Weekend Box Office (March 26 - 28, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Family audiences drove the canine sleuth sequel Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed to a top spot debut leading the overall top ten to its fifth consecutive $100M+ showing - a first ever for the spring box office. Tom Hanks' caper film The Ladykillers enjoyed a solid start in second place while Ben Affleck's Jersey Girl posted a respectable bow as well.

Pitiful reviews did nothing to stop Scooby Doo 2 from generating the fifth-best March opening ever as the Warner Bros. kidpic topped the charts with an estimated $30.7M in ticket sales. Averaging a hearty $9,283 from 3,312 theaters, the PG-rated film reunited director Raja Gosnell with stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Linda Cardellini, Matthew Lillard, and a CGI Scoob. The debut gross came in at about half of the $54.2M bow of 2002's Scooby Doo, however that film being the first attracted a broader audience curious to see the hit cartoon characters hit the big screen, and was released in the more lucrative month of June when most children were out of school. As the only major title aimed at the family audience this weekend, Doo 2 faced little competition. With half of the films in the top ten being R-rated entries, there were few other exciting options for children.

Box office titan Tom Hanks debuted in second place with his latest effort, the casino caper comedy The Ladykillers, which took in an estimated $13M from 1,583 theaters. The Coen brothers film averaged a rock solid $8,214 per site despite receiving mixed reviews. For twelve straight years now, the consistently popular Hanks has watched all his starring roles open wide in first or second place. However, his streak of ten consecutive $100M+ grosses for starring roles (the best in the industry) is likely to come to an end.

For the Coens, Ladykillers marks the best opening for the brother team which isn't saying much since only two other films of theirs have ever opened wide on its first weekend. Last October, their George Clooney-Catherine Zeta Jones pic Intolerable Cruelty bowed to a slightly lower $12.5M while 1998's The Big Lebowski premiered to $5.5M.

The Passion of the Christ enjoyed the smallest decline of its five-week run slipping 36% to an estimated $12.5M boosting the cume to $315M. Surging past the triple-century mark in only 29 days, the Mel Gibson smash now sits at number 13 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters between two other gargantuan films based on popular books - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ($317.6M) and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring ($314.2M including its re-release). With the Christian holidays Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday falling on the next two frames, Passion should continue to show strong legs and crack the all-time top ten in another week.

The zombie picture Dawn of the Dead was slashed 61% in its second weekend and took in an estimated $10.3M. After ten days, the $26M Universal remake has grossed $43.9M and is on course for a $60-65M final.

Ben Affleck's reteaming with director Kevin Smith resulted in a respectable fifth-place debut for Jersey Girl which grossed an estimated $8.3M over the weekend. The Miramax film about a single father returning to the dating scene played best to young females and averaged a strong $5,463 from 1,520 venues. Co-starring Liv Tyler and George Carlin, the PG-13 film opened much like the 1999 Smith-Affleck project Dogma which took in $8.7M from 1,269 theaters. Critics were not too supportive, but were not as brutal as they were with Gigli.

Dropping 43% to sixth place was the Angelina Jolie FBI thriller Taking Lives with an estimated $6.5M bringing the ten-day total to $21.7M. The Warner Bros. release should find its way to a mediocre $35-40M. Studio stablemate Starsky & Hutch fell 40% to an estimated $6.3M for a $76.9M sum. Ben Stiller now stars in two of the top four grossers of 2004 with Starsky and Along Came Polly which has grossed $87.6M to date. The comedian offers his third comedy of the year in Envy, with Jack Black, which opens at the end of April.

Three films rounded out the top ten with each grossing an estimated $5.4M in ticket sales. Buena Vista's Viggo Mortensen adventure Hidalgo slipped 35% lifting the cume to $56.5M. The studio is hoping the same audience returns to theaters in two weeks for its next historical adventure film The Alamo.

Jim Carrey's offbeat picture Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind eased 34% and brought its ten-day tally to $16.7M. The Focus Features release could wind up with $30-35M. The Johnny Depp suspense pic Secret Window fell 42% and has taken in $40.7M to date.

Opening poorly just outside of the top ten was the DMX action flick Never Die Alone with an estimated $3.1M from 1,160 locations. The R-rated film about a notorious drug lord averaged a weak $2,651 per location. The rapper-turned-actor should maybe learn to never star alone as his previous films, which paired him with action men Jet Li and Steven Seagal, resulted in openings of $16-18M each. Budgeted at just $3M, Never Die Alone drew an audience that was 86% African-American and split evenly among males and females, according to distributor Fox Searchlight.

Three films fell from the top ten over the weekend. Sony's Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore comedy 50 First Dates dropped 42% to an estimated $2.5M pushing the total to $116.8M. Budgeted at $75M, the year's top-grossing non-Jesus film should find its way to roughly $125M, or 56% more than the duo's 1998 hit The Wedding Singer which grossed $80.2M.

With the Scooby sequel unleashed on the family audience, MGM saw sales for its franchise kidpic Agent Cody Banks 2 tumble 64% in its third weekend to an estimated $2.2M. With $20.9M in the bank, the Frankie Muniz flick should close its case with about $25M which would be roughly half as much as the $47.9M gross of the first Cody Banks from last spring.

Disney's Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen suffered an even greater fall plunging 69% to an estimated $477,000 in its sixth session. The Lindsay Lohan high school comedy has collected $28.5M to date and should finish with nearly $30M. The actress stars in a darker moving-to-a-new-school comedy in Mean Girls opening next month.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $103.9M which was up 27% from last year when Head of State opened at number one with $13.5M; but down 5% from 2002 when Panic Room debuted in the top spot with $30.1M.

Compared to projections, Scooby Doo 2 opened higher than my $26M forecast while The Ladykillers was very close to my $12M prediction. Jersey Girl was also very near to my $7M projection while Never Die Alone bowed below my $5M forecast.

For reviews of Scooby Doo 2 and Walking Tall, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Monday night for final figures and again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Hellboy, Walking Tall, The Prince and Me, and Home on the Range all open.

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

# Title Mar 26 - 28 Mar 19 - 21 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Scooby Doo 2 $ 29,438,331 3,312 1 $ 8,888 $ 29,438,331 Warner Bros.
2 The Ladykillers 12,634,563 1,583 1 7,981 12,634,563 Buena Vista
3 The Passion of the Christ 12,593,974 19,414,377 -35.1 3,214 5 3,918 315,152,778 NewMarket
4 Dawn of the Dead 10,675,945 26,722,575 -60.0 2,748 2 3,885 44,220,945 Universal
5 Jersey Girl 8,319,171 1,520 1 5,473 8,319,171 Miramax
6 Taking Lives 6,557,426 11,458,465 -42.8 2,705 2 2,424 21,717,105 Warner Bros.
7 Starsky and Hutch 6,212,223 10,392,443 -40.2 2,985 4 2,081 76,821,982 Warner Bros.
8 Hidalgo 5,336,874 8,415,810 -36.6 2,667 4 2,001 56,428,037 Buena Vista
9 Secret Window 5,314,008 9,264,701 -42.6 2,912 3 1,825 40,570,505 Sony
10 Eternal Sunshine 5,256,206 8,175,198 -35.7 1,357 2 3,873 16,551,047 Focus
11 Never Die Alone 3,089,993 1,161 1 2,661 3,089,993 Fox Searchlight
12 Agent Cody Banks 2 2,769,212 6,030,302 -54.1 2,410 3 1,149 21,442,720 MGM
13 50 First Dates 2,385,220 4,186,739 -43.0 1,759 7 1,356 116,748,548 Sony
14 NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience 1,068,805 1,341,904 -20.4 70 3 15,269 4,979,196 Warner Bros.
15 LOTR: The Return of the King 705,817 1,350,748 -47.7 661 15 1,068 374,556,572 New Line
16 Twisted 627,577 1,331,684 -52.9 811 5 774 24,701,908 Paramount
17 Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen 463,722 1,560,872 -70.3 601 6 772 28,487,331 Buena Vista
18 Goodbye Lenin! 288,224 247,592 16.4 63 5 4,575 1,044,396 Sony Classics
19 Miracle 287,244 734,110 -60.9 388 8 740 63,654,079 Buena Vista
20 Cheaper by the Dozen 282,468 306,634 -7.9 306 14 923 137,527,680 Fox
Top 5 $ 73,661,984 $ 77,252,561 -4.6
Top 10 102,338,721 105,621,482 -3.1
Top 20 114,307,003 113,838,760 0.4
Top 20 vs. 2003 114,307,003 96,649,906 18.3

Last Updated : March 28, 2004 at 6:00PM EST

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