Weekend Box Office (January 27 - 29, 2006)

*** NEW Oscar Spotlight: Hustle & Flow***

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Two new comedies opened much better than expected giving a potent one-two punch to the North American box office. Martin Lawrence's undercover sequel Big Momma's House 2 led the way while Emma Thompson's family pic Nanny McPhee was impressive in the runnerup spot. The weekend's other new wide release, the military drama Annapolis, premiered in fourth place with respectable results. Overall, the marketplace was healthy ending a solid first month for the new year.

Fox scored its first number one opener in five months with the oversized launch of Big Momma's House 2 which took in $27.7M, according to final studio figures. Playing in 3,261 theaters, the PG-13 film averaged a muscular $8,505 per theater and exceeded the $25.7M bow of the first Big Momma from June 2000. Adjust for the change in ticket prices over the last five and a half years and the original sold more tickets. However, going into this weekend, most industry observers expected the sequel to attract a smaller opening gross than its predecessor so the tally comes as a big win for the studio. Big Momma's House 2 also delivered the third largest January opening ever after 1997's Star Wars: Special Edition ($35.9M from 2,104 theaters) and 2002's Black Hawk Down ($28.6M from 3,101 locations).

Produced for $40M, House 2 finds Lawrence jumping back into the fat suit to catch his ex-partner's killer. The film appealed to a broad age range but skewed very female, according to studio research. Women made up a surprisingly high two-thirds of the crowd while those 25 and older made up 52%. A very strong showing came from African American ticket buyers who accounted for 54% of the audience. The film also gave Lawrence the second biggest opening ever after another sequel, Bad Boys II, which bowed to $46.5M in July 2003.

Also generating more sales than expected was the British family comedy Nanny McPhee which took in $14.5M from 1,995 theaters for a strong $7,270 average. The PG-rated pic stars Emma Thompson as a magical caregiver who can make even the wildest children behave. Universal's hit opened in its native United Kingdom in October and has already grossed $35.8M internationally. Parents and kids under 13 made up the bulk of the audience, according to studio data.

Last weekend's high-flying champ Underworld: Evolution suffered a steep drop, as expected, and fell 58% to $11.4M in its second frame. Sony's vampire sequel has now grossed $44.6M in ten days and seems headed for roughly $65M. The first Underworld fell a similar 57% in its sophomore frame in September 2003 and went on to reach $52M.

The weekend's third new wide release, the Navy drama Annapolis, debuted in fourth place with $7.7M from only 1,605 theaters. The moderately wide release resulted in a respectable $4,786 average for Buena Vista. The PG-13 film stars James Franco as a first-year cadet struggling to find his place. Tyrese Gibson (2 Fast 2 Furious) and Jordana Brewster (The Fast and the Furious) co-star.

The animated hit Hoodwinked continued to show good legs easing only 28% to $7.5M in its third weekend for a 17-day cume of $37.8M.

Awards frontrunner Brokeback Mountain expanded once again widening from 1,163 to 1,654 theaters and grossed $6.5M, off a slim 12% from last weekend. The Focus release has upped its cume to $51M and with Oscar nominations due to be announced on Tuesday morning, the Ang Lee hit could open its doors to a whole new audience in the coming days. Kudos from the Golden Globes, critics groups, and other industry bodies are important, but nothing boosts moviegoer interest more during awards season than an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Brokeback is expected to score that plus many other nods. On Saturday, Lee picked up the DGA Award for best director giving it even more muscle.

From a business perspective, the nomination can often mean more than an actual Best Picture win since the film gets positioned as a major contender for five long weeks. Many film buffs want to see as many of the five nominees as possible before Oscar night so each pic can fatten its gross tremendously. The big winners in recent years have had different distribution strategies which in turn affected their benefit from the Oscars. Films like The Return of the King and A Beautiful Mind were already playing in wide release for many weeks before nominations were announced while last year's Million Dollar Baby was prancing around in limited release before coming out swinging in wide release after the nominations came out. But Chicago and Shakespeare in Love were both released in a pattern similar to Brokeback with gradual expansion throughout January reaching wide play by the time Oscar nods were announced. Each film saw its pre-nomination cume double by Oscar night before rising even higher after taking home multiple statues.

Following in seventh place was Disney's basketball saga Glory Road with $5.3M, down 39%, for a total of $34.9M. Behind it once again was Queen Latifah's comedy Last Holiday which dropped 45% to $4.8M giving Paramount $32.6M to date.

Disney's unstoppable adventure film The Chronicles of Narnia placed ninth with $4.5M in its eighth frame, off only 28%, boosting the tally to $277.9M. Aside from its sophomore weekend when King Kong opened, the fantasy hit has always kept its declines below 40%.

Pierce Brosnan's hitman comedy The Matador expanded nationally, but only managed a tenth place finish with $3.6M. The Weinstein Co. release averaged a good $4,082 from 885 theaters lifting its total to a modest $5.3M.

Four films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Jim Carrey's Fun with Dick and Jane grossed $3.5M, down 39%, for a $106.2M cume. Sony has enjoyed a durable run and should end up with around $115M. The Amazon adventure End of the Spear fell 41% in its second weekend to $2.5M pushing the ten-day sum to just $7.9M. A weak $13M final is likely.

Universal's King Kong dropped 44% to $2.3M and saw its total grow to $213.2M domestically. Overseas, the Peter Jackson actioner has grossed a sturdy $316.5M to date. Kong's North American take should end up with roughly $218M. The horror flick Hostel grossed $1.8M, down a steep 58%, for a $45.8M cume. Look for the Lionsgate release to conclude with about $48M.

A handful of awards contenders kept luring in audiences on the eve of Oscar nominations being announced. Fox's Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line slipped a scant 1% to $3M and raised its total to $106.1M. DreamWorks collected $2.7M for Woody Allen's Match Point which slipped only 7% pushing its gross to $13.8M.

George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck grossed $181,307 in its 17th weekend giving Warner Independent $25.1M thus far. The political drama is seen as a major contender with the Academy and the distributor will expand the Edward R. Murrow pic to about 800 theaters on Friday hoping to capitalize on its expected nods.

Among new films opening in limited release, Buena Vista saw a solid debut for its Imax space documentary Roving Mars which collected $412,337. The 40-minute film averaged an encouraging $15,271 from 27 theaters. Steven Soderbergh's Bubble, which opened in theaters and debuted on the HDnet cable channel this weekend, posted a soft opening with $70,664 from 32 theaters for a mild $2,208 average. The ultralow-budget doll factory drama also hits DVD on Tuesday in a radical release plan that allows moviegoers to choose how they want to see the film.

Fox Searchlight opened the romantic comedy Imagine Me & You in eight sites in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and bowed to $51,907. The R-rated story of a newlywed gal who finds love with another woman averaged a moderate $6,488 and will expand to about 50 theaters this Friday in nine additional cities.

The top ten films grossed $93.6M which was off only 4% from last year when Hide and Seek opened at number one with $22M; but up a hearty 40% from 2004 when You Got Served debuted in the top spot with $16.1M.

Compared to projections, both Big Momma's House 2 and Nanny McPhee opened stronger than my respective forecasts of $18M and $10M. Annapolis debuted on target with my $8M prediction.

Be sure to read the NEW Oscar Spotlight column which features a one-on-one interview with John Singleton, producer of Hustle & Flow. This special seven-week series features one-on-one interviews every Friday with the producers and studio executives behind the most acclaimed films of the season.

For NEW reviews of Nanny McPhee and Imagine Me & You, plus DVD reviews of The War Within and The Constant Gardener visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Something New and When a Stranger Calls both open.

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

# Title Jan 27 - 29 Jan 20 - 22 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Big Momma's House 2 $ 27,736,056 3,261 1 $ 8,505 $ 27,736,056 Fox
2 Nanny McPhee 14,503,650 1,995 1 7,270 14,503,650 Universal
3 Underworld: Evolution 11,404,172 26,857,181 -57.5 3,207 2 3,556 44,607,264 Sony
4 Annapolis 7,681,171 1,605 1 4,786 7,681,171 Buena Vista
5 Hoodwinked 7,480,089 10,409,378 -28.1 3,020 3 2,477 37,767,800 Weinstein Co.
6 Brokeback Mountain 6,542,081 7,430,942 -12.0 1,654 8 3,955 51,024,343 Focus
7 Glory Road 5,345,859 8,769,735 -39.0 2,397 3 2,230 34,948,401 Buena Vista
8 Last Holiday 4,802,618 8,711,606 -44.9 2,442 3 1,967 32,630,669 Paramount
9 The Chronicles of Narnia 4,504,990 6,236,570 -27.8 2,170 8 2,076 277,867,308 Buena Vista
10 The Matador 3,612,663 409,855 781.4 885 5 4,082 5,270,798 Weinstein Co.
11 Fun with Dick and Jane 3,503,874 5,751,700 -39.1 2,132 6 1,643 106,218,183 Sony
12 Walk the Line 3,032,741 3,065,796 -1.1 1,201 11 2,525 106,120,470 Fox
13 Match Point 2,742,713 2,935,733 -6.6 501 5 5,474 13,833,732 DreamWorks
14 End of the Spear 2,517,811 4,281,388 -41.2 1,097 2 2,295 7,919,278 Rocky Mountain
15 The New World 2,476,001 4,029,715 -38.6 811 4 3,053 7,834,330 New Line
16 King Kong 2,346,555 4,222,560 -44.4 1,322 7 1,775 213,160,170 Universal
17 Hostel 1,777,435 4,246,471 -58.1 1,272 4 1,397 45,802,281 Lions Gate
18 Munich 1,670,810 3,032,070 -44.9 980 6 1,705 40,647,785 Universal
19 Memoirs of a Geisha 1,557,916 2,684,497 -42.0 1,016 8 1,533 53,819,922 Sony
20 Syriana 1,342,439 785,448 70.9 1,685 10 797 47,018,464 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 68,805,138 $ 62,178,842 10.7
Top 10 93,613,349 86,917,531 7.7
Top 20 116,581,644 111,976,108 4.1
Top 20 vs. 2005 116,581,644 116,910,357 -0.3

Last Updated : January 30, 2006 at 6:45PM EST