Weekend Box Office (February 10 - 12, 2006)

*** NEW Oscar Spotlight: Tsotsi ***

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND In a fierce battle between four new wide releases, Steve Martin took home the gold medal as his comedy The Pink Panther led the North American box office to a strong frame. The fright flick Final Destination 3 bowed impressively in second, the animated children's story Curious George debuted with healthy numbers in third, and Harrison Ford's hostage thriller Firewall coasted into fourth. Despite a major winter storm battering the eastern part of the country, the marketplace was vibrant over the weekend with four films opening to more than $13M each.

Sony scored its third number one opener in four weeks with the launch of the comedy remake The Pink Panther which grossed $20.2M this weekend, according to final studio figures, to lead the box office. The PG-rated film about the famous bumbling detective Clouseau launched ultrawide in 3,477 theaters and averaged a solid $5,815. Kevin Kline, Jean Reno, and Beyonce Knowles co-starred in the critically-panned pic. Appealing to older fans of the original Peter Sellers classics and a new generation of kids who love to watch fools fall down, Panther played to a broad audience. Studio research showed that 51% of the audience consisted of families. Among non-family moviegoers, 56% were female and the split was even between those under and over 25. Originally an MGM release, The Pink Panther was set to open on August 5 against another high profile remake, The Dukes of Hazzard, but was pushed back after Sony took the reigns to give more time to do a proper marketing push.

New Line narrowly missed the top spot and settled for the silver with a stellar launch for its horror sequel Final Destination 3 which grossed $19.2M marking the best bow yet for the franchise. The R-rated entry attacked 2,880 theaters and averaged a scary $6,657 giving it the best average among all wide releases. The opening was 20% better than the $16M debut of Final Destination 2 in January 2003 which in turn was 60% larger than the $10M bow of the first death flick in March 2000. Director James Wong of the first film in the trilogy returned to helm the third part and kept the body count high giving fans what they wanted. Final Destination 3 kept this year's horror hot streak going following hits like Hostel, Underworld: Evolution, and When a Stranger Calls. All four films opened with more than $19M a piece.

Parents and young children made up the audience for the weekend's bronze medal finisher Curious George which bowed to $14.7M. Averaging a healthy $5,730 from 2,566 theaters, the G-rated animated film brings the popular children's story about a playful chimp and his trip from the jungle to the big city to the big screen. According to Universal's reseach, 43% of the audience was under the age of 9 indicating that the film appealed mostly to younger kids. Despite The Pink Panther also playing to families, George was able to carve out an impressive debut thanks in part to good reviews.

Harrison Ford failed to secure a medal this weekend as his newest action thriller Firewall posted the smallest opening among the weekend's new releases with $13.6M. Warner Bros. launched the PG-13 film in 2,840 locations and averaged a respectable $4,801 per theater. In Firewall, Ford plays a bank security specialist whose family is held hostage. The opening marked the third straight disappointment for the highly-paid actor following 2002's K-19: The Widowmaker and the following year's Hollywood Homicide which opened similarly with $12.8M and $11.1M, respectively. Although Ford has a whopping eleven $100M blockbusters to his credit, he has not starred in a real hit since 2000's What Lies Beneath which bowed to $29.7M on its way to $155.4M.

Among holdovers, last weekend's champ When a Stranger Calls led the way with $9.1M in its sophomore frame to place fifth. Down an understandable 58%, the $15M-budgeted babysitter thriller has collected an impressive $34M in ten days and seems headed for the vicinity of $55M.

Fox's Big Momma's House 2, another former number one, followed with $6.9M, off 49%, for a cume to date of $54.9M. The Universal family comedy Nanny McPhee took seventh dropping 50% to $4.9M giving the Emma Thompson pic $33M. Overseas, Nanny has grossed $43.3M putting its worldwide tally at $76M.

For the first time in its ten week run, Brokeback Mountain did not add theaters and as a result saw its largest decline to date. The Oscar favorite was only off 33% and took in $4M pushing the total to $66.5M. It was once again the smallest decline in the top ten as the Ang Lee film played in 1,966 theaters dropping 123 locations from its widest point of distribution when it ran in 2,089 houses last week. Focus has three weeks left until Oscar night. Some major wins could then allow Brokeback to expand again.

Sony's vampire thriller Underworld: Evolution fell 51% to $2.6M and lifted its sum to $57.4M. The animated comedy Hoodwinked got hit hard by the new family films and tumbled 55% to $2.4M. The Weinstein Company's cume stands at $47.3M.

Opening to encouraging results in limited release was the music pic Neil Young: Heart of Gold which grossed $53,908 from solo engagements in four cities for a solid $13,477 average. Paramount Classics earned rave reviews during its launch in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto and will expand to seven more cities this Friday.

Four films were pushed out of the top ten over the weekend. The cross-cultural romantic comedy Something New fell 54% to $2.3M giving Focus only $8.2M in ten days. A final gross of only $13M seems possible. Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia still enjoyed small declines dipping 33% to $2.1M in its tenth frame raising the cume to $284.7M. A final domestic tally of just over $290M seems likely. Worldwide, Narnia has grossed more than $657M and a second installment in the franchise is already under development for an expected December 2007 release.

After Walk the Line's brief return to the top ten, the Johnny Cash biopic fell 40% to $2M putting Fox's cume at $113.6M. The Joaquin Phoenix-Reese Witherspoon hit should reach $120M and go higher if it takes home any acting statues on Oscar night. Buena Vista's military drama Annapolis crumbled 60% to $1.4M giving the flop a mere $15.3M in 17 days. Look for a dismal $17M finish.

The Oscar shine from Best Picture and Director nominations is already wearing off on three contenders still in release. Capote dropped 45% to $1.3M this weekend putting its total at $20.1M for Sony Classics. George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck collected $872,018, down 43%, for a $28.2M total. Universal's Munich fell 53% to $783,510 giving the Steven Spielberg film $44.3M to date. The four Best Picture nominees still in theaters together grossed $7.2M this weekend trailing last year's quartet of nominees by an alarming 63% over the same weekend.

Despite scoring major Academy Award nominations, nationwide audiences this year are not responding the way they did in recent years to Best Picture nominees still in wide release. This weekend last year saw grosses of $7.4M for Million Dollar Baby, $4.7M for The Aviator, $4.5M for Sideways, and $2.3M for Finding Neverland. In 2004, the weekend before the Presidents Day frame witnessed grosses of $4.3M for The Return of the King, $3.6M for Mystic River, $1.7M for Lost in Translation, and $1.3M for Master and Commander.

The top ten films grossed $97.8M which was off 1% from last year when Hitch opened at number one with $43.1M; and down 2% from 2004 when 50 First Dates debuted in the top spot with $39.9M over the three-day portion of the Presidents Day holiday frame.

Compared to projections, The Pink Panther and Final Destination 3 both opened much stronger than my respective forecasts of $12M and $11M. Curious George debuted a couple of notches above my $12M prediction while Firewall premiered a few notches below my $18M projection.

Be sure to read the weekly Oscar Spotlight column which features a one-on-one interview with Peter Fudakowski, producer of Best Foreign Language film nominee Tsotsi. 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 a review of Imagine Me & You visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Date Movie, Eight Below, and Freedomland all open over the Presidents Day holiday session.

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

# Title Feb 10 - 12 Feb 3 - 5 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Pink Panther $ 20,220,412 3,477 1 $ 5,815 $ 20,220,412 Sony
2 Final Destination 3 19,173,094 2,880 1 6,657 19,173,094 New Line
3 Curious George 14,703,405 2,566 1 5,730 14,703,405 Universal
4 Firewall 13,635,463 2,840 1 4,801 13,635,463 Warner Bros.
5 When a Stranger Calls 9,111,820 21,607,203 -57.8 3,004 2 3,033 33,958,222 Sony
6 Big Momma's House 2 6,931,437 13,600,645 -49.0 2,733 3 2,536 54,908,725 Fox
7 Nanny McPhee 4,940,395 9,796,465 -49.6 2,148 3 2,300 32,956,035 Universal
8 Brokeback Mountain 4,025,031 6,003,544 -33.0 1,966 10 2,047 66,460,791 Focus
9 Underworld: Evolution 2,608,793 5,302,601 -50.8 1,835 4 1,422 57,354,686 Sony
10 Hoodwinked 2,406,005 5,307,334 -54.7 2,085 5 1,154 47,269,225 Weinstein Co.
11 Something New 2,252,448 4,879,736 -53.8 1,265 2 1,781 8,213,332 Focus
12 The Chronicles of Narnia 2,073,356 3,072,090 -32.5 1,302 10 1,592 284,742,799 Buena Vista
13 Walk the Line 1,982,595 3,287,475 -39.7 1,248 13 1,589 113,633,384 Fox
14 Annapolis 1,378,020 3,415,500 -59.7 1,250 3 1,102 15,316,083 Buena Vista
15 Match Point 1,375,082 1,840,093 -25.3 512 7 2,686 18,416,505 DreamWorks
16 Capote 1,267,007 2,291,075 -44.7 930 20 1,362 20,129,191 Sony Classics
17 The Matador 1,187,759 2,267,978 -47.6 712 7 1,668 10,515,807 Weinstein Co.
18 Glory Road 1,146,550 2,840,287 -59.6 1,351 5 849 40,713,387 Buena Vista
19 Good Night, and Good Luck 872,018 1,522,238 -42.7 685 19 1,273 28,190,802 Warner Independent
20 Munich 783,510 1,675,150 -53.2 546 8 1,435 44,313,605 Universal
Top 5 $ 76,844,194 $ 56,315,191 36.5
Top 10 97,755,855 76,272,593 28.2
Top 20 112,074,200 95,491,531 17.4
Top 20 vs. 2005 112,074,200 114,445,747 -2.1

Last Updated : February 13, 2006 at 6:30PM EST