Weekend Box Office (March 31 - April 2, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers left behind their DVD players, plasma TVs, and Tivos and flocked to their local multiplex powering the animated smash Ice Age: The Meltdown to a record opening that lifted the North American box office to its highest point of the year. Controlling the marketplace single-handedly, the blockbuster toon grossed more than the next 15 films combined. Among other new releases, the urban drama ATL was a winner while the horror film Slither and the erotic thriller Basic Instinct 2 were utterly rejected by ticket buyers.

Fox generated the largest opening of the year and the biggest debut for any film launching in March or April with the $68M gross of its Ice Age sequel this weekend, according to final studio figures. The studio saturated the marketplace opening in 3,964 theaters and averaged an explosive $17,163 per site. The figure easily surged past industry expectations which were in the mid-$50M range. The Friday-to-Sunday take represented a sensational 47% improvement on the $46.3M debut of the first Ice Age film from March 2002 which has held the opening weekend record for that month until now.

Down $2.5M from the original weekend estimate of $70.5M, Meltdown nearly reached the $70.3M launch of Finding Nemo and the $70.5M bow of The Incredibles. Another CG sequel, 2004's Shrek 2, holds the record for the biggest toon bow with a colossal $108M debut. For the latest Ice Age flick, Fox reported an opening day gross of $22M followed by a 28% rise to $28.2M on Saturday, and a 37% decline to $17.9M for Sunday. It was also the sixth biggest opening ever for Fox after Star Wars Episode III ($108.4M), X2: X-Men United ($85.6M), Star Wars Episode II ($80M), The Day After Tomorrow ($68.7M), and Planet of the Apes ($68.5M).

Ice Age: The Meltdown brought back the three main voice actors from the first film - Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo - but also added new talent including Queen Latifah, Jay Leno, and Seann William Scott. Just like with the Shrek sequel, Meltdown offered even more to the consumer the second time around helping to lure them back for another dose of prehistoric fun and adventure. Fox reported that the $80M production reached all audiences this weekend cutting across barriers of age, gender, and race. Nearly one-third of the business came from the non-family segment.

An additional $43.4M was collected around the world as Meltdown launched in several international markets day and date with its North American debut. That gives the PG-rated film over $111M in global ticket sales this weekend with key markets like Germany, Japan, and the U.K. still to open. By the Easter school holidays in mid-April, the toon will be in theaters everywhere. Blue Sky Studios, the production house behind the film, is already in early development on a third installment in the Ice Age franchise. It hopes to not have another four-year gap between films.

Following its top spot debut last weekend, Spike Lee's bank hostage thriller Inside Man saw a standard 47% drop in the second weekend and took in $15.4M. After ten days, Universal has seized $52.5M giving the Denzel Washington-Jodie Foster film the largest ten-day cume of any film released before Ice Age this year. Inside Man has already become Lee's top-grossing film ever beating the $48.2M of 1992's Malcolm X which earned Washington an Oscar nod. Also, the bank heist flick is outdistancing Man on Fire and Foster's Flightplan which generated ten-day totals of $44.3M and $45.9M, respectively. Produced for $45M, Inside Man looks to reach around $90M domestically. The international cume to date stands at $22.5M after 11 days.

Opening better than expected in third place was the hip hop drama ATL which scored $11.6M from 1,602 theaters. The Warner Bros. release stars rap artists T.I. and Big Boi and tells the story of teens in Atlanta who mix rollerskating and hip hop music in their lives while trying to better themselves. ATL averaged a sparkling $7,212 per theater giving it an opening weekend average close to those seen by last year's urban films Get Rich or Die Tryin' ($7,277) and Hustle & Flow ($7,915).

Paramount's romantic comedy Failure to Launch followed in fourth with the smallest decline in the top ten. The Matthew McConaughey-Sarah Jessica Parker flick slipped 38% to $6.5M pushing the cume to $73.1M. Failure should find its way to $90-100M. Close behind was the sci-fi thriller V for Vendetta with $6.3M, down 49%, putting the total at $56.7M. Warner Bros. looks to end up with roughly $70M.

The video game-themed horror pic Stay Alive plunged 58% in its second weekend to $4.5M. With $17.3M in ten days, look for a $25M final. Teen hit She's the Man collected $4.4M as well and saw its ticket sales slide only 39%. The DreamWorks release has taken in $26.6M to date and should conclude its run with $35-40M making it one of the better performing teen girl movies of recent years.

Universal saw a disappointing opening for its horror comedy Slither which debuted to only $3.9M. The R-rated film about alien creatures that make zombies out of humans averaged an embarrassing $1,995 from 1,945 theaters. Slither joins films like Doogal ($3.6M) and Grandma's Boy ($3M) among the worst debuts of the year for wide releases.

With kids flocking to Ice Age, Disney's The Shaggy Dog got hit hard tumbling 64% to $3.2M. The Tim Allen comedy has grossed $53.6M so far and should reach $60M.

Making a strong bid to become the Gigli of 2006, Sharon Stone's Basic Instinct 2 crashed and burned in its opening weekend barely making the top ten with $3.2M. Sony's critically-panned sequel to the 1992 Michael Douglas blockbuster averaged a pitiful $2,203 from 1,453 theaters. The first Basic Instinct grossed more in its opening day fourteen years ago than the sequel did in its entire debut weekend. The original bowed at number one with $15.1M on its way to $117.7M domestically and over $350M worldwide becoming a pop culture phenomenon. It also sent Stone's career into the stratosphere, although she has not been able to deliver any hits since that have come close to Instinct's heights. Studio research showed that the audience for Instinct 2 was 57% male and that 63% were 30 and older.

With both Basic Instinct 2 and Slither opening to disastrous results, their respective distributors were quick to distance themselves from the flops when reporting weekend estimates on Sunday. Both Sony and Universal emphasized that they only acted as a distributor for a fee and were not involved in the developing of the pictures.

Four films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. The Lionsgate comedy Larry the Cable Guy fell 54% in its sophomore frame to $3.2M and upped its ten-day total to $11.5M. Look for a $15-17M final. Fox Searchlight's horror remake The Hills Have Eyes dropped 57% in its fourth scare to $1.9M lifting the cume to $39M. Produced for $15M, the R-rated chiller should end up with roughly $42M.

Disney's adventure hit Eight Below stumbled 64% to $967,928 pushing its total to $79.2M. The Mouse House looks to conclude with a remarkable $81M. Also dropping hard was the Bruce Willis cop pic 16 Blocks with $707,401, down 67%, for a $35.5M sum. A $37M final seems likely.

There was plenty of limited release activity over the weekend. Focus platformed its high school thriller Brick in only a pair of theaters but grossed $83,574 for a stunning average of $41,787. Samuel Goldwyn Films debuted the romantic drama Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School in 38 theaters in five markets and grossed $92,668. The Marisa Tomei film averaged $2,439 per site and expands into ten more markets on Friday.

Among holdovers, indie sensation Thank You for Smoking widened from 54 to 126 theaters and grossed $1.6M putting it in the number 13 spot for the weekend. The Fox Searchlight release continued to post muscular averages in its third weekend collecting $12,749 per location. Smoking adds some more theaters on Friday before going national into over 600 theaters on April 14. Cume sits at $3.3M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $127M which was up a spectacular 36% from last year when Sin City opened at number one with $29.1M; and up a stellar 18% from 2004 when Hellboy debuted on top with $23.2M.

Compared to projections, Ice Age powered ahead of my $54M forecast while ATL opened close to my $10M prediction. Both Slither and Basic Instinct 2 opened weaker than my $7M projection for each.

For a NEW review of Slither and DVD reviews of The Ice Harvest and Prime, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Lucky Number Slevin, The Benchwarmers, Take the Lead, and Phat Girlz all open.

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Last Updated : April 3, 2006 at 7:30PM EDT