Weekend Box Office (February 3 - 5, 2006)

*** NEW Oscar Spotlight: Walk the Line ***

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers in Pittsburgh, Seattle, and everywhere in between rushed to theaters for the new suspense thriller When a Stranger Calls powering the film to a strong number one opening over Super Bowl weekend. The frame's only other new opener, the romantic comedy Something New, debuted to weaker numbers while Oscar nominees added theaters and witnessed mixed results at the North American box office. Ticket sales suffered steep Saturday-to-Sunday declines across the board since much of America's attention was diverted to Detroit for the big NFL championship game.

Sony enjoyed its best opening since September with the release of the babysitter chiller When a Stranger Calls which rocketed to number one with $21.6M, according to final studio figures. Playing in 2,999 theaters, the PG-13 flick about a teenage girl terrorized by a mysterious caller averaged a healthy $7,205 per site. As anticipated, young females were the core audience as the studio's Screen Gems unit targeted the demographic quadrant that typically is least distracted by the Super Bowl. According to studio research, 55% of the audience was female and 58% was under the age of 21. The usual horror formula of a female protagonist, a PG-13 rating, and good marketing led to another impressive opening for the distributor in this genre. A $15M production budget should allow all hands reaching into the pot to make a profit.

When a Stranger Calls also marked the third consecutive year that Sony's Screen Gems unit debuted a film at number one on Super Bowl weekend. Last year, it bowed Boogeyman to $19M while in 2004 the company premiered You Got Served to $16.1M. With Stranger, the 2006 box office generated a $20M+ opener for the third straight weekend following Big Momma's House 2 and Underworld: Evolution which each debuted near the $27M mark. Hollywood distributors are bracing themselves for the possibility of more weekends adversely affected by sports this month since the Winter Olympics begin next weekend and NBC has its marketing folks doing everything they can to make Americans care.

After a powerful opening, Big Momma's House 2 fell a sharp 51% in its sophomore session and finished in the runnerup spot with $13.6M. The decline was in line with how comedy sequels tend to drop and the Fox release upped its cume to $45.7M in ten days. By comparison, the first Big Momma's House enjoyed a smaller fall dropping 33% in its second weekend to $17.2M for a ten-day tally of $52.4M. Budgeted at $40M, House 2 could find its way to $75-80M, or about one-third less than the first Momma's $117.6M.

With no new competition for the family crowd, Universal enjoyed a solid second frame for its comedy Nanny McPhee which placed third with $9.8M. Off only 33%, the British pic boosted its total to $26.5M after ten days and looks to reach a commendable $50-55M from this side of the Atlantic.

Climbing up two notches to number four was Oscar favorite Brokeback Mountain with $6M from 2,089 theaters. Focus Features added 435 new locations after earning eight nominations and saw its per-theater average get diluted down to only $2,874. That represents a 27% decline from last weekend's $3,955 average and a 8% drop in the overall three-day gross. With $60.1M in its purse, Brokeback is the highest-grossing film ever in the four-year history of Focus Features and is the second biggest grosser for the company when including releases from other distributors that were folded into it over the years including USA Films, Universal Focus, October Films, and Gramercy. Only 2000's Traffic, which was a high-profile Oscar contender taking home four statues, performed better taking in $124.1M for USA Films.

Holding up well once again was the animated comedy Hoodwinked with $5.3M, down just 29%, for a $44.1M total for The Weinstein Co. Sony's vampire sequel Underworld: Evolution followed with $5.3M as well, dropping a heavy 54% to a 17-day cume of $53M. The action thriller has now surpassed the $52M of the first Underworld.

Focus saw moderate results for its cross cultural romantic comedy Something New which opened in seventh with $4.9M from 1,265 theaters. Averaging a decent $3,857 per location, the PG-13 film stars Sanaa Lathan as a black professional woman who gets invloved with a working class white man. Despite two weekends of sneak previews designed to spread positive buzz, Something did not reach the heights of other films targeting African American adults like How Stella Got Her Groove Back ($11.3M opening, $8,114 average), Soul Food ($11.2M, $8,363), or Lathan's Brown Sugar ($10.7M, $7,827).

The military drama Annapolis dropped a steep 56% in its second weekend and grossed $3.4M pushing the ten-day cume to only $12.9M. Fox's Johnny Cash pic Walk the Line jumped back into the top ten after earning five Oscar nominations and collected $3.3M. Despite being snubbed in the picture and director categories, the Joaquin Phoenix-Reese Witherspoon drama added 376 theaters and saw its gross climb 8% from last weekend. Its total stands at $110.6M.

The megablockbuster The Chronicles of Narnia rounded out the top ten dropping 32% to $3.1M putting its cume at a towering $281.9M. The Disney smash rose to number 26 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters just ahead of The Matrix Reloaded which grossed $281.5M in 2003. Worldwide, Narnia has grossed $648M and counting.

Three films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Disney's Glory Road slipped to $2.8M, off 47%, for a $38.8M sum. A $45M final score seems likely. Paramount's Queen Latifah comedy Last Holiday has grossed $36.3M to date. Budgeted at $45M, the PG-13 flick looks to end with $42-44M. Pierce Brosnan's turn as a troubled hitman in The Matador attracted weekend sales of $2.3M dropping only 37% in its second weekend of wide play. But with a mere $8.6M in the bank, the Weinstein Co. title could find its way to around $15M.

Three films that earned Academy Award nods for Best Picture and Best Director added theaters this weekend, however audience responses were mild proving that with a lack of mainstream appeal, an Oscar nomination can only go so far at the box office when playing nationwide. The Sony Classics biopic Capote expanded from 325 to 1,239 reaching national play for the first time and grossed $2.3M. That gave the Philip Seymour Hoffman film a per-theater average of only $1,849. Cume after its 19th weekend is $18M.

Steven Spielberg's Munich grossed $1.7M from 1,151 theaters for a mild $1,455 average. Universal only gave the revenge thriller a boost of 171 theaters, but did see its weekend gross match last weekend's. The total reached $43M. Warner Independent's Good Night, and Good Luck widened from 105 to 929 (its largest theater count in 18 weeks of release) and collected $1.5M. The George Clooney political drama saw a per-theater average of only $1,638 but watched its total rise to $26.8M. Although all three films generated box office boosts thanks to the added Oscar attention, none turned into a major player that a mass audience is now rushing to see.

In limited release bows, the Anthony Hopkins drama The World's Fastest Indian debuted to $400,782 from 114 theaters giving Magnolia Films a mediocre $3,515 average. Tommy Lee Jones saw his directorial effort The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada open to $205,994 from 33 houses for a solid $6,242 average.

Elsewhere in the arthouses, Transamerica, which earned an Oscar nod for Best Actress for Felicity Huffman, enjoyed a modest 14% bump to $542,640. The Weinstein Co. release averaged a still-strong $5,372 from 101 locations and sits at $2.2M. Fox Searchlight expanded its romantic comedy Imagine Me & You from eight to 56 sites and grabbed $116,537 for a $2,081 average. The total stands at $188,837 with an expansion to about 100 theaters set for Friday.

The top ten films grossed $76.3M which was down 7% from last year when Boogeyman opened at number one with $19M; and down 10% from 2004 when Barbershop 2 debuted in the top spot with $24.2M.

Compared to projections, When A Stranger Calls opened a few notches above my $18M forecast while Something New debuted below my $9M prediction.

Be sure to read the NEW weekly Oscar Spotlight column which features a one-on-one interview with Cathy Konrad, producer of Walk the Line. Check in every Friday for a new interview that goes behind the scenes of some of the most acclaimed films up for Academy Awards.

Check the Oscar Nominee chart which tracks the box office of all nominees with updates throughout awards season.

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

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Firewall, The Pink Panther, Final Destination 3, and Curious George all debut.

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

# Title Feb 3 - 5 Jan 27 - 29 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 When a Stranger Calls $ 21,607,203 2,999 1 $ 7,205 $ 21,607,203 Sony
2 Big Momma's House 2 13,600,645 27,736,056 -51.0 3,261 2 4,171 45,661,165 Fox
3 Nanny McPhee 9,796,465 14,503,650 -32.5 2,146 2 4,565 26,535,740 Universal
4 Brokeback Mountain 6,003,544 6,542,081 -8.2 2,089 9 2,874 60,102,890 Focus
5 Hoodwinked 5,307,334 7,480,089 -29.0 2,907 4 1,826 44,101,550 Weinstein Co.
6 Underworld: Evolution 5,302,601 11,404,172 -53.5 2,870 3 1,848 52,950,739 Sony
7 Something New 4,879,736 1,265 1 3,857 4,879,736 Focus
8 Annapolis 3,415,500 7,681,171 -55.5 1,607 2 2,125 12,883,153 Buena Vista
9 Walk the Line 3,287,475 3,032,741 8.4 1,577 12 2,085 110,611,645 Fox
10 The Chronicles of Narnia 3,072,090 4,504,990 -31.8 1,716 9 1,790 281,934,379 Buena Vista
11 Glory Road 2,840,287 5,345,859 -46.9 2,141 4 1,327 38,835,141 Buena Vista
12 Last Holiday 2,637,987 4,802,618 -45.1 1,920 4 1,374 36,334,454 Paramount
13 Capote 2,291,075 695,441 229.4 1,239 19 1,849 17,996,465 Sony Classics
14 The Matador 2,267,978 3,612,663 -37.2 905 6 2,506 8,575,836 Weinstein Co.
15 Match Point 1,840,093 2,742,713 -32.9 509 6 3,615 16,471,243 DreamWorks
16 Munich 1,675,150 1,670,810 0.3 1,151 7 1,455 42,960,295 Universal
17 Fun with Dick and Jane 1,531,734 3,503,874 -56.3 1,361 7 1,125 108,580,803 Sony
18 Good Night, and Good Luck 1,522,238 181,307 739.6 929 18 1,639 26,755,301 Warner Independent
19 The New World 1,424,351 2,476,001 -42.5 803 5 1,774 10,160,883 New Line
20 King Kong 1,188,045 2,346,555 -49.4 864 8 1,375 214,870,795 Universal
Top 5 $ 56,315,191 $ 68,805,138 -18.2
Top 10 76,272,593 93,613,349 -18.5
Top 20 95,491,531 116,581,644 -18.1
Top 20 vs. 2005 95,491,531 97,276,195 -1.8

Last Updated : February 6, 2006 at 6:00PM EST