Weekend Box Office (April 24 - 26, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Singer-actress Beyoncé Knowles crushed the competition with a sizzling opening for her new romantic thriller Obsessed which powered well past expectations to lead the North American box office over the final weekend before the much-anticipated start of the summer movie season. Also performing well were two other new releases - the Channing Tatum drama Fighting and the animal documentary Earth. Not drawing big crowds was the star-combo of Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx in The Soloist which bowed in fourth place. Most holdovers fell sharply losing 50% or more of their business, but the top ten hit the $100M mark surging more than 30% ahead of last year's levels ending a record April and a busy spring with a bang.

Sony's Screen Gems unit tempted audiences with a well-marketed thriller and got off to an explosive start with Obsessed which grossed $28.6M in its first weekend in theaters, according to final studio figures. Busting into 2,514 locations, the PG-13 pic averaged a steamy $11,381 per site and shot higher than pre-release forecasts. The hit film stars Knowles and Idris Elba as a happily married couple until a sexy young office worker (Ali Larter) begins to stalk the husband. The prospect of a woman-on-woman fight piqued the interest of moviegoers and the collision of a black couple and a white seductress also gave the film a must-see edge.

Obsessed scored the seventh largest opening ever for the month of April and was a new career high for Knowles when in a lead role. It was also the second best in company history for Screen Gems behind the $30.1M of 2005's The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Females drove the business for Obsessed making up 58% of the crowd, according to studio research, while the age range was broad with 51% being over 25. A modest $20M budget means Sony has yet another profitable hit on its hands.

Obsessed also gave the film industry its eighth consecutive weekend with a $20M+ opening capping off a stellar four-month start to 2009. Over the first 17 weeks of the year, the number of movies opening in wide release dropped 9% (51 vs. 56 last year). However, studios were able to reduce the clutter that often causes many pics to fail allowing for more marketing focus on each title. As a result, box office is up 16% and admissions are up 14%. Plus the number of $20M+ openers rose from 11 last year to 18 this year while the amount of films crossing the $100M mark skyrocketed from just one in 2008 to six in the current year. The summer box office could not have asked for more momentum as it gets underway especially since the massive April crowds have been treated to trailers and posters for the upcoming season's big crop of blockbusters.

Zac Efron's high school comedy 17 Again dropped from first to second place and fell by an understandable 51% to $11.5M. With a solid $39.8M in ten days, the PG-13 hit looks headed for a finish of $65-70M proving that the teen heartthrob of the small screen can draw paying crowds to the multiplexes even outside of a franchise.

Debuting in third was Channing Tatum's young adult drama Fighting which punched up $11M in its opening weekend. The Rogue Pictures film was released by Universal and averaged a solid $4,775 from 2,309 venues. Tatum rose to fame in 2006 with the dance drama Step Up but has been mostly absent from the box office since then, a risky move considering the rapidly shifting tastes of young people. Rated PG-13, Fighting catered to teens and young adults with males excited by the fights and females coming in for the hunky lead actor. Studio research showed that males made up 58% of the audience while 66% were under 25.

Faring worst among the weekend's three new fictional wide releases was the violinist drama The Soloist which debuted to $9.7M from 2,024 theaters. The Paramount release did average a respectable $4,801 per theater, but the PG-13 pic starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx failed to make much of a dent in the overall marketplace. Reviews were mixed which may have sent moviegoers elsewhere and the story of a journalist who bonds with a genius musician who happens to be homeless did little to excite the public. Even the casting of two popular Oscar-caliber actors couldn't push the pic into double-digit territory. The Soloist reportedly cost $60M to produce, a tough number to recoup especially given the film's limited appeal abroad.

The animal documentary Earth enjoyed a robust debut grossing $8.8M in its first weekend of play. The G-rated tale following the stories of three sets of God's creatures averaged a healthy $4,892 from 1,804 locations. Rarely are documentaries given a nationwide release in the first weekend but Disney used Wednesday's Earth Day as a launching pad midweek and wound up with a stellar $14.5M over the five-day debut period. James Earl Jones narrated the film which earned glowing reviews. With the summer movie season unleashing a string of violent action films, Earth could enjoy a promising road ahead if it can connect with parents of smaller children looking for fun and peaceful entertainment. Hollywood has little to offer that lucrative segment of the audience until late May when Fox unleashes Night at the Museum 2 and Disney offers up Pixar's Up.

In its fifth weekend, the animated smash Monsters vs. Aliens slipped 36% to $8.5M boosting the total to $174.8M to date. The year's top-grossing film is from DreamWorks and Paramount. Universal's conspiracy thriller State of Play dropped a troubling 51% in its second weekend to $6.8M bringing the ten-day total to a mere $25.1M. Budgeted at $60M, the Russell Crowe-Ben Affleck starrer should finish up with a disappointing domestic take of around $40M despite positive reviews from critics. State joins Soloist as the latest star-driven dramas targeting mature adults that are failing to find big audiences this year following The International and Duplicity. All will end up in the $25-45M range which is not what studios were hoping for when those large star salaries were negotiated.

Hannah Montana The Movie followed with $6.4M, down 52%, giving Disney a solid $65.7M after 17 days. Falling 47% in its fourth lap was Fast & Furious which nabbed $6.2M pumping up Universal's total to $145.4M edging past the $144.5M of 2001's The Fast and the Furious to become the top-grossing installment of the four-pic franchise. The original Paul Walker-Vin Diesel pairing sold more tickets though. Adjusted for today's ticket prices, the cumes would be $186M for the first Furious, $154M for 2003's 2 Fast 2 Furious, $145M for the new Fast, and $70M for 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Overseas, the latest street-racing pic banked an estimated $15.2M from 59 territories to propel the international take to $170M and the global gross to a stunning $315M and counting.

April's other action sequel aimed at young men is running out of gas quickly. Jason Statham's Crank High Voltage collapsed by 62% in its second weekend following its lackluster opening and grossed $2.6M. With only $11.7M in ten days, a weak final gross of roughly $15M seems likely. The first Crank took in $27.8M in 2006. Lionsgate distributed both installments.

The top ten films grossed $100.3M which was up 32% from last year when Baby Mama opened in the top spot with $17.4M; and up a scorching 76% from 2007 when Disturbia stayed at number one for a third weekend with $9M.

Compared to projections, Obsessed flew much higher than my $17M forecast while Fighting was very close to my $12M prediction. The Soloist debuted slightly ahead of my $8M projection and Earth opened better than my $5M forecast.

For DVD reviews of Slumdog Millionaire and Quantum of Solace visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, and Battle For Terra all open to kick off the summer movie season.

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

# Title Apr 24 - 26 Apr 17 - 19 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Obsessed $ 28,612,730 2,514 1 $ 11,381 $ 28,612,730 Sony
2 17 Again 11,518,495 23,722,310 -51.4 3,255 2 3,539 39,823,333 Warner Bros.
3 Fighting 11,024,370 2,309 1 4,775 11,024,370 Universal
4 The Soloist 9,716,458 2,024 1 4,801 9,716,458 Paramount
5 Earth 8,825,760 1,804 1 4,892 14,472,792 Buena Vista
6 Monsters vs. Aliens 8,520,826 13,240,233 -35.6 3,358 5 2,537 174,813,830 Paramount
7 State of Play 6,848,885 14,071,280 -51.3 2,807 2 2,440 25,081,890 Universal
8 Hannah Montana The Movie 6,437,141 13,406,217 -52.0 3,231 3 1,992 65,655,057 Buena Vista
9 Fast & Furious 6,204,940 11,774,715 -47.3 3,566 4 1,740 145,367,040 Universal
10 Crank High Voltage 2,618,379 6,963,565 -62.4 2,223 2 1,178 11,735,952 Lionsgate
11 I Love You, Man 1,952,921 3,327,668 -41.3 1,563 6 1,249 67,809,860 Paramount
12 Knowing 1,943,154 3,574,727 -45.6 1,860 6 1,045 76,780,504 Summit
13 Observe and Report 1,746,102 4,174,939 -58.2 2,010 3 869 22,171,543 Warner Bros.
14 The Haunting in Connecticut 1,497,120 3,114,892 -51.9 1,675 5 894 54,207,345 Lionsgate
15 Sunshine Cleaning 587,176 980,560 -40.1 638 7 920 9,769,146 Overture
16 Adventureland 532,270 1,331,696 -60.0 581 4 916 15,124,996 Miramax
17 Duplicity 442,255 1,113,795 -60.3 610 6 725 39,870,305 Universal
18 Race to Witch Mountain 405,716 744,406 -45.5 591 7 686 64,373,915 Buena Vista
19 Paul Blart: Mall Cop 357,883 473,756 -24.5 342 15 1,046 145,151,723 Sony
20 Taken 355,149 584,153 -39.2 450 13 789 142,607,741 Fox
Top 5 $ 69,697,813 $ 76,214,755 -8.6
Top 10 100,327,984 97,370,546 3.0
Top 20 110,147,730 105,094,501 4.8
Top 20 vs. 2008 110,147,730 85,273,765 29.2

Last Updated: April 27, 2009 at 10:45PM ET