Weekend Box Office (April 2 - 4, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Hell's fury found its way to the top of the North American box office charts as the comic book action pic Hellboy opened at number one leading a quartet of new releases into the marketplace. Competing action entry Walking Tall bowed in second place, animated comedy Home on the Range premiered in fourth, and the trans-Atlantic romance The Prince & Me debuted in sixth place. Five films grossed over $10M a piece and moviegoers spent over $100M on the top ten for the sixth consecutive weekend giving April a spectacular start.

Sony claimed pole position with Hellboy which powered its way to $23.2M from an ultrawide 3,028 theaters, according to final studio figures. The PG-13 film adaptation of the Dark Horse comic character averaged a fiery $7,653 per location. Directed by Guillermo Del Toro (Blade II, Mimic), Hellboy stars Ron Perlman as the son of Satan who fights crime for the U.S. government. The studio poured millions into its marketing campaign hoping to launch a new super hero franchise. Exit polls showed that 60% of the audience was male and 52% was 25 and older.

Backed with positive reviews, the $66M effects-driven film certainly did not have an easy road reaching the male audience this weekend. The simultaneous opening of Walking Tall and Saturday night's NCAA college basketball semifinal matches proved to be formidable distractions for the target crowd. However, Hellboy did help keep the red hot box office moving forward becoming the fifth film of the past six weeks to open with more than $20M.

Striding into second place was wrestler-turned actor The Rock whose latest action movie Walking Tall debuted with $15.5M. The remake finds the People's Champion playing an Army Special Forces soldier who aims to clean house when he returns to his hometown to find widespead crime and corruption. The MGM release played in 2,836 theaters and averaged a solid $5,466 per venue. The Rock's first film outside of Universal posted his smallest debut to date and continued a trend of diminishing returns. The actor's last effort, last September's The Rundown, bowed to $18.5M on its way to $47.7M.

After opening at number one last weekend, Scooby Doo 2 lost half of its audience dropping to $14.8M. The Warner Bros. sequel has barked up $49.7M after ten days and should find its way to the neighborhood of $90M. By comparison, the first Scooby Doo film fell a more substantial 55% in its sophomore session in June 2002 before reaching a domestic tally of $153.3M.

Taking away some of the canine sleuth's family audience was Disney's animated feature Home on the Range which debuted in fourth place with $13.9M. Playing in 3,047 theaters, the PG-rated comedy averaged a good $4,556 per ranch. Judi Dench, Cuba Gooding Jr., Randy Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Roseanne Barr all lend their voices. Reviews were mixed but not too encouraging. With many children going on Easter break, the studio is expecting to see solid numbers during the mid-week period leading up to the second weekend.

Still showing the smallest decline of its run was The Passion of the Christ which dipped only 16% to $10.6M. That pushed the Mel Gibson smash's total gross to $330.9M allowing it to crack the top ten domestic blockbusters of all time ranking right behind ninth place Finding Nemo which took in $339.7M last year. The addition of 194 new playdates and the proximity to Easter weekend both helped Passion experience its smallest drop to date. The cruxifiction drama has already grossed over $80M from international markets with a dozen European and Asian debuts this weekend including France, Spain, Hong Kong, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Opening in sixth place was the Julia Stiles tale The Prince & Me which grossed $9.4M from 2,682 theaters. Averaging a mediocre $3,507 per castle, the PG pic finds the actress playing an American college student who falls for a classmate who is secretly Danish royalty. Not surprisingly, Prince played almost entirely to a young female crowd. According to studio data, an overwhelming 80% of the audience for the $22M production was female while two-thirds was under the age of 25. The opening gross was in the neighborhood of bows of recent teen-girl films like Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen ($9.7M), Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! ($7.3M), and Chasing Liberty ($6.1M).

The performance of The Prince & Me underlines the struggle that films anchored by women have faced in the marketplace this year. In addition to teen films, more mature offerings also have found it hard to draw a large paying audience. Angelina Jolie's Taking Lives has posted the biggest opening this year for a film headlined by an actress with its bow of only $11.5M. Ashley Judd's Twisted opened to $8.9M while Meg Ryan's Against the Ropes bowed to just $3M. So far this year, the best results for female box office stars have come from romantic comedies with male co-stars getting top billing - 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore and Along Came Polly with Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston.

In its second weekend, the Tom Hanks caper pic The Ladykillers fell a troubling 44% to $7.1M lifting the ten-day total to $23.5M. Not showing much legs, the Buena Vista release should find its way to $40-45M. Fellow sophomore Jersey Girl added 301 new theaters and grossed $5.1M giving the Miramax title $15.8M in ten days. The Kevin Smith film witnessed a 38% decline in sales but a 49% fall in theater average to $2,814. Despite another planned expansion on Friday, a final tally of $27-30M seems likely.

In ninth place was Universal's horror remake Dawn of the Dead with $4.6M, down 57%, for a 17-day total of $51.8M. Warner Bros. rounded out the top ten with Taking Lives which dropped 47% to $3.5M for a $27.5M sum.

Four films fell out of the top ten this weekend. Jim Carrey's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind eased 35% to $3.4M and has grossed $21.9M thus far. The Focus title should reach $30-33M. The Ben Stiller-Owen Wilson remake Starsky & Hutch dropped 48% to $3.2M giving the Warner Bros. release $81.9M to date. The $60M production should conclude with $85-90M.

Disney's Saharan adventure Hidalgo tumbled 52% to $2.6M lifting the cume for the Viggo Mortensen actioner to $60.7M. Budgeted at $85M, Hidalgo looks to reach about $65M domestically. The Johnny Depp thriller Secret Window plunged 56% to $2.4M. The $35M film has grossed $44.4M thus far and is set to finish with around $50M.

The top ten films grossed $107.6M which was up 39% from last year when Phone Booth opened at number one with $15M; and up 21% from 2002 when Panic Room remained in the top spot with $18.2M.

Compared to projections, Hellboy did not reach my $27M forecast, though Walking Tall was on target with my $15M prediction. Home on the Range opened above my $11M projection while The Prince & Me debuted in line with my $9M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the opening of The Alamo. For reviews of Hellboy and Walking Tall visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's Easter holiday frame when The Alamo, The Whole Ten Yards, The Girl Next Door, The Johnson Family Vacation, and Ella Enchanted all squeeze into the marketplace.

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

# Title Apr 2 - 4 Mar 26 - 28 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Hellboy $ 23,172,440 3,028 1 $ 7,653 $ 23,172,440 Sony
2 Walking Tall 15,501,114 2,836 1 5,466 15,501,114 MGM
3 Scooby Doo 2 14,788,422 29,438,331 -49.8 3,312 2 4,465 49,746,466 Warner Bros.
4 Home on the Range 13,880,771 3,047 1 4,556 13,880,771 Buena Vista
5 The Passion of the Christ 10,605,106 12,593,974 -15.8 3,408 6 3,112 330,856,971 NewMarket
6 The Prince and Me 9,406,378 2,682 1 3,507 9,406,378 Paramount
7 The Ladykillers 7,090,016 12,634,563 -43.9 1,587 2 4,468 23,482,792 Buena Vista
8 Jersey Girl 5,124,554 8,319,171 -38.4 1,821 2 2,814 15,826,301 Miramax
9 Dawn of the Dead 4,584,365 10,675,945 -57.1 2,357 3 1,945 51,759,940 Universal
10 Taking Lives 3,495,271 6,557,426 -46.7 2,010 3 1,739 27,473,161 Warner Bros.
11 Eternal Sunshine 3,443,878 5,256,206 -34.5 1,120 3 3,075 21,919,041 Focus
12 Starsky and Hutch 3,222,256 6,212,223 -48.1 2,103 5 1,532 81,909,521 Warner Bros.
13 Hidalgo 2,580,498 5,336,874 -51.6 1,603 5 1,610 60,680,776 Buena Vista
14 Secret Window 2,355,834 5,314,008 -55.7 1,698 4 1,387 44,361,036 Sony
15 Never Die Alone 1,040,249 3,089,993 -66.3 1,153 2 902 4,919,429 Fox Searchlight
16 NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience 858,970 1,068,805 -19.6 71 4 12,098 6,203,854 Warner Bros.
17 50 First Dates 772,113 2,385,220 -67.6 781 8 989 118,206,131 Sony
18 Agent Cody Banks 2 469,461 2,769,212 -83.0 1,099 4 427 22,398,866 MGM
19 LOTR: The Return of the King 373,903 705,817 -47.0 348 16 1,074 375,204,550 New Line
20 Goodbye Lenin! 301,074 288,224 4.5 78 6 3,860 1,461,273 Sony Classics
Top 5 $ 77,947,853 $ 73,661,984 5.8
Top 10 107,648,437 102,338,721 5.2
Top 20 123,066,673 114,307,003 7.7
Top 20 vs. 2003 123,066,673 91,595,173 34.4

Last Updated : April 5, 2004 at 6:00PM EDT

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