Weekend Box Office (February 2 - 4, 2007)

*** NEW Oscar Spotlight: Babel ***

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND With the Super Bowl taking males out of the picture, mothers and daughters squared off at the North American box office with the younger set earning a slim victory. The spooky thriller The Messengers opened at number one driven by teenage girls and young women while the Diane Keaton comedy Because I Said So bowed close behind in the runnerup position drawing upon older women. The overall box office picture was bleak as the top ten slumped below the $70M mark for the second time in three weekends.

Sony scored its seventh consecutive victory over Super Bowl weekend with the haunted house spookfest The Messengers which grossed $14.7M in its debut frame, according to final studio figures. The PG-13 pic averaged a solid $5,820 from 2,528 locations but was weaker than the studio's previous three hits that ruled this particular weekend. Last year, the horror pic When a Stranger Calls topped the charts with a $21.6M opening and $7,205 average, in 2005 Boogeyman led with a $19M bow and $6,232 average, and in 2004 You Got Served hit number one with $16.1M and a $8,341 average. Messengers did however post the best opening for a horror film since October's Saw III. A long string of terror flops were tossed into the marketplace in between with disappointing results.

Budgeted at only $16M, The Messengers skewed to a young female audience. According to studio research, 53% of the crowd was female and an equal percentage was under the age of 21. The studio is already planning for next year's Super Bowl frame when it will release the horror remake Prom Night which will again cater to the same crowd. Teenage girls and young women historically have been the group least interested in football's big championship game making them an attractive audience to target on this weekend. Creepy PG-13 films with strong female characters coupled with saavy marketing have led to many number one hits for Sony and its Screen Gems unit. But with the grosses getting smaller, movie fans could be telling Hollywood that it is dipping into this well too often.

Opening in second place with respectable results was Because I Said So with $13.1M from 2,526 theaters. Averaging $5,195 per location, the PG-13 film stars Diane Keaton as a meddlesome mother trying to find love for her unmarried daughter played by Mandy Moore. Men showed practically zero interest in the Universal release. Studio research showed that a whopping 82% of the audience was female. The film also played more to Keaton fans than to the Moore crowd as 55% of the turnout was 35 or older. 83% was Caucasian. Critics trashed Because and Messengers may have eaten into its potential with younger women.

Last weekend's number one film Epic Movie dropped a sizable 55% in its second weekend and ranked third with $8.4M. With $29.6M in ten days, the spoof comedy looks on course to finish with $40-44M making it a bit smaller than Fox's spoof from last February Date Movie. That spin on romantic comedies grossed a somewhat stronger $33.8M in its first ten days, had a slightly lower 53% sophomore drop, and found its way to $48.5M.

Fox's runaway smash Night at the Museum slipped only 33% and placed fourth with $6.4M pushing its tally to $225M. The durable Ben Stiller blockbuster became the first film to spend seven weekends in the top five since 2004's The Passion of the Christ.

Universal's mob thriller Smokin' Aces dropped 58% to $6.1M in its second weekend and put its cume at $24.7M after ten days. The step dancing hit Stomp the Yard followed with $4.1M, off 47%, for a total of $55.9M. The Oscar-nominated musical Dreamgirls saw the worst decline of its run dropping 41% to $4M. Cume stands at $92.7M.

Picturehouse added 259 theaters to the run of the fantasy pic Pan's Labyrinth and stayed put at number eight with $3.7M. With six Academy Award nominations, the R-rated film upped its cume to $21.7M while its average of $3,404 was the third best in the top ten. Will Smith's tenth career $100M blockbuster The Pursuit of Happyness took in $3M, down 41%, for a $157.2M total to date.

In tenth place with $2.7M in ticket sales was the Helen Mirren Oscar nominated pic The Queen. The Miramax contender for Best Picture slipped 34% raising its cume to $45.5M.

The Jennifer Garner dramedy Catch and Release tumbled 66% in its second weekend to $2.6M thanks to its female audience shifting over to the frame's two new releases. The ten-day total stands at a weak $11.9M. The horror remake The Hitcher also saw sales nosedive and dropped out of the top ten. The Focus release slumped 70% to $1.1M giving the R-rated scarefest only $15.5M overall. A final gross of $17M seems likely.

MGM and The Weinstein Co. saw a solid start for its indie drama Factory Girl starring media darling Sienna Miller grossing $87,477 from only three theaters for a stellar $29,159 average per site. Bowing in just New York and Los Angeles, the R-rated film tells of the rise of Edie Sedgwick and her mentor Andy Warhol. Reviews were mostly negative.

The top ten films grossed $66.1M which was off 13% from last year when When A Stranger Calls opened at number one with $21.6M; and down 19% from 2005 when Boogeyman debuted on top with $19M.

Compared to projections, The Messengers debuted a couple of notches higher than my $12M forecast while Because I Said So was close to my $14M prediction.

Be sure to read the NEW Oscar Spotlight column which features a one-on-one interview with Babel producer Jon Kilik. Check the updated box office chart for this year's Academy Award Nominees.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Norbit and Hannibal Rising both open.

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

# Title Feb 2 - 4 Jan 26 - 28 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Messengers $ 14,713,321 2,528 1 $ 5,820 $ 14,713,321 Sony
2 Because I Said So 13,122,865 2,526 1 5,195 13,122,865 Universal
3 Epic Movie 8,411,993 18,612,544 -54.8 2,840 2 2,962 29,555,556 Fox
4 Night at the Museum 6,385,843 9,557,664 -33.2 3,003 7 2,126 225,001,335 Fox
5 Smokin' Aces 6,113,345 14,638,755 -58.2 2,219 2 2,755 24,744,300 Universal
6 Stomp the Yard 4,055,791 7,685,565 -47.2 2,169 4 1,870 55,857,184 Sony
7 Dreamgirls 4,000,521 6,741,985 -40.7 2,797 8 1,430 92,748,249 Paramount
8 Pan's Labyrinth 3,682,699 4,774,578 -22.9 1,082 6 3,404 21,715,849 Picturehouse
9 The Pursuit of Happyness 2,966,454 4,983,325 -40.5 2,233 8 1,328 157,217,102 Sony
10 The Queen 2,650,134 4,013,052 -34.0 1,850 19 1,433 45,461,958 Miramax
11 Catch and Release 2,576,948 7,658,898 -66.4 1,622 2 1,589 11,887,958 Sony
12 The Departed 2,287,463 3,365,481 -32.0 1,453 18 1,574 128,583,307 Warner Bros.
13 Freedom Writers 1,860,547 3,514,548 -47.1 1,915 5 972 34,150,008 Paramount
14 Notes on a Scandal 1,750,593 2,603,703 -32.8 682 5 2,567 11,748,839 Fox Searchlight
15 Babel 1,701,657 2,561,053 -33.6 1,090 15 1,561 29,715,747 Par. Vantage
16 Letters From Iwo Jima 1,696,356 1,867,326 -9.2 720 7 2,356 7,478,563 Warner Bros.
17 The Last King of Scotland 1,268,117 1,674,900 -24.3 528 19 2,402 9,624,115 Fox Searchlight
18 Children of Men 1,123,360 2,183,195 -48.5 826 6 1,360 32,726,893 Universal
19 The Hitcher 1,104,594 3,632,975 -69.6 1,496 3 738 15,533,892 Focus
20 Arthur and the Invisibles 1,015,026 1,704,515 -40.5 1,245 4 815 12,777,894 MGM
Top 5 $ 48,747,367 $ 58,153,426 -16.2
Top 10 66,102,966 82,299,341 -19.7
Top 20 82,487,627 105,344,467 -21.7
Top 20 vs. 2006 82,487,627 95,491,531 -13.6

Last Updated : February 5, 2007 at 8:30PM ET

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