Weekend Box Office (February 9 - 11, 2007)

*** NEW Oscar Spotlight: Days of Glory ***

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Eddie Murphy scored the 14th number one hit of his career by playing three eccentric characters in the new comedy Norbit which generated the largest opening of any film this year by far. Debuting far back in second place with about one-third of the ticket sales was the revenge thriller Hannibal Rising. With the Academy Awards just two weeks away, many moviegoers caught up on the major nominees which all displayed fantastic holds. The explosive Norbit bow, however, was not enough to keep the box office from dipping below year-ago levels for the sixth consecutive weekend.

Returning to the type of crude comedy that launched his career over a quarter-century ago, Eddie Murphy proved once again how strong of a box office draw he still is with Norbit which opened in the top spot with a very strong $34.2M, according to final studio figures. The PG-13 film, which was written by the comedian and his older brother Charlie Murphy, averaged a sizzling $10,904 from 3,136 theaters. Eddie Murphy also saw his Oscar-nominated turn in Dreamgirls sit in the top ten at the number nine spot. Both films were produced by DreamWorks and distributed by its new owner Paramount.

Norbit, which finds the former Saturday Night Live star playing a skinny timid man as well as his outrageous and overweight wife, gave Murphy his biggest opening for a live-action film since 2000's Nutty Professor II: The Klumps which bowed to $42.5M in July of that year. That comedy also found the star putting on latex fat suits to play other characters. For DreamWorks, Norbit represented the studio's third biggest live action opening ever and second largest for a non-sequel following the $34.8M of 2000's Gladiator.

Critics trashed Norbit, but then again the target audience for this kind of comedy would never care about reviews anyway. The Murphy brand name plus effective marketing sold this movie and a broad audience turned out. Plus the actor has not been seen in these kinds of comedies in many years prompting a healthy appetite from fans. African Americans and Latinos were especially responsible for the stellar business. Budgeted in the vicinity of $65M, the battered husband pic should utilize the upcoming Valentine's Day and Presidents' Day holidays to help keep the tickets selling. That would allow Norbit to join Dreamgirls as the 12th and 13th $100M blockbusters of Eddie Murphy's career with this May's Shrek the Third set to become number fourteen after its first few days of release.

The return of screen villain Hannibal Lecter was not met with as much enthusiam. The prequel story Hannibal Rising debuted in second place with $13.1M from 3,003 theaters. Averaging a decent $4,346 per venue, the R-rated thriller about Lecter's younger years and the revenge he sought upon those who killed his sister was marketed by The Weinstein Co. and distributed by MGM. The gross was roughly one-third of the $36.5M bow of the last film in the series, 2002's Red Dragon which starred Anthony Hopkins in his final turn as the famed cannibal. Hannibal Rising may have opened on the exact same day of the year as 2001's blockbuster Hannibal, but the grosses could not have been more different. That Hopkins starrer shattered the February opening weekend record with a summer-like $58M launch. Reviews were mostly negative for the new installment.

Despite atrocious reviews, Diane Keaton's mother-daughter comedy Because I Said So held up very well in its second weekend slipping only 30% to $9.2M. That gave the Universal release a decent $25.8M in ten days and could put the film on track to reach about $50M. Fellow sophomore The Messengers dropped from first to fourth place in its second scare grossing $7.2M. Falling a steep 51%, the $16M thriller has banked $24.7M in ten days and should conclude in the neighborhood of $35M.

Ben Stiller's Night at the Museum enjoyed its eighth consecutive weekend in the top five and grossed $5.8M slipping a mere 10%. Despite the new star-driven comedy on the block, audiences still made time for the adventure pic which this weekend joined the list of the top 50 domestic blockbusters of all-time. Museum saw its cume rise to $232.2M putting it at number 50 just behind the $233.6M of another Fox holiday blockbuster, 2000's Cast Away.

Fox's spoof comedy Epic Movie dropped 46% to $4.6M and bumped its cume up to $35.6M. Universal's crime thriller Smokin' Aces ranked seventh with $4.1M, down 33%, for a $31.2M total.

A trio of Oscar contenders rounded out the top ten. Pan's Labyrinth, the fairy tale for adults, continued showing superb legs and dipped just 3% to $3.6M. With $26.6M in sales thus far, the Picturehouse release has more than doubled its gross since earning six Academy Award nominations and is still expanding into more markets as solid word-of-mouth spreads.

Eddie Murphy's second film in the top ten was Dreamgirls which slipped 26% to $3M. Paramount has collected $97M to date and is a week away from joining the century club. American subjects were still flocking to The Queen which eased only 11% to $2.4M lifting the cume to a stellar $48.9M.

A pair of Sony hits fell out of the top ten over the weekend. The Will Smith blockbuster The Pursuit of Happyness grossed $2.4M, down only 21%, and pushed its sum to $160.5M. The homelessness drama is Smith's sixth consecutive $100M+ hit and tenth career blockbuster overall. His last six smashes together have grossed nearly $2 billion worldwide. Pursuit, which earned its star an Oscar nod for best actor, could end its domestic run with close to $170M.

Sony's $14M step dancing drama Stomp the Yard also took in $2.4M this weekend and boosted its incredible tally to $59.1M. Off 42%, a $65M final seems likely.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $87.1M which was off 11% from last year when The Pink Panther opened at number one with $20.2M; and down 12% from 2005 as well when Hitch debuted on top with $43.1M.

Compared to projections, both Norbit and Hannibal Rising opened close to my respective forecasts of $31M and $15M.

Be sure to read the NEW Oscar Spotlight column which features a one-on-one interview with Days of Glory producer Jean Bréhat whose film is currently up for an Academy Award in the foreign language category.

For a NEW review of Hannibal Rising visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's crowded Presidents' Day frame when Ghost Rider, Music and Lyrics, Bridge to Terabithia, Daddy's Little Girls, and Breach all squeeze into the marketplace.

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

# Title Feb 9 - 11 Feb 2 - 4 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Norbit $ 34,195,434 3,136 1 $ 10,904 $ 34,195,434 Paramount
2 Hannibal Rising 13,051,650 3,003 1 4,346 13,051,650 MGM
3 Because I Said So 9,221,130 13,122,865 -29.7 2,529 2 3,646 25,805,720 Universal
4 The Messengers 7,218,187 14,713,321 -50.9 2,529 2 2,854 24,742,205 Sony
5 Night at the Museum 5,754,359 6,385,843 -9.9 2,702 8 2,130 232,150,355 Fox
6 Epic Movie 4,570,090 8,411,993 -45.7 2,806 3 1,629 35,594,259 Fox
7 Smokin' Aces 4,113,020 6,113,345 -32.7 2,199 3 1,870 31,174,140 Universal
8 Pan's Labyrinth 3,577,283 3,682,699 -2.9 1,143 7 3,130 26,619,057 Picturehouse
9 Dreamgirls 2,980,967 4,000,521 -25.5 2,284 9 1,305 97,006,872 Paramount
10 The Queen 2,373,121 2,650,134 -10.5 1,564 20 1,517 48,897,648 Miramax
11 Stomp the Yard 2,358,159 4,055,791 -41.9 2,045 5 1,153 59,080,670 Sony
12 The Pursuit of Happyness 2,353,543 2,966,454 -20.7 1,777 9 1,324 160,490,618 Sony
13 Catch and Release 1,760,183 2,576,948 -31.7 1,561 3 1,128 14,406,807 Sony
14 Letters From Iwo Jima 1,729,451 1,696,356 2.0 781 8 2,214 9,935,921 Warner Bros.
15 Babel 1,677,367 1,701,657 -1.4 919 16 1,825 32,019,555 Par. Vantage
16 Notes on a Scandal 1,542,843 1,750,593 -11.9 649 6 2,377 13,926,668 Fox Searchlight
17 The Departed 1,342,338 2,287,463 -41.3 766 19 1,752 130,744,874 Warner Bros.
18 The Last King of Scotland 1,340,740 1,268,117 5.7 540 20 2,483 11,449,370 Fox Searchlight
19 Freedom Writers 1,018,435 1,860,547 -45.3 1,125 6 905 35,751,265 Paramount
20 Children of Men 809,190 1,123,360 -28.0 486 7 1,665 33,924,363 Universal
Top 5 $ 69,440,760 $ 48,747,367 42.5
Top 10 87,055,241 66,102,966 31.7
Top 20 102,987,490 82,487,627 24.9
Top 20 vs. 2006 102,987,490 112,074,200 -8.1

Last Updated : February 12, 2007 at 8:00PM ET

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