited on the frame after that, and a new Friday the 13th next month on Friday the 13th.

Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, and the 22 dogs that played the title character of Marley & Me dropped to fourth after two weeks on top and grossed $11.4M. Down a steep 53%, the Fox release upped its total to $123.8M putting it at number 17 on the list of top-grossing releases from 2008. Brad Pitt was one step behind at number five with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which collected $9.2M, off 51%, for a $94.1M cume for Paramount.

Tumbling 57% was Adam Sandler's Bedtime Stories which took in $8.8M for Disney raising the sum to $97.4M. Operation Valkyrie was in effect at number seven with $6.6M, down 53%, lifting the cume for Tom Cruise and his eyepatch to $71.5M. Yet another star-driven film, Jim Carrey's comedy Yes Man, followed with $6M, dropping 57%. Total for Warner Bros. is now $89.3M.

Sony released the marital faith-based drama Not Easily Broken on a small scale but was met with solid results in ninth place. The PG-13 film grossed $5.3M from only 724 theaters for a terrific $7,340 average. Budgeted at just $5M, Broken played to an audience of mature women. Females made up 70% of the crowd while 69% was over the age of 30. The Morris Chestnut starrer is an adaptation of the book of the same name by pastor and author T.D. Jakes who has built up a loyal following in the African American community over the years.

Rounding out the top ten was Will Smith's odd drama Seven Pounds which crumbled by 62% to $3.8M for a cume of $66.7M for Sony. The jellyfish flick will end the superstar's streak of eight consecutive $100M+ blockbusters which began back in 2002.

Numerous Golden Globe contenders in the Drama categories continued to tout their nominations in their advertising in hopes of luring in more audiences. Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire was number 11 for the weekend with $3.8M, off 19%, for a total of $34.1M for Fox Searchlight. Miramax's Doubt which scored four acting nominations including Best Actress for Meryl Streep fell a troubling 50% to $2.5M lifting the sum to $23M.

The Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet pic Revolutionary Road, a nominee for Best Picture, expanded from 38 to 135 sites and grossed $1.4M for a solid $10,558 average. Paramount Vantage has taken in $3.2M to date. Winslet's other offering during awards season The Reader dipped 16% to $1.3M as well pushing the cume to $5.5M for The Weinstein Co. The actress won Golden Globes for both films.

Focus dropped 31% with its film Milk which collected $1.3M. Starring Best Actor nominee Sean Penn, the gay rights pic upped its total to $19.2M. Fox Searchlight expanded The Wrestler starring Best Actor winner Mickey Rourke from 18 to 60 sites. The New Jersey-set tale took in $848,410 for a strong $14,140 average putting the sum at $2.8M. Frank Langella was also up for the Actor prize with his film Frost/Nixon which dropped 36% to $891,627 for a $7.6M cume.

The top ten films grossed $121.5M which was up a healthy 23% from last year when The Bucket List expanded wide into the top spot with $19.4M; and up a superb 34% from 2006 when Stomp the Yard opened at number one with $21.8M.

Compared to projections, Gran Torino surged ahead of my $18M forecast while Bride Wars was on target with my $21M prediction. The Unborn nearly doubled my $11M projection and Not Easily Broken debuted a couple of notches above my $3M forecast.

Check the NEW box office chart for the Golden Globe winners and grosses.

For a NEW review of The Unborn visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Notorious, My Bloody Valentine 3D, Hotel for Dogs, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop all open.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Jan 9 - 11 Jan 2 - 4 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Gran Torino $ 29,484,388 2,936,423 904.1 2,808 5 $ 10,500 $ 40,524,518 Warner Bros.
2 Bride Wars 21,058,173 3,226 1 6,528 21,058,173 Fox
3 The Unborn 19,810,585 2,357 1 8,405 19,810,585 Universal
4 Marley & Me 11,391,425 24,263,763 -53.1 3,478 3 3,275 123,751,596 Fox
5 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 9,212,515 18,691,248 -50.7 2,947 3 3,126 94,092,395 Paramount
6 Bedtime Stories 8,802,120 20,501,339 -57.1 3,511 3 2,507 97,432,093 Buena Vista
7 Valkyrie 6,617,065 14,094,617 -53.1 2,838 3 2,332 71,464,448 MGM
8 Yes Man 6,032,337 13,910,477 -56.6 2,955 4 2,041 89,288,024 Warner Bros.
9 Not Easily Broken 5,314,278 724 1 7,340 5,314,278 Sony
10 Seven Pounds 3,818,230 10,068,518 -62.1 2,456 4 1,555 66,748,686 Sony
11 Slumdog Millionaire 3,782,340 4,690,769 -19.4 601 9 6,293 34,127,195 Fox Searchlight
12 Twilight 2,841,852 4,648,642 -38.9 1,466 8 1,939 181,448,642 Summit
13 The Tale of Despereaux 2,733,585 6,939,295 -60.6 2,297 4 1,190 47,584,450 Universal
14 Doubt 2,521,118 5,000,893 -49.6 1,287 5 1,959 22,959,422 Miramax
15 The Day the Earth Stood Still 1,550,629 5,049,698 -69.3 1,512 5 1,026 77,330,238 Fox
16 Revolutionary Road 1,425,346 985,961 44.6 135 3 10,558 3,155,656 Par. Vantage
17 Bolt 1,370,487 3,291,944 -58.4 1,161 8 1,180 111,806,897 Buena Vista
18 The Reader 1,346,742 1,598,472 -15.7 507 5 2,656 5,510,453 Weinstein Co.
19 Milk 1,296,051 1,888,510 -31.4 295 7 4,393 19,163,996 Focus
20 Frost/Nixon 891,627 1,400,484 -36.3 205 6 4,349 7,631,181 Universal
Top 5 $ 90,957,086 $ 91,461,444 -0.6
Top 10 121,541,116 123,210,617 -1.4
Top 20 141,300,893 147,339,604 -4.1
Top 20 vs. 2008 141,300,893 124,052,249 13.9

Last Updated: January 12, 2009 at 10:15PM ET