Weekend Box Office (March 2 - 4, 2007)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers rallied behind the star-driven comedy Wild Hogs which raced to number one at the North American box office zooming past all expectations for Disney. Meanwhile, Viacom saw less-than-stellar debuts from its serial killer drama Zodiac from Paramount Pictures and the southern fried saga Black Snake Moan from arthouse unit Paramount Vantage. Overall, the box office remained healthy and surged well ahead of last year's performance.

Buena Vista powered its way to $39.7M in opening weekend sales, according to final studio figures, for its road comedy Wild Hogs delivering the largest March debut in history for a live-action film. The PG-13 pic starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy as four middle-aged men on a motorcycle adventure averaged a stellar $12,078 from 3,287 theaters. It was the year's second biggest opening after Ghost Rider's $45.4M bow two weeks ago. According to studio research, 54% of the audience was actually female. Travolta's everlasting sex appeal, Allen's pull with moms thanks to his many Disney flicks, and the cast's appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show last week probably contributed to the solid turnout by women. The stars also allowed the film to tap into different audience segments.

Wild Hogs posted the best opening ever in March for a non-animated film and the third biggest overall. The only movies to debut better in this month were the Ice Age flicks of 2002 and 2006. It also gave Travolta the biggest opening by far of his career beating the $23.5M of 2005's Be Cool, and the second best bow for Allen after the $57.4M bow of 1999's Toy Story 2. As expected, Hogs was slammed by critics but reviews are practically irrelevant for a star-driven comedy like this. This is a crowdpleaser, not a criticpleaser. Audiences make their decisions based on if they think they will get a good laugh or not and Buena Vista's marketing push was indeed solid. Though the overall weekend gross was strong, what was even more encouraging was the significant Friday-to-Saturday boost of 49% which is rare for any new release. A journey into nine-digit territory seems assured.

Debuting far back in second place was the serial killer pic Zodiac with $13.4M from 2,362 sites. Averaging a respectable $5,671 per theater, the R-rated film from director David Fincher played to an older audience as two-thirds of the crowd was over the age of 25, according to studio research from Paramount. Males and females were evenly represented. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo, Zodiac follows the investigation behind one of California's most notorious murderers from the 1960s and 70s. The $65M film fared better than last fall's murder mysteries set in the Golden State, The Black Dahlia and Hollywoodland, which debuted to $10M and $5.9M respectively.

Reviews were overwhelmingly positive for Zodiac, but its 160-minute length may have cut into its grossing potential. Plus when factoring in ticket prices increases over the years, it can be estimated that Zodiac sold the fewest opening weekend tickets of any of Fincher's films. Admissions were roughly the same as for Fight Club which bowed to $11M in 1999. The studio is hoping that good word-of-mouth can carry the film in the weeks ahead.

After leading the pack for two full weeks, the Johnny Blaze flick Ghost Rider fell to third but only dropped 42% for $11.6M gross. Sony's Nicolas Cage starrer has taken in $94.8M in 17 days and should become the first new release of 2007 to break the $100M barrier. Disney's Bridge to Terabithia also held up well dipping 37% in its third adventure to an estimated $8.9M. Cume stands at $58.2M.

Jim Carrey's thriller The Number 23 fell from second to fifth place in its sophomore scare and collected $6.5M. Down an understandable 56%, the New Line title has taken in a semi-decent $24.1M in ten days and looks headed for a $35M finish.

Eddie Murphy's latest comedy Norbit enjoyed the smallest decline in the top ten and dipped 35% to $6.4M for a $82.9M sum. Fellow laugher Music and Lyrics dropped just 36% to $4.9M giving the Hugh Grant-Drew Barrymore pic $38.7M to date.

Paramount Vantage bowed its Samuel L. Jackson-Christina Ricci drama Black Snake Moan and collected $4.1M from 1,252 theaters. Averaging a mild $3,309, the debut was half the size of writer/director Craig Brewer's last film Hustle & Flow which opened in July 2005 to $8M from 1,013 theaters on its way to $22.2M and an Oscar. Jackson has witnessed many of his headlining vehicles struggle at the box office including Freedomland, The Man, and even Snakes on a Plane which despite hitting the top spot, grossed much less than expected given its media hype last summer.

The Fox comedy Reno 911!: Miami tumbled 62% in its second weekend to $3.9M for a ninth place finish. The R-rated pic has grossed $16.6M in ten days and should conclude with roughly $20M. Rounding out the top ten was the FBI thriller Breach with $3.6M, off 40%, for a $25.6M total.

Three smaller films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. The slave trade drama Amazing Grace dipped only 30% in its second weekend to $2.8M. With $8M in ten days, the Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions period pic may find its way to $14-17M. The Billy Bob Thornton flop The Astronaut Farmer grossed $2.2M, down 50%, and put its sum at an embarrassing $7.8M. Look for a $11M final.

Lionsgate's Tyler Perry comedy Daddy's Little Girls fell 53% to $2.3M in its third frame and upped its cume to $28.4M. By comparison, the distributor saw stronger 17-day grosses of $44M and $55.7M respectively for the director's last two films Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea's Family Reunion. Daddy's should end its run with $30-33M.

The top ten films grossed $103M which was up a stunning 33% from last year when Madea stayed at number one with just $12.6M; but off 2% from 2005 when The Pacifier debuted on top with $30.6M.

For reviews of The Number 23 and Bridge to Terabithia, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when 300 unleashes its fury on the box office.

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

# Title Mar 2 - 4 Feb 23 - 25 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Wild Hogs $ 39,699,023 3,287 1 $ 12,078 $ 39,699,023 Buena Vista
2 Zodiac 13,395,610 2,362 1 5,671 13,395,610 Paramount
3 Ghost Rider 11,553,469 20,067,443 -42.4 3,608 3 3,202 94,810,845 Sony
4 Bridge to Terabithia 8,904,512 14,157,645 -37.1 3,159 3 2,819 58,207,144 Buena Vista
5 The Number 23 6,486,304 14,602,867 -55.6 2,759 2 2,351 24,119,947 New Line
6 Norbit 6,398,696 9,825,021 -34.9 2,827 4 2,263 82,905,396 Paramount
7 Music and Lyrics 4,888,337 7,652,433 -36.1 2,644 3 1,849 38,673,388 Warner Bros.
8 Black Snake Moan 4,143,199 1,252 1 3,309 4,143,199 Par. Vantage
9 Reno 911!: Miami 3,942,926 10,273,477 -61.6 2,702 2 1,459 16,605,822 Fox
10 Breach 3,617,670 5,994,950 -39.7 1,498 3 2,415 25,556,015 Universal
11 Amazing Grace 2,826,987 4,054,542 -30.3 791 2 3,574 8,027,359 Goldwyn / Roadside
12 Daddy's Little Girls 2,275,340 4,815,337 -52.7 1,146 3 1,985 28,421,602 Lionsgate
13 The Astronaut Farmer 2,212,155 4,454,319 -50.3 2,155 2 1,027 7,792,554 Warner Bros.
14 Night at the Museum 1,455,768 2,170,661 -32.9 927 11 1,570 243,529,237 Fox
15 Because I Said So 1,334,505 2,758,815 -51.6 1,131 6 1,180 40,444,925 Universal
16 Pan's Labyrinth 1,194,796 1,278,430 -6.5 525 10 2,276 34,224,075 Picturehouse
17 The Last King of Scotland 961,122 783,758 22.6 517 23 1,859 15,295,804 Fox Searchlight
18 The Queen 910,504 1,105,665 -17.7 545 23 1,671 54,260,831 Miramax
19 The Lives of Others 781,095 441,256 77.0 112 4 6,974 2,320,756 Sony Classics
20 The Messengers 709,275 1,603,570 -55.8 706 5 1,005 34,457,349 Sony
Top 5 $ 80,038,918 $ 68,926,453 16.1
Top 10 103,029,746 95,898,034 7.4
Top 20 117,691,293 109,629,660 7.4
Top 20 vs. 2006 117,691,293 93,844,591 25.4

Last Updated : March 5, 2007 at 10:30PM ET

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