Weekend Box Office (February 27 - 29, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

*** Complete List of Oscar Winners ***

THIS WEEKEND Fueled by an unprecedented tidal wave of publicity, Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ crucified all competitors in its opening weekend and surged past every industry expectation driving the North American box office to the biggest February weekend ever. The frame's three other new releases were all met with ticket sales that ranged from mediocre to dismal. Moviegoers rallied around Passion which grossed more than every other film in release combined.

Blasting past all pre-release projections, the immensely-anticipated religious drama The Passion of the Christ generated a heavenly $83.8M in opening weekend grosses, according to final figures, and has collected a jaw-dropping $125.2M since its midweek debut on Wednesday (including an estimated $3M in previews). Playing ultrawide in 3,043 theaters, the NewMarket Films release averaged a stunning $27,554 per location. Produced for just $30M, and carrying a relatively low cost marketing budget, Passion is set to become one of the year's most profitable films. The R-rated picture stars James Caviezal as Jesus Christ and chronicles the final 12 hours before his death. Subtitled in English, dialogue is presented in Latin and Aramaic. The final weekend gross was a remarkable $7.6M better than originally estimated by NewMarket due to a stronger-than-anticipated Sunday.

Among Friday-to-Sunday opening weekend grosses, Passion ranked the sixth largest of all-time and third best among non-sequels after Spider-Man ($114.8M) and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ($90.3M). Looking at five-day bows, Passion is the grandest of them all edging past Oscar champion The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which pulled in $124.1M last December. Passion scored the biggest three-day opening outside of the key season-launching months of May and November and the second largest bow for an R-rated pic after the $91.8M of The Matrix Reloaded. The film industry was truly shocked that a subtitled movie with no stars could attract such a gigantic audience on its opening weekend.

For Gibson, who struggled to find a distributor that would want to release Passion, the Icon Productions film seems likely to become the biggest hit of his career. After just five days, the violent film already ranks eighth in domestic grosses on his actor/director resume and by the end of March, it could surpass the $228M of Signs, his current top grosser. All this without his face even appearing on screen. The Oscar winner has been one of Hollywood's most durable A-list stars and Passion has become his eleventh $100M picture and thirteenth number-one opener of the past fifteen years.

Although, The Passion of the Christ entered the marketplace with plenty of theaters, it still did not approach the printcount totals of other megablockbusters opening north of $60M. Films like The Matrix Reloaded, X2: X-Men United, and the Harry Potter films all premiered in over 3,600 theaters with 8,000 or more prints. Passion debuted with 4,793 prints this weekend and averaged a scorching $17,494 per print. That easily beats out the $15,313 per-print opening average of the all-time biggest opener Spider-Man which swung into theaters with a colossal 7,500 prints.

It took Passion only four short days to become the highest-grossing film released in 2004 surpassing 50 First Dates. By shattering the $100M mark in just five days, the Mel Gibson pic joins other megahits Harry Potter, Star Wars Episode I, X2, and The Two Towers - three of which went on to cross $300M domestically. Also, by Monday night, Passion is certain to surpass the $128.1M record for top grossing foreign language film currently held by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

How Passion holds up at the box office beyond opening weekend when the hype begins to cool is yet to be seen, however prospects seem bright so far. Over 25,000 film fans on Yahoo Movies have given the film a solid A- average grade so far. Plus repeat business from the sizable Christian community could keep this titan afloat for some time to come.

After two weeks at number one, the romantic comedy 50 First Dates had to settle for second place with $12.6M. Sony's Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore pic held up well against intense competition dropping only 39% with the total cume rising to $88.7M. The final domestic take for the $75M production should reach the vicinity of $125M.

Opening in third with mediocre results was the Ashley Judd serial killer thriller Twisted with $8.9M from 2,703 theaters. Averaging a mild $3,294 per location, the R-rated film finds the actress playing a San Francisco cop sexually linked to a series of murder victims. Samuel L. Jackson and Andy Garcia also star in the Paramount release. The opening was a far cry from the $23.2M bow of Judd's 1999 hit Double Jeopardy and also fell short of the $14M debut of her 2002 crime thriller High Crimes. Twisted performed best with adult women as studio exit polling showed that 54% of the audience was female and 64% was over the age of 25. Much of the target audience was no doubt more excited to line up to see Passion this weekend.

In its sophomore frame, the teen comedy Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen slipped ony 32% to $6.3M. The Buena Vista title has taken in $16.9M in ten days and should graduate with roughly $35M.

Trotting into fifth place was the new musical romance Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights which opened to $5.8M from 2,042 playdates. The Lions Gate release about an American teen and a Cuban dancer living la vida loca in 1958 Cuba stumbled to a poor $2,846 per-theater average.

Disney's Miracle fell 43% to $4.5M in its fourth session boosting cume to $56.3M. The DreamWorks sex comedy Eurotrip dropped an acceptable 40% to $4.1M leading to a ten-day total of $12.8M. Look for the $25M production to finish its trip with a gross matching its cost.

Tumbling 52% in its second weekend was the Ray Romano-Gene Hackman political comedy Welcome to Mooseport which collected $3.3M. Fox's $26M film has raised just $11.5M in campaign contributions in ten days and looks to fade quickly to a finish of less than $20M. MGM's Barbershop 2 followed in ninth place grossing $3.1M, down 50%, for a sum of $57.6M.

Opening in tenth place was the Fox Searchlight comedy Club Dread which invaded 1,807 theaters and grossed $3M. Averaging an embarrassing $1,680 per resort, the R-rated picture about a killing spree at an island vacation spot appealed mostly to college-age males, according to the distributor. The opening fell to about half of the $6.2M three-day bow of the comedy group Broken Lizard's last film Super Troopers from two years ago.

Four films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. After a ten-week run, Oscar sweeper The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King slipped to eleventh place in its eleventh weekend with $2.2M. Down just 24%, the Peter Jackson epic has grossed a stunning $364.1M in North America and still has more to collect, especially given its eleven statues at the Academy Awards. With a production budget of around $100M, King has already grossed over $1 billion at the global box office.

Clint Eastwood's double Oscar winner Mystic River slipped 33% to $2.1M in its 21st weekend lifting the total to $82.2M. With a pair of acting wins, the $30M film could still find its way to $90-100M.

Paramount's Meg Ryan pic Against the Ropes and New Line's Ashton Kutcher thriller The Butterfly Effect both crumbled by more than 50% to grosses of $1.3M each. The boxing drama has grossed just $5.1M in ten days and will finish with an awful $7-8M. However, the $13M supernatural chiller has scared up $55.4M to date and should end with about $58M.

The top ten films grossed $135.4M which was up a hearty 65% from last year when Cradle 2 the Grave opened at number one with $16.5M; and up a fierce 75% from 2002 when Mel Gibson's We Were Soldiers debuted on top with $20.2M.

Compared to projections, The Passion of the Christ surged past my bullish $67M five-day forecast. Twisted was very close to my $8M prediction, Dirty Dancing opened a bit better than my $4M projection, and Club Dread bowed to half of my $6M forecast.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Hidalgo vs. Starsky and Hutch. In last week's survey, readers were asked which of the two leading candidates would win the Oscar for Best Actor. Of 2,626 responses, 53% chose Sean Penn and 47% picked Bill Murray.

For reviews of The Passion of the Christ and Twisted visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when both Hidalgo and Starsky and Hutch fight over the number two spot.

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

# Title Feb 27 - 29 Feb 20 - 22 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Passion of the Christ $ 83,848,082 3,043 1 $ 27,554 $ 125,185,971 NewMarket
2 50 First Dates 12,565,729 20,427,325 -38.5 3,450 3 3,642 88,683,963 Sony
3 Twisted 8,904,299 2,703 1 3,294 8,904,299 Paramount
4 Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen 6,346,941 9,350,572 -32.1 2,503 2 2,536 16,905,932 Buena Vista
5 Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights 5,811,325 2,042 1 2,846 5,811,325 Lions Gate
6 Miracle 4,469,617 7,803,352 -42.7 2,222 4 2,012 56,328,330 Buena Vista
7 Eurotrip 4,051,428 6,711,384 -39.6 2,544 2 1,593 12,758,176 DreamWorks
8 Welcome to Mooseport 3,279,764 6,775,132 -51.6 2,868 2 1,144 11,539,863 Fox
9 Barbershop 2 3,125,536 6,287,008 -50.3 1,524 4 2,051 57,575,543 MGM
10 Club Dread 3,035,688 1,807 1 1,680 3,035,688 Fox Searchlight
11 LOTR: The Return of the King 2,174,665 2,850,455 -23.7 1,112 11 1,956 364,115,612 New Line
12 Mystic River 2,085,463 3,094,569 -32.6 1,125 21 1,854 82,234,706 Warner Bros.
13 Monster 2,006,422 2,535,903 -20.9 968 10 2,073 26,815,006 NewMarket
14 Cold Mountain 1,333,182 2,264,111 -41.1 1,113 10 1,198 92,685,850 Miramax
15 Against the Ropes 1,333,157 3,038,546 -56.1 1,601 2 833 5,104,925 Paramount
16 The Butterfly Effect 1,254,484 2,975,882 -57.8 1,035 6 1,212 55,377,579 New Line
17 You Got Served 1,226,543 2,713,752 -54.8 816 5 1,503 38,145,620 Sony
18 Something's Gotta Give 811,412 1,601,175 -49.3 672 12 1,207 122,736,489 Sony
19 Along Came Polly 690,560 2,142,535 -67.8 664 7 1,040 86,149,245 Universal
20 In America 514,012 676,117 -24.0 202 14 2,545 14,058,905 Fox Searchlight
Top 5 $ 117,476,376 $ 51,067,765 130.0
Top 10 135,438,409 69,314,225 95.4
Top 20 148,868,309 85,815,625 73.5
Top 20 vs. 2003 148,868,309 97,382,284 52.9

Last Updated : March 1, 2004 at 6:00PM EST

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing at 12:30pm and 9:30pm ET on CNNfn.