Weekend Box Office (January 26 - 28, 2007)

*** Oscar Spotlight: Dreamgirls ***

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Proving that there's always money in spoof comedies, Fox's Epic Movie shot straight to number one over the weekend in its debut frame beating out three other new releases plus a handful of expanding Academy Award contenders. In fact, the immature laugher outgrossed all five Oscar nominees for best picture combined. The crime drama Smokin' Aces and the Jennifer Garner dramedy Catch and Release both enjoyed good results in their opening weekends, however the new horror flick Blood and Chocolate failed to even make the top ten. Most holdovers remained strong as the overall marketplace bounced back from last weekend's dismal results.

Nearly matching the numbers it posted a year ago with Date Movie, Fox struck again with Epic Movie which topped the charts with $18.6M from 2,801 theaters, according to final studio figures. The PG-13 film lampooned several recent box office action hits and averaged a solid $6,645 per site. Date Movie skewered numerous romantic comedies and bowed to a slightly better $19.1M last February over the three-day portion of the Presidents' Day holiday weekend. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, whose writing credits include Date Movie, Spy Hard, and the entire Scary Movie series, wrote and directed Epic. Teenagers made up a large portion of the audience and both genders were well-represented. Critics who did bother to review it trashed the film.

Opening in second place with impressive results and similar per-theater success was Universal's mob thriller Smokin' Aces with $14.6M from 2,218 locations. Averaging a commendable $6,600 per site, the frame's only new R-rated pic connected with young men as its primary audience. According to studio research, 59% of the audience was male and 57% was 25 or older. Smokin' stars Jeremy Piven, Andy Garcia, and Alicia Keys and cost less than $20M to produce which should make it a profitable venture when all worldwide rights are exploited. The Vegas film also opened at number one in Russia this weekend with $1.7M and has grossed an additional $5.3M from the United Kingdom after its third weekend.

The unstoppable blockbuster comedy Night at the Museum enjoyed yet another small decline sliding only 20% in its sixth weekend to $9.6M. The Ben Stiller-Robin Williams smash has pumped its cume up to $216.8M and will soon join the top 50 domestic blockbusters of all-time. Sony's Stomp the Yard, 2007's top-grossing new release, slipped only 38% and took fourth with $7.7M. Total stands at an impressive $50.5M.

Jennifer Garner generated respectable results for her latest film Catch and Release which was not given a very wide release, but still sold $7.7M in ticket stubs. Averaging a solid $4,722 from 1,622 playdates, the PG-13 film about a woman rebuilding her life after her husband's death played heavily female. According to Sony's research, an overwhelming 75% of the crowd consisted of women and 58% was 25 or older. Catch cost $25M to produce and opened smaller than her previous headlining efforts 13 Going on 30 ($21.1M in 2004) and Elektra ($12.8M in 2005). Reviews were mostly negative.

A quartet of Oscar-nominated films followed. Paramount's musical Dreamgirls, which led all films with eight Academy Award nominations, expanded from 2,214 to 2,785 sites and grossed $6.7M. That represented a slim 16% drop in sales from last weekend but a steeper 33% fall in the per-theater average which was $2,421. Cume to date is $86.8M. Despite not earning a best picture nomination, Dreamgirls is still holding up well and posting relatively low declines.

Also showing durability was Will Smith's The Pursuit of Happyness which earned the box office star an Academy nod for best actor. The Sony blockbuster dipped only 21% to $5M pushing its sum to $152.9M. Pursuit did not have any expansion, but instead lost 378 theaters and still witnessed a decline similar to that of Dreamgirls which scored many more Oscar nominations and added hundreds of playdates to its run.

The fantasy tale Pan's Labyrinth widened from 609 to 823 sites and grossed $4.8M equaling its gross from last weekend. Nominated in six different categories, the Mexican film saw its per-theater average dip 22% from last weekend to a still-solid $5,801. Total is $16.5M for the Picturehouse release.

The Queen saw a healthy bump in sales and ranked ninth for the weekend with $4M, up 18%, for a $41.3M sum to date. Miramax added 244 additional venues and saw its average inch up 2% to $2,193.

Rounding out the top ten was a film that has approximately zero chance of earning any Academy Award nominations a year from now. The horror film The Hitcher tumbled 54% in its second weekend to $3.6M giving Focus only $13.4M to date. A $16-18M final seems likely.

Opening poorly outside of the top ten was yet another horror film, the werewolf thriller Blood and Chocolate, which bowed to only $2.1M. The PG-13 film attacked 1,200 theaters and averaged a weak $1,728 per venue for MGM.

With last Tuesday's Academy Award nominations putting several films into the media spotlight, distributors took the opportunity to expand their contenders and saw increased weekend grosses, even though averages were mostly not very impressive. Best picture candidate The Departed, which was near the end of its theatrical run after opening in early October, went back into national release and grossed $3.4M. Averaging $2,316 per site in 1,453 locations, the Martin Scorsese crime saga upped its cume to $125.2M. Its best picture rival Babel widened to 1,090 playdates and grossed $2.6M for a $2,349 average. Sales were up 24% from last weekend while the average inched up 1% with the total reaching $27.2M.

Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima, which has been holding back much of its release in anticipation of Oscar nods, added 55 theaters to its run and surged 38% to $1.9M. The Warner Bros. release averaged a decent but not spectacular $4,499 from 415 locations. The average increased a healthy 20% from last weekend and the subtitled film has collected $5.1M to date as Letters remained the lowest-grossing best picture nominee by far. But much potential could still be ahead of it.

Among films with high profile acting nominations, Fox Searchlight's Notes on a Scandal more than tripled its run to 640 theaters and grossed $2.6M as the weekend take doubled. The Judi Dench-Cate Blanchett pic averaged $4,061 per playdate and has taken in $9.1M thus far. The distributor's Forest Whitaker drama The Last King of Scotland remained mostly steady with its theater count and saw its gross inch up 4% to $1.7M for a $7.7M total. Sony Classics more than quadrupled the run of Penelope Cruz's Volver and took in $1.1M from 689 sites. The average was diluted down to just $1,655 as the total climbed to $8.9M.

The industry often looks at a film's box office boost on the weekend after Academy Award nominations are announced to determine how much gold an Oscar nod is worth. But what is often overlooked is the additional marketing and distribution expense that is invested by a distributor to create new marketing materials, buy more advertising, and ship extra prints out across the country. Expanding these films in a crowded marketplace is not cheap, but studios do believe that there are long-term benefits to be gained by the added attention like extra momentum in overseas and video markets, plus possibly some added votes from Academy members. In addition, it is difficult to separate the sales that are due directly to the Oscar attention from those that would have occured anyway even if no nominations came through.

The chart below examines how the per-theater averages changed for several top Oscar contenders this weekend. Those that more than doubled their theater counts saw their averages get reduced. Iwo Jima enjoyed the strongest growth in its average while Scotland, Babel, and Queen all continued to reach new moviegoing audiences despite having been in the marketplace since September or October.

Film Avg This Wknd Avg Last Wknd % chg Thr chg
Venus $ 5,829 $ 8,411 -30.7 47
Pan's Labyrinth 5,801 7,393 -21.5 214
Letters From Iwo Jima 4,499 3,765 19.5 55
Notes on a Scandal 4,061 5,839 -30.4 440
The Last King of Scotland 3,343 3,252 2.8 6
Dreamgirls 2,420 3,617 -33.1 571
Babel 2,349 2,331 0.8 201
The Departed 2,316 2,378 -2.6 1,326
The Queen 2,192 2,144 2.2 244
Volver 1,655 3,646 -54.6 542

Three films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Paramount's high school drama Freedom Writers dipped 33% to $3.5M in its fourth session. The Hilary Swank pic has grossed a respectable $31.3M to date and should finish with about $36-38M. The MGM family release Arthur and the Invisibles dropped 45% to $1.7M for a $11.5M cume. A disappointing $14M final seems likely.

Universal's futuristic drama Children of Men scored three Oscar nominations, but it meant little to its ticket sales. The R-rated drama fell 41% to $2.2M lifting the sum to $30.9M. The Alfonso Cuaron-directed film should conclude with around $35M.

The top ten films grossed $82.3M which was down 12% from last year when Big Momma's House 2 opened at number one with $27.7M; and down 16% from 2005 when Hide and Seek debuted on top with $22M.

Compared to projections, Epic Movie and Smokin' Aces both opened stronger than my respective forecasts of $14M and $8M, respectively. Catch and Release was very close to my $7M prediction while Blood and Chocolate bowed to half of my $4M projection.

Be sure to read the NEW weekly Oscar Spotlight column which this week features an interview with Laurence Mark, producer of Dreamgirls.

Listen to the weekly podcast Projectionz featuring The Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rechtshaffen, Box Office magazine's Wade Major, and BoxOfficeGuru.com's Gitesh Pandya. A new episode is available each Friday for free download from the Apple iTunes Store and this week we discuss the Oscar nominations and the Sundance Film Festival.

Check the updated box office chart for this year's Academy Award Nominees. For a NEW review of Blood and Chocolate visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Messengers and Because I Said So both challenge the Super Bowl.

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

# Title Jan 26 - 28 Jan 19 - 21 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Epic Movie $ 18,612,544 2,801 1 $ 6,645 $ 18,612,544 Fox
2 Smokin' Aces 14,638,755 2,218 1 6,600 14,638,755 Universal
3 Night at the Museum 9,557,664 12,012,724 -20.4 3,241 6 2,949 216,845,623 Fox
4 Stomp the Yard 7,685,565 12,287,352 -37.5 2,115 3 3,634 50,538,842 Sony
5 Catch and Release 7,658,898 1,622 1 4,722 7,658,898 Sony
6 Dreamgirls 6,741,985 8,008,749 -15.8 2,785 7 2,421 86,775,468 Paramount
7 The Pursuit of Happyness 4,983,325 6,310,133 -21.0 2,688 7 1,854 152,929,867 Sony
8 Pan's Labyrinth 4,774,578 4,502,243 6.0 823 5 5,801 16,523,021 Picturehouse
9 The Queen 4,013,052 3,400,061 18.0 1,830 18 2,193 41,254,080 Miramax
10 The Hitcher 3,632,975 7,818,239 -53.5 2,836 2 1,281 13,433,020 Focus
11 Freedom Writers 3,514,548 5,207,062 -32.5 2,273 4 1,546 31,312,123 Paramount
12 The Departed 3,365,481 301,952 1,453 17 2,316 125,237,852 Warner Bros.
13 Notes on a Scandal 2,603,703 1,167,702 123.0 640 4 4,068 9,087,135 Fox Searchlight
14 Babel 2,561,053 2,072,412 23.6 1,090 14 2,350 27,226,241 Par. Vantage
15 Children of Men 2,183,195 3,710,945 -41.2 1,273 5 1,715 30,909,838 Universal
16 Blood and Chocolate 2,074,300 1,200 1 1,729 2,074,300 MGM
17 Letters From Iwo Jima 1,867,326 1,355,466 37.8 415 6 4,500 5,072,065 Warner Bros.
18 Arthur and the Invisibles 1,704,515 3,080,698 -44.7 1,718 3 992 11,501,180 MGM
19 The Last King of Scotland 1,674,900 1,609,920 4.0 501 18 3,343 7,739,235 Fox Searchlight
20 Charlotte's Web 1,496,105 2,335,120 -35.9 1,345 7 1,112 78,862,500 Paramount
Top 5 $ 58,153,426 $ 46,437,197 25.2
Top 10 82,299,341 66,338,206 24.1
Top 20 105,344,467 85,632,926 23.0
Top 20 vs. 2006 105,344,467 116,581,644 -9.6

Last Updated : January 29, 2007 at 7:30PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Friday at 9:50am ET.