Weekend Box Office (March 5 - 7, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Mel Gibson remained the patron saint of the North American box office as his blockbuster smash The Passion of the Christ continued to rule the charts in its second weekend leading the overall marketplace to the largest March weekend in history. The madness at the multiplexes was certainly helped by two strong openings from the Warner Bros. comedy Starsky & Hutch and Buena Vista's adventure tale Hidalgo. Moviegoers spent an incredible $100M on tickets to see the trio of hit films over the Friday-to-Sunday period.

Proving to be more than just a one-week wonder, The Passion of the Christ easily led the box office with $53.2M in its sophomore session according to final figures, off a reasonable 37% from last weekend's record bow. The R-rated film has grossed an astonishing $213.9M and shattered the double century mark on Sunday, its twelfth day of release. Other blockbusters accomplishing the task in the same amount of time include the powerhouse sequels Star Wars Episode II and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Passion's decline was in line with second-weekend drops for other major non-sequels opening powerfully with more than $70M. All-time champ Spider-Man fell 38% after its $114.8M bow, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone dipped 36% after its $90.3M launch, and Finding Nemo sank 34% in its sophomore outing after a $70.3M debut. After just a dozen days of release, Gibson's hit has already broken into the Top 50 list of all-time domestic blockbusters sitting at number 46 just ahead of Austin Powers in Goldmember which collected $213.1M in 2002. The Passion of the Christ now holds the records for the biggest weekend gross in the months of both February and March.

Following Jesus, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson opened their cop comedy remake Starsky & Hutch in second place with a powerful $28.1M. Warner Bros. averaged a red-hot $8,824 per theater from 3,185 playdates. The PG-13 film drew a broad audience with 52% of the audience being 25 and under while 54% was male. Starsky was directed by Todd Phillips, who scored recent comedy hits with Old School and Road Trip, and co-starred Snoop Dogg, Vince Vaughn, and Carmen Elektra. A solid cast and strong marketing helped deliver the goods this weekend for the Ben & Owen pic which reportedly cost about $60M to produce.

Debuting in third place was the Viggo Mortensen adventure film Hidalgo with $18.8M from 3,063 theaters. The PG-13 film about a nineteenth century American cowboy invited to race across the Arabian desert averaged a solid $6,147 per location. Directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Jurassic Park III), the Buena Vista release skewed towards adult men with 53% of the audience being male and 60% being age 35 and under, according to studio data. Hidalgo carries an estimated production budget of $85M.

Dropping 39% to $7.6M, Sony's 50 First Dates claimed fourth place and pushed its cume to $99.3M. Paramount's Ashley Judd thriller Twisted followed falling 42% in its second weekend to $5.1M for a ten-day tally of $16.5M. The $60M production looks to end its run with a disappointing $30M giving its studio and star more bad news. Grossing $4M, off 36%, Disney's Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen placed sixth and raised its total to $21.8M.

After sweeping the Academy Awards with eleven statues, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King saw a healthy boost in theatrical business returning to the top ten with $3M. New Line added 791 theaters to the run and saw sales bounce back 40% from last weekend. After a dozen weekends, the final chapter in the epic trilogy has lifted its domestic haul to $368.2M and will try to climb higher to $380M or so.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights fell a steep 49% in its second weekend to $3M and has collected just $10.1M after ten days. Look for the Lions Gate release to hang up its shoes with around $16M. Disney's Miracle claimed ninth with $2.5M, down 43%, for a cume of $59.8M. The ice hockey pic marks the highest-grossing lead role for Kurt Russell since 1994's Stargate which took in $71.5M.

Rounding out the top ten was the serial killer film Monster, which earned star Charlize Theron an Oscar for Best Actress. The NewMarket Films release took advantage of the Oscar effect and saw sales climb 6% to $2.1M giving the film $30M to date. The distributor added 114 runs this weekend boosting the theater count to 1,082 - its widest break to date.

Four films tumbled out of the top ten over the weekend. MGM's comedy sequel Barbershop 2 fell 44% to $1.8M and a healthy cume of $60M. Although the $30M production opened stronger than its predecessor, it should finish up with roughly $64M - somewhat below the $75.8M gross of 2002's Barbershop. DreamWorks watched its sex comedy Eurotrip plunge 60% to $1.6M for a 17-day total of $15.7M. Budgeted at $25M, the R-rated film looks to end its journey with around $20M.

Fox and subsidiary Fox Searchlight saw dismal results for their current comedy flops - Welcome to Mooseport and Club Dread, respectively. The Ray Romano-Gene Hackman pic crumbled 69% to $1M in its third frame reaching just $13.4M to date. The $26M film should conclude with only $15M. Meanwhile, the Broken Lizard resort pic deflated 77% in its sophomore frame to $710,944 for a ten-day cume of just $4.6M. Budgeted at under $10M, Dread looks to hit video with a $5-6M gross under its belt - a far cry from the comedy team's last film Super Troopers which arrested $18.5M at the box office two years ago.

The top ten films grossed $127.7M which was up 39% from last year when Bringing Down the House opened at number one with $31.1M; and up 63% from 2002 when The Time Machine debuted on top with $22.6M.

Compared to projections, Starsky and Hutch surged past my $21M forecast while Hidalgo debuted a couple of notches above my $17M prediction. The Passion of the Christ came close to my $54M projection.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on whether The Passion of the Christ will break the $350M mark. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether Hidalgo or Starsky and Hutch would have the bigger opening. Of 2,305 responses, 68% correctly chose Starsky and Hutch while 32% picked Hidalgo.

For reviews of The Passion of the Christ and Secret Window, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Secret Window, Agent Cody Banks 2, and Spartan all open.

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

# Title Mar 5 - 7 Feb 27 - 29 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Passion of the Christ $ 53,246,801 $ 83,848,082 -36.5 3,170 2 $ 16,797 $ 213,888,740 NewMarket
2 Starsky and Hutch 28,103,367 3,185 1 8,824 28,103,367 Warner Bros.
3 Hidalgo 18,829,435 3,063 1 6,147 18,829,435 Buena Vista
4 50 First Dates 7,637,128 12,565,729 -39.2 3,040 4 2,512 99,348,370 Sony
5 Twisted 5,126,387 8,904,299 -42.4 2,704 2 1,896 16,483,793 Paramount
6 Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen 4,045,006 6,346,941 -36.3 2,180 3 1,856 21,803,186 Buena Vista
7 LOTR: The Return of the King 3,037,822 2,174,665 39.7 1,903 12 1,596 368,210,170 New Line
8 Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights 2,962,008 5,811,325 -49.0 2,042 2 1,451 10,149,976 Lions Gate
9 Miracle 2,543,422 4,469,617 -43.1 1,654 5 1,538 59,822,969 Buena Vista
10 Monster 2,123,915 2,006,422 5.9 1,082 11 1,963 29,954,254 NewMarket
11 Mystic River 1,975,433 2,085,463 -5.3 1,051 22 1,880 85,177,176 Warner Bros.
12 Barbershop 2 1,760,007 3,125,536 -43.7 1,264 5 1,392 59,963,532 MGM
13 Eurotrip 1,620,668 4,051,428 -60.0 1,602 3 1,012 15,695,413 DreamWorks
14 Welcome to Mooseport 1,003,887 3,279,764 -69.4 1,515 3 663 13,417,004 Fox
15 Cold Mountain 827,306 1,333,182 -37.9 750 11 1,103 93,983,865 Miramax
16 Club Dread 710,944 3,035,688 -76.6 1,807 2 393 4,559,739 Fox Searchlight
17 You Got Served 592,483 1,226,543 -51.7 498 6 1,190 38,951,139 Sony
18 The Butterfly Effect 520,828 1,254,484 -58.5 554 7 940 56,422,091 New Line
19 The Fog of War 434,162 286,643 51.5 261 12 1,663 2,850,932 Sony Classics
20 Something's Gotta Give 405,476 811,412 -50.0 333 13 1,218 123,440,600 Sony
Top 5 $ 112,943,118 $ 117,476,376 -3.9
Top 10 127,655,291 135,438,409 -5.7
Top 20 137,518,323 148,868,309 -7.6
Top 20 vs. 2003 137,518,323 103,390,825 33.0

Last Updated : March 8, 2004 at 5:15PM EST

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