Weekend Box Office (April 9 - 11, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Mel Gibson's megablockbuster The Passion of the Christ made a triumphant return to the number one spot in its seventh weekend of release over the Easter holiday frame. Continuing to defy the laws of box office gravity, the heavenly drama unseated Hellboy from the top spot drawing back millions of fans over the Holy weekend. Five new releases met with mostly disappointing results led by the big-budget war drama The Alamo which limped into third place. However, Fox Searchlight's road comedy Johnson Family Vacation generated a superb opening carving out an audience all its own.

Surging 44% from last weekend, The Passion of the Christ grossed $15.2M over the three-day span, according to final figures, to reclaim the box office crown it wore during the first three weeks of its release. Boosted by renewed interest thanks to the Good Friday and Easter Sunday holidays, the Biblical picture watched its total skyrocket to $353M putting the film at number eight on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters between Jurassic Park which grossed $357.1M in 1993, and The Two Towers which collected $340.7M including its re-release. At its current pace, Passion now looks capable of breaking the $400M mark and could even boot Spider-Man out of the number five spot on the all-time list.

Just as blocs of Christians planned outings to see Passion on its opening weekend, another round was set up by many for the lucrative Easter session. Despite losing 168 theaters from last weekend, the unstoppable Gibson entry still packed in ticket buyers averaging $4,697 from 3,240 locations - a divine figure for any film in its first weekend in theaters, much less its seventh.

Last weekend's top film Hellboy fell 53% to $10.8M in its second frame. Sony's comic book film has taken in $40.8M in ten days and looks to reach $65-70M.

Hollywood distributors tried to squeeze too much product into the Easter weekend in hopes that the box office would expand over the holiday frame since workers and students had extra time off. Instead, ticket sales for the top ten shrank 18% compared to last weekend's non-holiday session and failed to top $100M for the first time since February. A whopping nine new films opened nationwide over the past two weekends. There were bound to be casualties on the battlefield when the dust settled.

Opening in third place was Cedric the Entertainer's comedy Johnson Family Vacation with $9.4M from only 1,317 playdates. The Fox Searchlight release boasted the best per-theater average in the top ten with $7,119 and has grossed a solid $11.8M since its Wednesday launch. Audience research showed that the crowd was split evenly between those over and under 25 while 60% were female. The PG-13 film which co-starred Vanessa L. Williams, Bow Wow, and Solange Knowles brought in a predominantly African-American audience and successfully entered the marketplace as effective counter-programming with almost no direct competition. The $12M film looks to become a profitable title for Searchlight.

Debuting well below expectations in fourth place was the pricey historical war epic The Alamo which misfired with only $9.1M. With budget estimates floating around the $100M mark, the Buena Vista release averaged $3,497 from 2,609 theaters and stands to reach a domestic gross of less than one-third of its cost. Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton star in the PG-13 actioner about the 1836 standoff in Texas. Because of the subject matter and lack of marquee stars, international prospects are not promising.

Not surprisingly, adult men were the core audience for The Alamo. Studio data showed that 58% were male and 86% were age 18 or over. Critics were generally not impressed by the John Lee Hancock-directed film and audiences followed their lead spending their time and money elsewhere.

Falling 46% in its second weekend was The Rock's action remake Walking Tall with $8.4M. The MGM release has grossed $29M in ten days and should wind up with about $50M. That would make it the lowest-grossing film for the wrestler-turned-actor to date. Disney's animated comedy Home on the Range followed close behind in sixth with $8.1M. Down 42%, the farm flick lifted its ten-day cume to $27.4M and is also headed towards the half-century mark. Scooby Doo 2 placed seventh with $8M, off 46%, for a total of $62.9M.

Three underachieving new releases rounded out the top ten. Bruce Willis suffered his worst opening for a wide release in a decade with the gangster comedy sequel The Whole Ten Yards which shot up $6.7M this weekend. Playing in 2,654 theaters, the Warner Bros. title averaged a weak $2,519 per location and came in at less than half of the $13.7M debut of The Whole Nine Yards from February 2000. Co-starring Matthew Perry and Amanda Peet, Ten Yards received some of the worst reviews of any film this year. For Willis' career, the debut was the worst since the $6.6M bow of Color of Night in August 1994.

Premiering in ninth place was the fairy tale adventure Ella Enchanted with $6.2M from 1,931 venues. Averaging $3,195 per theater, the PG-rated film stars Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diares) and appealed mostly to young girls. Young guys, meanwhile, were attracted to The Girl Next Door which opened in tenth with $6M. Fox's R-rated high school pic averaged a weak $2,795 from 2,148 theaters.

On Saturday evening, Sony offered sneak previews of the new Jennifer Garner comedy 13 Going On 30 two weeks ahead of its national bow. The studio reported that the screenings were at 80% capacity and that the audience was 55% under 25 and 65% female. The PG-13 film about a teenage girl who suddenly finds herself as an adult opens on April 23rd opposite the Denzel Washington kidnapping thriller Man on Fire.

Half of the cast of last weekend's top ten fell from the list. The Julia Stiles comedy The Prince & Me dropped a moderate 43% in its second weekend to $5.4M giving the Paramount release $18.4M in ten days. Look for a $30-33M final. Tom Hanks witnessed a 35% decline for The Ladykillers which grossed $4.6M. With $30.4M in the bank, the Buena Vista title should find its way to about $45M making it the lowest-grossing starring role for the Oscar-winning actor since the 1990 bomb Bonfire of the Vanities which took in just $15.7M.

Miramax's Jersey Girl dropped 42% to $3M for a $20.8M cume. The Ben Affleck comedy should finish with $26-28M. The horror remake Dawn of the Dead tumbled another 58% to $1.9M for a $55.5M total. Universal's $26M zombie pic looks to conclude with just under $60M. Angelina Joile saw her crime thriller Taking Lives plunge 56% to $1.5M. With $30.4M to date, the Warner Bros. release is set to reach around $33M.

The top ten films grossed $88M which was up 8% from last year when Anger Management opened at number one with an April record $42.2M; and up 12% from 2002 when Changing Lanes debuted in the top spot with $17.1M.

Compared to projections, The Alamo opened with half of my $18M forecast while Johnson Family Vacation debuted close to my $10M five-day prediction. The Whole Ten Yards and The Girl Next Door both launched below my respective projections of $10M and $9M, while Ella Enchanted was very close to my $7M forecast.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Kill Bill Vol. 2. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether The Alamo would open with at least $20M. Of 2,042 responses, 54% chose Yes while 46% correctly said No.

For reviews of The Alamo and The Passion of the Christ visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Kill Bill Vol. 2, The Punisher, and Connie and Carla all open.

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

# Title Apr 9 - 11 Apr 2 - 4 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Passion of the Christ $ 15,216,723 $ 10,605,106 43.5 3,240 7 $ 4,697 $ 353,006,351 NewMarket
2 Hellboy 10,824,129 23,172,440 -53.3 3,043 2 3,557 40,828,171 Sony
3 Johnson Family Vacation 9,375,307 1,317 1 7,119 11,814,504 Fox Searchlight
4 The Alamo 9,124,701 2,609 1 3,497 9,124,701 Buena Vista
5 Walking Tall 8,442,008 15,501,114 -45.5 2,836 2 2,977 28,953,956 MGM
6 Home on the Range 8,105,171 13,880,771 -41.6 3,058 2 2,650 27,418,973 Buena Vista
7 Scooby Doo 2 8,015,496 14,788,422 -45.8 3,130 3 2,561 62,878,150 Warner Bros.
8 The Whole Ten Yards 6,685,381 2,654 1 2,519 6,685,381 Warner Bros.
9 Ella Enchanted 6,169,030 1,931 1 3,195 6,169,030 Miramax
10 The Girl Next Door 6,003,806 2,148 1 2,795 6,003,806 Fox
11 The Prince and Me 5,388,594 9,406,378 -42.7 2,711 2 1,988 18,417,930 Paramount
12 The Ladykillers 4,576,730 7,090,016 -35.4 1,589 3 2,880 30,390,156 Buena Vista
13 Jersey Girl 2,954,504 5,124,554 -42.3 1,591 3 1,857 20,836,027 Miramax
14 Eternal Sunshine 2,447,862 3,443,878 -28.9 734 4 3,335 25,863,153 Focus
15 Dawn of the Dead 1,904,965 4,584,365 -58.4 1,237 4 1,540 55,468,990 Universal
16 Taking Lives 1,528,417 3,495,271 -56.3 902 4 1,694 30,407,962 Warner Bros.
17 Starsky and Hutch 1,338,227 3,222,256 -58.5 1,035 6 1,293 84,605,877 Warner Bros.
18 Hidalgo 1,108,094 2,580,498 -57.1 715 6 1,550 62,912,722 Buena Vista
19 Secret Window 910,594 2,355,834 -61.3 708 5 1,286 46,214,021 Sony
20 NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience 775,023 858,970 -9.8 71 5 10,916 7,433,872 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 52,982,868 $ 77,947,853 -32.0
Top 10 87,961,752 107,648,437 -18.3
Top 20 110,894,762 123,066,673 -9.9
Top 20 vs. 2003 110,894,762 91,555,901 21.1

Last Updated : April 12, 2004 at 10:15PM EDT

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