Weekend Box Office (February 4 - 6, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND With the Packers and Steelers squaring off in the Super Bowl, moviegoers avoided the multiplexes as the North American box office slumped to the third worst frame of the past two years. Of the two new releases that dared to compete against football, the collegiate thriller The Roommate fared well opening at number one by targeting young females but the older-skewing 3D action film Sanctum debuted poorly in second. The NFL championship game always commands the attention of the entire nation but this weekend's Top 20 plunged to just $82M falling well below recent Super Bowl sessions from the past three years.

Teenage girls and young women, the demographic least affected by football, turned out in solid numbers for the college-set thriller The Roommate which debuted at number one with $15M, according to final studio figures. The PG-13 film about a freshman gal with a creepy obsession with her new living partner averaged a good $5,921 from 2,534 theaters and marked Sony's eighth film over the past eleven years to bow on top over Super Bowl weekend. Most were suspense thrillers from the studio's Screen Gems unit like Roommate which play to this dependable audience.

Produced for just $16M, The Roommate drew in its target audience with a relatable storyline and starpower from TV stars Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) and Minka Kelly (Friday Night Lights). Studio research showed that 65% of the crowd was female and 61% was under 21. A targeted marketing campaign made sure that too much wasn't spent on other demographic groups that would never come out anyway. Moviegoers polled by CinemaScore gave the pic a weak B- average grade.

The underwater survival actioner Sanctum sank in its opening weekend grossing just $9.4M despite playing very wide in 2,787 locations including over 2,000 3D screens and 178 IMAX venues. Averaging a weak $3,390, the R-rated film failed to spark much interest with ticket buyers despite being heavily promoted as a project from James Cameron who was one of the executive producers. In fact, Sanctum opened just hair ahead of the $9.3M debut of the Oscar-winning director's 1989 underwater adventure The Abyss which had significantly lower ticket prices, no 3D surcharges, and 1,200 fewer theaters.

Universal and Relativity Media paid only $12M to acquire distribution rights (and paid for marketing) so the $30M-budgeted Sanctum should not turn into too problematic of a title financially. IMAX screens accounted for 17% of the gross, but overall moviegoers showed that paying a premium for this particular film was not worth it. The aquatic actioner suffered one of the worst openings for a live-action 3D film during the format's current era and was about even with the two-day $6.3M bow of Gulliver's Travels this past Christmas. According to studio research, females made up 53% of the audience and 65% was 30 and over so the film skewed much older than other titles. A poor C+ CinemaScore grade indicates a quick fade in the weeks to come. Reviews were mostly lackluster. Overseas, Sanctum debuted in second place in Australia with $1.6M and in fifth place in the U.K. with $1.5M.

With only one new release generating good results and most holdovers fading away, the Top 20 suffered troubling declines compared to recent Super Bowl weekends - 25% vs. 2010, 31% vs 2009, and 31% vs. 2008. The aftermath of last week's massive blizzard also played a role as people in many top markets in the Midwest and Northeast were still digging themselves out of the latest round of winter snow.

The Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy No Strings Attached remained a popular item with audiences sliding only 40% in its third session to $8M. Paramount's sex comedy has laughed up an impressive $51.4M in 17 days and is playing as effective counter-programming for women against all the football hoopla.

Stepping closer to the $100M mark, Oscar front-runner The King's Speech ranked fourth with $7.7M enjoying the smallest drop in the top ten with its 30% dip. The Weinstein Co. has reached $83.5M and will join the century club before the February 27 awards.

The Green Hornet fell 47% to $6M placing fifth for the weekend giving Sony $87.1M to date for 2011's top-grossing new release. Last week's top performer The Rite suffered the worst drop of any film plunging 62% to $5.6M in its sophomore scare. Bad buzz and competition from a new fright flick contributed to the steep tumble. Warner Bros. has grossed $23.7M for its Anthony Hopkins supernatural thriller and should end up with $30-35M.

Jason Statham's latest action platform The Mechanic plunged 54% to $5.3M in its second weekend. The CBS Films release has grossed $20M in ten days and should end with about $30M. Jumping the $150M mark this past week was Oscar contender True Grit which took in $4.6M, down 38%, for a cume to date of $154.9M for Paramount. Along with TRON: Legacy, Jeff Bridges has raked in a stellar $324M this winter from his pair of blockbuster hits.

Best Actress front-runner Natalie Portman was in ninth with Fox Searchlight's Black Swan which collected $3.4M, off 34%, for a $95.9M total. Look for the ballerina thriller to cross the $100M mark by Valentine's Day. Dropping 42% and rounding out the top ten was Vince Vaughn's comedy The Dilemma with $3.3M bumping the total to $45.6M for Universal.

The top ten films grossed $68.3M which was down 28% from last year when Dear John knocked Avatar out of the top spot with a $30.5M opening; and off 29% from 2009's Super Bowl frame when Taken opened at number one with $24.7M.

Compared to projections, The Roommate opened very close to my $14M forecast while Sanctum came in below my $12M prediction.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

Check the UPDATED box office chart for the Oscar Nominee Grosses. For a NEW review of Sanctum visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Just Go With It, The Eagle, and Gnomeo & Juliet usher in a new wave of film choices.

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

# Title Feb 4 - 6 Jan 28 - 30 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Roommate $ 15,002,635 2,534 1 $ 5,921 $ 15,002,635 Sony
2 Sanctum 9,447,930 2,787 1 3,390 9,447,930 Universal
3 No Strings Attached 8,004,834 13,410,229 -40.3 3,050 3 2,625 51,392,705 Paramount
4 The King's Speech 7,712,353 11,064,781 -30.3 2,584 11 2,985 83,527,544 Weinstein Co.
5 The Green Hornet 5,966,229 11,184,361 -46.7 3,033 4 1,967 87,088,622 Sony
6 The Rite 5,589,311 14,789,393 -62.2 2,985 2 1,872 23,701,534 Warner Bros.
7 The Mechanic 5,295,253 11,422,006 -53.6 2,704 2 1,958 20,005,519 CBS Films
8 True Grit 4,640,139 7,518,265 -38.3 2,902 7 1,599 154,902,541 Paramount
9 Black Swan 3,373,851 5,118,269 -34.1 1,977 10 1,707 95,861,708 Fox Searchlight
10 The Dilemma 3,282,555 5,665,730 -42.1 2,545 4 1,290 45,574,025 Universal
11 The Fighter 2,838,173 3,960,280 -28.3 1,662 9 1,708 82,400,738 Paramount
12 Yogi Bear 2,249,382 3,167,440 -29.0 1,807 8 1,245 95,367,329 Warner Bros.
13 Tangled 1,850,628 2,526,561 -26.8 1,369 11 1,352 192,073,303 Disney
14 TRON: Legacy 1,363,991 2,529,097 -46.1 1,040 8 1,312 168,758,238 Disney
15 127 Hours 1,348,746 2,136,801 -36.9 899 14 1,500 15,679,195 Fox Searchlight
16 Little Fockers 1,239,980 2,573,930 -51.8 1,355 7 915 146,542,285 Universal
17 Blue Valentine 786,441 1,186,124 -33.7 450 6 1,748 7,268,846 Weinstein Co.
18 From Prada to Nada 748,852 1,115,638 -32.9 261 2 2,869 2,097,423 Lionsgate
19 Biutiful 641,647 457,206 40.3 179 2 3,585 1,426,142 Roadside Attr.
20 Country Strong 617,047 1,274,454 -51.6 948 7 651 19,817,182 Sony
Top 5 $ 46,133,981 $ 61,870,770 -25.4
Top 10 68,315,090 87,300,754 -21.7
Top 20 81,999,977 103,033,112 -20.4
Top 20 vs. 2010 81,999,977 109,346,499 -25.0

Last Updated: February 7, 2011 at 5:30PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.