Weekend Box Office (March 6 - 8, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND The adult-themed superhero film Watchmen seized control of the North American box office posting the biggest debut of the year with $55.2M in ticket sales over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final studio figures. Directed by Zack Snyder (300, Dawn of the Dead), the R-rated film based on the acclaimed 1986 comic series averaged a muscular $15,291 from 3,611 theaters. It was the third best March opening ever trailing 300 ($70.9M) and Ice Age: The Meltdown ($68M) and the sixth largest bow for an R-rated film after The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8M), The Passion of the Christ ($83.8M), 300, Hannibal ($58M), and Sex and the City ($57M).

With a reported budget of about $125M, the anti-heroes began the weekend with a terrific $24.5M on Friday including $4.6M in Thursday night shows beginning at midnight. Saturday fell sharply by 25% to $18.4M while Sunday dropped 33% to $12.3M.

Expectations were high for Watchmen with many thinking it could match or even beat 300's debut given that it boasted the same director, studio, release weekend, and rating. But the Spartan tale played broader as an exciting stylish actioner of the moment with more female appeal. Watchmen generated less interest with women and stuck mostly to a finite fan base of lovers of the comic and graphic novel. Still, the debut was impressive as it wasn't an easy sell. Reviews were mixed and the longer running time of 2 hours and 43 minutes meant less showtimes per auditorium.

But Watchmen did enjoy a less competitive field as no studio dared to counter with another wide release this weekend. The rest of the Top 20 stole away $55.6M versus $75.5M for 300's opening weekend. The superhero saga managed to gross more than the next 18 films combined and eked out a new record for the widest launch of an R-rated pic inching past the 3,603 sites for Reloaded from May 2003.

In the world of superheroes that jump from the page to the screen, Watchmen performed just like the first films in the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises which bowed to $54.5M in 2000 and $56.1M in 2005, respectively. All three were based on ensemble groups of characters, had large built-in fan bases, but were not universally known heroes like Spider-Man or Batman. Watchmen had a more restrictive rating and played outside of the prime summer season, however it also enjoyed higher ticket prices.

Imax played an important role in Watchmen's debut. 124 of the total theaters offered the large-screen presentation at slightly higher prices grossing an estimated $5.5M making it the second biggest Imax bow ever after The Dark Knight which debuted in 94 sites. That translated to a sensational average of $44,556. Imax accounted for just 3% of the Watchmen locations but 10% of the weekend gross.

Overseas where Paramount is handling the release, Rorschach and company grossed a solid but not spectacular $27.5M from 45 markets. The global bow was $82.7M.

Following its two-week stint on top, Tyler's Perry's Madea Goes to Jail dropped down to second place with $8.5M in its third weekend of release. The PG-13 comedy has so far grossed $76.2M in 17 days and currently ranks as Lionsgate's fourth biggest grosser ever after Fahrenheit 9/11 ($119.2M), Saw II ($87M), and Saw III ($80.2M). Already Perry's top career pic, look for Jail to end its run as the second biggest hit ever for the distributor. The movie mogul remains busy with his next film I Can Do Bad All By Myself, which also features the Madea character, set to be released this September and the sequel Why Did I Get Married Too slated for Easter weekend next year. Lionsgate once again will distribute. Perry's seven films to date have grossed a combined $356M domestically.

Fox's sleeper hit thriller Taken enjoyed yet another solid performance with audiences taking in $7.3M for a low decline of just 26%. That boosted the cume to a robust $117.9M. Dropping 43% in its 17th weekend was Oscar champ Slumdog Millionaire with $6.8M boosting the tally to date to $125.3M. The Danny Boyle-directed hit is on course to beat Juno's $143.5M to become the top-grossing film ever for Fox Searchlight. The global cume has now surpassed $225M.

Climbing one spot to fifth place was the durable comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop which dipped only 26% to $4.1M boosting the remarkable cume to $133.6M. Now in its eighth weekend, the Sony release has never dropped by more than 40%. Another comedy showing good legs is the date flick He's Just Not That Into You which declined by only 33% to $4M for sixth place. Warner Bros. has taken in $84.6M with this New Line production.

Falling 38% to $3.3M was the stop-motion animation hit Coraline. The Focus release has now taken in a stellar $65.6M to date and ranks as one of the year's top ten grossers. The Isla Fisher comedy Confessions of a Shopaholic got off to a rocky start but has now posted back-to-back weekends with drops of less than 35%. The Buena Vista release took in $3.1M, off 33%, and lifted its sum to a decent $38.3M.

Disney's Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience suffered one of the largest second weekend drops in box office history crumbling a stunning 77% to $2.8M. This followed what was widely considered an underwhelming debut last weekend of $12.5M which was enhanced by $15 ticket prices. After ten days, the G-rated music pic has grossed $16.8M underscoring how the Jonas brand is not nearly as popular as the Hannah Montana name. That character's 3D concert film from last year fell by 67% in its sophomore session and banked an amazing $53.2M in its first ten days despite playing in half as many theaters.

Rounding out the top ten was the high school comedy Fired Up with $2.5M for Sony, down just 33%, for a new total of $13.2M.

The top ten films grossed $97.7M over the weekend which was up 13% from last year when 10,000 B.C. opened in the top spot with $35.9M; but down 28% from 2007 when 300 debuted at number one with a stunning $70.9M.

Compared to projections, Watchmen debuted below my $64M forecast.

Be sure to check the NEW chart of the top-grossing hits of 2009 to date compared to the top films at this same point last year. Also check the list of the all-time biggest March openings.

For NEW reviews of Watchmen and 13B, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Race to Witch Mountain, The Last House on the Left, and Miss March all open.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Mar 6 - 8 Feb 27 - Mar 1 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Watchmen $ 55,214,334 3,611 1 $ 15,291 $ 55,214,334 Warner Bros.
2 Madea Goes to Jail 8,532,412 16,175,926 -47.3 2,151 3 3,967 76,237,739 Lionsgate
3 Taken 7,334,814 9,864,197 -25.6 3,016 6 2,432 117,933,922 Fox
4 Slumdog Millionaire 6,808,383 12,026,343 -43.4 2,890 17 2,356 125,324,813 Fox Searchlight
5 Paul Blart: Mall Cop 4,146,316 5,602,392 -26.0 2,558 8 1,621 133,588,995 Sony
6 He's Just Not That Into You 4,017,326 6,011,405 -33.2 2,445 5 1,643 84,644,583 Warner Bros.
7 Coraline 3,255,852 5,261,129 -38.1 1,959 5 1,662 65,627,777 Focus
8 Confessions of a Shopaholic 3,100,298 4,634,534 -33.1 2,290 4 1,354 38,335,114 Buena Vista
9 Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience 2,832,454 12,510,374 -77.4 1,276 2 2,220 16,838,775 Buena Vista
10 Fired Up 2,478,381 3,701,562 -33.0 1,798 3 1,378 13,238,432 Sony
11 Gran Torino 2,036,359 3,022,228 -32.6 1,520 13 1,340 141,612,344 Warner Bros.
12 The Reader 1,925,918 2,860,429 -32.7 1,175 13 1,639 29,860,949 Weinstein Co.
13 Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li 1,485,028 4,721,110 -68.5 1,164 2 1,276 7,252,297 Fox
14 Friday the 13th 1,444,126 3,689,156 -60.9 1,705 4 847 63,285,318 Warner Bros.
15 The International 1,330,046 2,854,949 -53.4 1,184 4 1,123 23,740,662 Sony
16 The Pink Panther 2 1,291,517 2,442,596 -47.1 1,219 5 1,059 34,590,360 Sony
17 Push 1,139,887 2,233,541 -49.0 1,142 5 998 29,649,680 Summit
18 Hotel for Dogs 1,076,641 1,680,286 -35.9 1,120 8 961 69,216,612 Paramount
19 The Wrestler 744,172 1,387,672 -46.4 677 12 1,099 24,711,985 Fox Searchlight
20 Milk 582,593 1,483,395 -60.7 447 15 1,303 31,111,155 Focus
Top 5 $ 82,036,259 $ 56,588,245 45.0
Top 10 97,720,570 80,508,972 21.4
Top 20 110,776,857 102,950,485 7.6
Top 20 vs. 2008 110,776,857 101,124,811 9.5

Last Updated: March 9, 2009 at 8:15PM ET