Weekend Box Office (February 17 - 20, 2006)

*** Oscar Spotlight: Warner Independent Pictures ***

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND With schools closed for the long Presidents' Day holiday weekend, kids films ruled the North American box office as three of the four most popular movies played to a family audience. Disney's adventure film Eight Below opened at number one while The Pink Panther and Curious George both remained strong in their second frames. The spoof comedy Date Movie debuted in second place with a solid launch as the overall top ten matched last year's holiday performance.

Disney took charge of the long four-day weekend with the premiere of its latest kid-friendly hit Eight Below which generated a powerful $25M during its opening weekend, according to final studio figures. The Paul Walker starrer averaged a sturdy $8,144 from 3,066 theaters and tapped into a large audience of parents and children that had extra time off because of the Presidents' Day holiday. Despite competition from other kidpics in the marketplace, Eight Below held its own and surged past other films to claim pole position. The PG-rated film debuted in second place on Friday behind Date Movie, but rose to first place on Saturday and stayed there for the remainder of the weekend.

Opening close behind in second place was the spoof comedy Date Movie with $21.8M over four days. The Fox title snuggled up with moviegoers in 2,896 theaters and averaged a strong $7,532 per venue. With so many family films in the marketplace, teens and young adults were in need of some entertainment too and responded to this PG-13 parody on romantic comedies. Audience research showed that a whopping 79% of the crowd was under the age of 25. Females outnumbered males with 54% of the vote. Date Movie starred Alyson Hannigan of American Pie fame and was marketed as being from 2 of the 6 writers of Scary Movie. Budgeted at under $20M, the comedy should become a profitable title for Fox.

Last weekend's pair of new family-friendly comedies followed in third and fourth over the holiday session with solid sophomore grosses. Steve Martin's The Pink Panther enjoyed a robust weekend taking in $20.9M which pushed Sony's eleven-day cume to $46.5M. The Universal toon Curious George collected $15.4M lifting its total to $33.5M after the same number of days. Final grosses could reach about $75M for Panther and around $55M for George.

The horror sequel Final Destination 3 dropped to fifth and scared up $11.5M over the long weekend. With $37.3M in eleven days, the R-rated chiller could find its way to roughly $55M making it the top-grossing installment of the franchise by a slim margin. The first Final Destination grossed $53.3M in 2000 while its sequel took in $46.9M in 2003.

Harrison Ford is also beating out his last two pictures by a small margin. The action icon's Firewall fell to sixth place with $10.4M over the Friday-to-Monday span putting its cume at $28.7M. Warner Bros. should find its way to about $45M with this hostage thriller which would be slightly better than Ford's last pair of films Hollywood Homicide and K-19: The Widowmaker which grossed $30.9M and $35.2M, respectively. Still, Firewall's performance is nowhere near the level of the actor's past hits.

The Samuel L. Jackson-Julianne Moore crime thriller Freedomland opened in seventh with a disappointing four-day take of $6.7M. Sony's R-rated drama about a white woman who claims that a black man kidnapped her child averaged only $2,841 over the long weekend from 2,361 theaters. Reviews were not very favorable.

The babysitter thriller When a Stranger Calls followed with $5.8M over four days. Sony pushed its cume up to $42.1M after 18 days. Fox's Big Momma's House 2 placed ninth with $5.6M lifting its total to $62.5M after its fourth frame. Rounding out the top ten was Universal's family comedy Nanny McPhee with $5.1M and a $39.3M overall gross.

Fox Searchlight generated a sizzling debut for its Russian horror entry Night Watch which opened with $106,425 from only three theaters. Averaging a potent $35,475 per location over four days, the monster flick expands to about 35 playdates on Friday before going national, though still in a limited basis, on March 3. The opening weekend for Night Watch saw bows in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and attracted both horror fans and lovers of Russian films, according to the distributor.

Also in limited release, Paramount Classics widened its music pic Neil Young: Heart of Gold from four to 30 locations and grossed $202,682 over four days. That gave it a solid $6,756 per theater over the long weekend with a dozen additional cities launching this Friday.

Three hit films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Oscar favorite Brokeback Mountain lassoed $3.8M in its eleventh weekend boosting its cume to $72.1M. Winning four major BAFTAs over the weekend, the cowboy love story should be able to find its way to at least $80M although a Best Picture Academy Award win could help send it to nine-digit territory.

Sony's vampire sequel Underworld: Evolution took in a four-day gross of $1.8M pushing the sum to $60.3M. A final gross of $62M seems likely which would be comfortably ahead of the $52M take of its 2003 predecessor. The animated comedy Hoodwinked collected $1.7M giving The Weinstein Company $49.6M to date. Look for a $52M final.

Grosses remained mild for Oscar nominees for Best Picture. Four-day weekend grosses were $1.4M for Capote, $801,890 for Munich, and $924,248 for Good Night, and Good Luck. Add in Brokeback and the four Best Picture nominees currently in theaters grossed a combined $7M over the long weekend. That marks a steep 65% decline from the four major contenders a year ago over this same holiday frame and a troubling 44% drop from the 2004 holiday.

The top ten films grossed $128.1M over four days which was off a scant 1% from last year's holiday frame when Hitch remained at number one with $36.7M in its second weekend; but up 11% from 2004's Presidents' Day session when 50 First Dates debuted in the top spot with $45.1M over four days.

Compared to projections, Eight Below opened much stronger than my $14M forecast. Date Movie was on target with my $22M prediction while Freedomland bowed below my $12M projection.

Be sure to read the NEW weekly Oscar Spotlight column which features a one-on-one interview with Steven Friedlander, distribution president for Warner Independent Pictures which earned eight Academy Award nominations for three of its films - Good Night, and Good Luck, March of the Penguins, and Paradise Now.

For a NEW review of Eight Below visit The Chief Report. Check the Oscar Nominee chart which tracks the box office of all nominees with updates throughout awards season.

Be sure to check back on Tuesday night for final figures and again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Madea's Family Reunion, Doogal, and Running Scared all open.

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

# Title Feb 17 - 20 Feb 10 - 12 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Eight Below $ 24,968,601 3,066 1 $ 8,144 $ 24,968,601 Buena Vista
2 Date Movie 21,812,384 2,896 1 7,532 21,812,384 Fox
3 The Pink Panther 20,863,217 20,220,412 3.2 3,477 2 6,000 46,548,715 Sony
4 Curious George 15,367,950 14,703,405 4.5 2,572 2 5,975 33,523,265 Universal
5 Final Destination 3 11,538,251 19,173,094 -39.8 2,880 2 4,006 37,253,197 New Line
6 Firewall 10,382,241 13,635,463 -23.9 2,840 2 3,656 28,700,754 Warner Bros.
7 Freedomland 6,707,111 2,361 1 2,841 6,707,111 Sony
8 When a Stranger Calls 5,824,394 9,111,820 -36.1 2,629 3 2,215 42,102,350 Sony
9 Big Momma's House 2 5,574,090 6,931,437 -19.6 2,039 4 2,734 62,459,610 Fox
10 Nanny McPhee 5,102,555 4,940,395 3.3 2,001 4 2,550 39,251,465 Universal
11 Brokeback Mountain 3,846,972 4,025,031 -4.4 1,600 11 2,404 72,089,234 Focus
12 Walk the Line 1,814,917 1,982,595 -8.5 883 14 2,055 116,344,305 Fox
13 Underworld: Evolution 1,772,957 2,608,793 -32.0 972 5 1,824 60,329,183 Sony
14 Hoodwinked 1,735,276 2,406,005 -27.9 1,265 6 1,372 49,581,288 Weinstein Co.
15 The Chronicles of Narnia 1,734,892 2,073,356 -16.3 955 11 1,817 287,153,504 Buena Vista
16 Match Point 1,448,895 1,375,082 5.4 495 8 2,927 20,361,425 DreamWorks
17 Something New 1,428,796 2,252,448 -36.6 639 3 2,236 10,617,274 Focus
18 Capote 1,390,763 1,267,007 9.8 559 21 2,488 22,051,207 Sony Classics
19 Mrs. Henderson Presents 1,114,552 693,226 60.8 431 11 2,586 5,829,683 Weinstein Co.
20 Good Night, and Good Luck 924,248 872,018 6.0 315 20 2,934 29,479,033 Warner Independent
Top 5 $ 94,550,403 $ 76,844,194 23.0
Top 10 128,140,794 97,755,855 31.1
Top 20 145,353,062 112,074,200 29.7
Top 20 vs. 2005 145,353,062 150,176,051 -3.2

Last Updated : February 21, 2006 at 5:45PM EST