Weekend Box Office (February 16 - 19, 2007)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Hollywood studios opened five new wide releases targeting different audiences and were rewarded with a record-breaking Presidents' Day holiday weekend tally as moviegoers opened their wallets and spread their cash across a variety of films. The comic book actioner Ghost Rider led the way with an explosive debut while the family drama Bridge to Terabithia was a solid performer in the runnerup spot. The quintet of freshman films pumped in more than $121M of new business over the four-day Friday-to-Monday weekend as the top ten soared to the highest gross in box office history during the January-to-April span.

Nicolas Cage led the bustling box office and set a new career high in the process with Ghost Rider which opened at number one grossing $52M over four days, according to final studio figures. Averaging a scorching $14,375 from an ultrawide release in 3,619 locations, the Sony smash based on the popular Marvel Comics character outgunned the $35.1M three-day bow of National Treasure, Cage's previous best opening. Ghost captured a stunning $45.4M over the three-day span.

The PG-13 film performed much like director Mark Steven Johnson's last film, 2003's Daredevil, which was also based on a Marvel Comics character and launched over the same holiday frame. That Ben Affleck vehicle bowed to $40.3M over three days and $45M over four days which at today's ticket prices would be almost identical to the Ghost numbers. Cage's new motorcycle actioner also set a new opening weekend record for the Presidents' Day holiday session beating the $45.1M four-day launch of the studio's own 50 First Dates from 2004.

Fanboys as expected powered Ghost Rider to its stellar grosses. Sony research indicated that an exceptionally high 62% of the turnout was male while 55% was under the age of 25. The effects-driven pic accounted for nearly one-third of all ticket sales within the top ten and posted the largest opening of any film over the last six months.

Finishing the weekend in second place was Disney's Bridge to Terabithia which collected $28.5M worth of ticket stubs over the Friday-to-Monday period and $22.6M over three days. The PG-rated fantasy about two seventh graders who imagine a magical wonderland to escape to averaged a sturdy $9,091 from 3,139 theaters over four days. Earning strong reviews from critics, Bridge was adapted from the popular novel and played to younger children and their parents.

Last weekend's number one flick Norbit fell to third place in its second weekend. The Paramount release collected $19.9M over four days and lifted its 11-day cume to a solid $62M. Norbit marked the best start for a Murphy live-action picture since 2000's summer hit Nutty Professor II: The Klumps which took in $76.7M during its first ten days on its way to $123.3M.

Opening in fourth place with an estimated $15.9M was the Hugh Grant-Drew Barrymore romantic comedy Music and Lyrics. The Warner Bros. release about a washed up 80s singer who falls for a plant waterer averaged a respectable $5,372 from 2,955 locations over four days and took in $21.4M since debuting on Wednesday for Valentine's Day. Reviews were mixed for the PG-13 film and the three-day gross of $13.6M was similar to the opening of Grant's 2002 hit Two Weeks Notice ($14.3M) and a bit better than Barrymore's Fever Pitch which bowed to $12.4M two years ago. In its second weekend in the U.K., Music slipped only 24% and has grossed $10.5M in that market thus far and $13.8M overall internationally.

Lionsgate followed in fifth with another date film that bowed on the love holiday, Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls. The PG-13 pic grossed $13M from 2,111 theaters for a solid $6,189 average over four days. Since launching on Wednesday, the tale of an attorney who couples up with a single working class father has taken in $18.8M. The opening was a far cry from the debuts of the filmmaker's recent comedy hits. Last February, Madea's Family Reunion opened to $30M over three days on its way to $63.3M while the previous year, Diary of a Mad Black Woman opened to $21.9M before finishing with $50.4M. Both films were released by Lionsgate on the last weekend of February and starred Perry as the outrageous Madea character. Girls may have generated less audience interest without Perry on screen.

Older adults lined up for the FBI thriller Breach which debuted better than expected with $12.3M from only 1,489 sites. The PG-13 film which stars Ryan Phillippe and Chris Cooper averaged a strong $8,235 per theater and earned good reviews. According to studio research from Universal, half of the audience was over the age of 50 and 52% of the crowd was female.

Hannibal Rising sank to seventh place in its second weekend with $6.3M over the Friday-to-Monday holiday weekend. With $22.9M in 11 days, look for the MGM release to reach about $30M. Universal's comedy Because I Said So followed with $6.1M for a $34.3M cume.

Fox's Ben Stiller action-comedy Night at the Museum grossed $4.9M and lifted its tally to $238.5M becoming the first film to spend nine straight weekends in the top ten since last winter's The Chronicles of Narnia. Night also climbed up to number 46 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters sandwiching itself between a pair of action-comedy hits from 1984 - Ghostbusters ($238.6M) and Beverly Hills Cop ($234.8M). Of course, ticket prices were much lower two decades ago so Night has sold fewer tickets.

Sony's former number one The Messengers dropped to tenth place and scared up $4.3M giving the thriller a total of $31.1M.

The top ten films grossed $163.2M over the four-day holiday span which was up a stunning 27% from last year when Eight Below opened at number one with $25M; and up a healthy 26% from 2005 when Hitch remained on top with $36.7M in its sophomore session.

Compared to projections, both Ghost Rider and Bridge to Terabithia zoomed past my four-day forecasts of $35M and $18M, respectively. Music and Lyrics was on target with my $16M prediction, while Daddy's Little Girls opened a bit below my $16M projection. Breach powered past my $7M forecast.

For a NEW review of Bridge to Terabithia visit The Chief Report. 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 The Number 23, Reno 911!: Miami, The Astronaut Farmer, and The Abandoned all open.

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

# Title Feb 16 - 19 Feb 9 - 11 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Ghost Rider $ 52,022,908 3,619 1 $ 14,375 $ 52,022,908 Sony
2 Bridge to Terabithia 28,536,717 3,139 1 9,091 28,536,717 Buena Vista
3 Norbit 19,929,662 34,195,434 -41.7 3,138 2 6,351 62,011,840 Paramount
4 Music and Lyrics 15,875,471 2,955 1 5,372 21,404,908 Warner Bros.
5 Daddy's Little Girls 13,064,075 2,111 1 6,189 18,757,324 Lionsgate
6 Breach 12,261,835 1,489 1 8,235 12,261,835 Universal
7 Hannibal Rising 6,255,564 13,051,650 -52.1 3,003 2 2,083 22,917,904 MGM
8 Because I Said So 6,053,850 9,221,130 -34.3 2,446 3 2,475 34,311,515 Universal
9 Night at the Museum 4,866,933 5,754,359 -15.4 2,042 9 2,383 238,500,531 Fox
10 The Messengers 4,341,827 7,218,187 -39.8 2,183 3 1,989 31,050,332 Sony
11 Pan's Labyrinth 2,639,431 3,577,283 -26.2 905 8 2,916 30,486,056 Picturehouse
12 Dreamgirls 1,967,359 2,980,967 -34.0 1,037 10 1,897 100,011,336 Paramount
13 Smokin' Aces 1,771,180 4,113,020 -56.9 1,107 4 1,600 34,421,936 Universal
14 Epic Movie 1,672,218 4,570,090 -63.4 1,426 4 1,173 38,268,898 Fox
15 The Queen 1,609,141 2,373,121 -32.2 807 21 1,994 51,350,148 Miramax
16 Letters From Iwo Jima 1,272,397 1,729,451 -26.4 651 9 1,955 11,811,634 Warner Bros.
17 The Last King of Scotland 1,088,024 1,340,740 -18.8 384 21 2,833 12,959,378 Fox Searchlight
18 Notes on a Scandal 1,030,144 1,542,843 -33.2 413 7 2,494 15,427,044 Fox Searchlight
19 The Pursuit of Happyness 883,814 2,353,543 -62.4 690 10 1,281 162,140,234 Sony
20 Eklavya 812,262 80 1 10,153 812,262 Eros
Top 5 $ 129,428,833 $ 69,440,760 86.4
Top 10 163,208,842 87,055,241 87.5
Top 20 177,954,812 102,987,490 72.8
Top 20 vs. 2006 177,954,812 145,353,062 22.4

Last Updated : February 20, 2007 at 10:30PM ET

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