Weekend Box Office (March 13 - 15, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the North American box office with his Disney adventure film Race to Witch Mountain which opened strongly at number one. The comic book saga Watchmen plunged in its sophomore frame settling for second place while the new horror entry The Last House on the Left bowed impressively in third. Existing films held up very well as five of the seven holdover titles in the top ten dipped by less than 30%. However, the overall marketplace fell from last year's levels for the first time in six weeks.

Dwayne Johnson scored his sixth career number one opener for a lead role with Race to Witch Mountain which easily claimed the top spot with $24.4M, according to final studio figures. Playing to a broad audience, the PG-rated adventure averaged an impressive $7,657 from 3,187 theaters and did especially well with family audiences. The debut beat out the launch of Johnson's last Disney vehicle with director Andy Fickman The Game Plan which bowed to $23M on its way to a solid $90.6M which amounted to four times the debut weekend figure. Race was inspired by the Witch Mountain franchise Disney had in the late 1970s.

Following the biggest opening weekend for any film this year, Watchmen saw more than two-thirds of its audience disappear in its second weekend as the superhero epic fell a steep 68% to $17.8M. It was the third largest second weekend drop for a number one opener over the past year trailing last month's Friday the 13th (80%) and July's Hellboy II (71%). After ten days, Watchmen has taken in $85.8M and now looks headed for a domestic finish of about $120M. The pricetag for the effects-heavy comic pic has been estimated at $125-150M. The much-hyped actioner has played mostly to its core audience of comic fans and has not branched out much beyond that. With most seeing the film in its first week, a huge sophomore plunge was expected.

Universal generated a solid opening for its new horror film The Last House on the Left which grossed $14.1M from 2,401 theaters. The R-rated thriller about a couple's revenge after a teenage daughter is brutally assaulted averaged a sturdy $5,880 and played to a young female audience. Studio research showed that 57% of the crowd was female and 60% was under 25. House is a redo of Wes Craven's 1972 classic fright flick. Being the first scary movie in a month also helped as there was little competition.

The Liam Neeson kidnapping thriller Taken once again posted unbelievable strength dipping a ridiculously low 10% in its seventh weekend to $6.6M for fourth place. Fox has now boosted its cume to an amazing $126.8M and should have no problem breaking the $150M barrier with this sleeper sensation. Over the past two years, the only other film to spend seven weeks in the top five was The Dark Knight, the follow-up to Batman Begins which co-starred Neeson.

Lionsgate followed in fifth with Madea Goes to Jail which took in $5.1M, down 40%, to lift the total to $83.2M. Oscar king Slumdog Millionaire ranked sixth dipping 27% to $5M. Fox Searchlight's sum to date stands at $132.6M with the $150M mark within reach.

Another durable blockbuster Paul Blart: Mall Cop followed with $3.1M, off just 25%, giving Sony $137.8M thus far. The Kevin James smash may also join the century-and-a-half club. Warner Bros. saw a low 27% drop for the comedy He's Just Not Into You which grossed $2.9M in its sixth frame for a cume of $89M to date. Reaching the $100M barrier is not out of the question. The family hit Coraline took in $2.7M declining only 17% and gave Focus a sum of $69.2M.

Rounding out the top ten with a weak start was the sex comedy Miss March which bowed to $2.4M from 1,742 locations. The Fox Searchlight release about a young man who wakes up from a four-year coma to learn that his lady friend has become a famous Playboy bunny averaged only $1,383 and drew negative reviews across the board.

The indie comedy Sunshine Cleaning made a sensational debut in platform release this weekend grossing $219,190 from only four sites in New York and Los Angeles for a scorching $54,798 average. Starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as sisters that run a crime scene clean-up business, the R-rated film premiered to plenty of buzz over a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival and was snapped up by Overture a month later. Insiders put the film's budget at $7M with the distributor acquiring domestic rights for $2M. Sunshine hopes to keep the momentum going this Friday when it expands to 15 additional markets across the country to become the year's first new breakout indie smash.

The top ten films grossed $84.2M which was down 17% from last year when Horton Hears A Who opened in the top spot with $45M; and down 16% from 2007 when 300 remained at number one with $32.9M in its second weekend.

Compared to projections, Race to Witch Mountain opened close to my $27M forecast while The Last House on the Left was on target with my $14M prediction. Miss March debuted below my $5M projection.

Be sure to check the NEW chart of largest second weekend drops for number one openers over the past year.

For a NEW review of The Last House on the Left and NEW DVD reviews of Pinocchio and Beverly Hills Chihuahua visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Duplicity, I Love You, Man, and Knowing all open.

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

# Title Mar 13 - 15 Mar 6 - 8 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Race to Witch Mountain $ 24,402,214 3,187 1 $ 7,657 $ 24,402,214 Buena Vista
2 Watchmen 17,817,301 55,214,334 -67.7 3,611 2 4,934 85,751,993 Warner Bros.
3 The Last House on the Left 14,118,685 2,401 1 5,880 14,118,685 Universal
4 Taken 6,568,651 7,334,814 -10.4 2,858 7 2,298 126,752,054 Fox
5 Madea Goes to Jail 5,108,532 8,532,412 -40.1 2,203 4 2,319 83,187,594 Lionsgate
6 Slumdog Millionaire 5,002,777 6,808,383 -26.5 2,578 18 1,941 132,602,820 Fox Searchlight
7 Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3,119,151 4,146,316 -24.8 2,281 9 1,367 137,785,983 Sony
8 He's Just Not That Into You 2,939,484 4,017,326 -26.8 1,890 6 1,555 89,038,259 Warner Bros.
9 Coraline 2,718,231 3,255,852 -16.5 1,768 6 1,537 69,240,852 Focus
10 Miss March 2,409,156 1,742 1 1,383 2,409,156 Fox Searchlight
11 Confessions of a Shopaholic 1,941,638 3,100,298 -37.4 1,591 5 1,220 41,295,158 Buena Vista
12 Fired Up 1,645,380 2,478,381 -33.6 1,518 4 1,084 15,430,103 Sony
13 Gran Torino 1,505,408 2,036,359 -26.1 1,102 14 1,366 143,829,449 Warner Bros.
14 The Reader 1,309,669 1,925,918 -32.0 1,002 14 1,307 31,887,248 Weinstein Co.
15 Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience 940,270 2,832,454 -66.8 968 3 971 18,241,586 Buena Vista
16 The International 716,479 1,330,046 -46.1 549 5 1,305 24,975,097 Sony
17 Friday the 13th 595,165 1,444,126 -58.8 780 5 763 64,361,909 Warner Bros.
18 Hotel for Dogs 577,927 1,076,641 -46.3 804 9 719 70,040,394 Paramount
19 Push 539,468 1,139,887 -52.7 615 6 877 30,564,529 Summit
20 The Pink Panther 2 536,634 1,291,517 -58.4 627 6 856 35,421,960 Sony
Top 5 $ 68,015,383 $ 82,036,259 -17.1
Top 10 84,204,182 97,720,570 -13.8
Top 20 94,512,220 110,776,857 -14.7
Top 20 vs. 2008 94,512,220 113,655,707 -16.8

Last Updated: March 16, 2009 at 9:00PM ET