Weekend Box Office (May 1 - 3, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Fox's super hero spinoff X-Men Origins: Wolverine crushed the competition and ruled the global box office kicking off the summer movie season with a scorching debut. The romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past opened reasonably well in second place helping the overall marketplace match the same weekend a year ago when Iron Man got 2008's record summer season started.

Wolverine generated a ferocious opening weekend grossing $85.1M over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final figures, from a studio record 4,099 theaters for a sizzling $20,751 average. Starring Hugh Jackman who also produced, the PG-13 prequel tells the origin story of the popular X-Men character and successfully launched a new series of spinoffs for a decade-old franchise that previously grossed $606.6M domestically across its last three installments.

The opening ranked as the twelfth best for May, the strongest month of the year when it comes to debuts. However it was the fifth largest when looking at the first weekend of May when the summer movie season traditionally kicks off. Only fellow comic book pics Spider-Man 3 ($151.1M in 2007), Spider-Man ($114.8M in 2002), Iron Man ($98.6M), and X2: X-Men United ($85.6M in 2003) have fared better. The Wolverine bow is also the fourth largest in studio history for Fox trailing Star Wars Episode III ($108.4M), X-Men: The Last Stand ($102.8M), and X2.

Directed by Gavin Hood (Tsotsi), Wolverine got off to a muscular start with $35M in ticket sales on Friday. Saturday dropped by 15% to $29.3M while Sunday fell by 27% to $21.3M. During their opening weekends, Saturday-to-Sunday declines were 30% for Iron Man and 22% for Spider-Man 3. The audience for the new tale was 53% male and 52% over 25.

A pirated copy of Wolverine surfaced online a month ago and may have had an impact on sales this weekend. Although there has been much speculation, no hard data exists pinpointing how much in ticket sales was lost. The source of the leaked early copy has not been found.

Looking at past summer kickoff films, the Origins opening weekend gross most resembled the $85.6M of X2, although ticket prices have risen by 21% since that year. By comparing admissions, Wolverine sold about as many tickets as 2001's The Mummy Returns which debuted to $68.1M which translates to roughly $88M at today's ticket prices. Both sold about 12 million stubs in their first three days.

Still, for an X-Men movie stripped of popular characters like Storm, Magneto, Professor X, and Rogue, Wolverine managed to stand on its own two feet and pull in numbers in line with franchise history. But without so many expensive actors demanding raises with each new installment, the cost was lower this time - $130M after tax credits from shooting in Australia are factored in. The first three mutant films were all shot in Canada with the initial installment opening to $54.5M in July of 2000. Last Stand carried a hefty reported price tag of $210M.

Fox and Marvel are developing an origin film for Magneto which is planned for a 2011 release. That same year, the comic book giant also aims to release the big screen adventures Captain America and Thor through Paramount and Spider-Man 4 through Sony.

Wolverine had sharp claws overseas too with a spectacular day and date launch that pulled in an additional $73M from over 9,000 screens in 101 markets making for a colossal $158M opening around the world. Next weekend, grosses are expected to drop sharply as Paramount invades theaters globally with its highly-anticipated sci-fi origin tale Star Trek.

For those not interested in super hero battles, Warner Bros. offered the Matthew McConaughey-Jennifer Garner wedding-themed comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past which debuted in second place with $15.4M from 3,175 locations for a decent $4,854 average. It was a respectable debut for a romantic comedy and slightly exceeded the chick flick offering Made of Honor which countered Iron Man this weekend last year with a $14.8M bow. However, Ghosts failed to come close to the $20M mark which most McConaughey romance vehicles tend to break.

His 2003 hit How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days with Kate Hudson opened to $23.8M, the 2006 pic Failure to Launch with Sarah Jessica Parker bowed to $24.4M, and last year's action-comedy Fool's Gold with Hudson debuted with $21.6M. Reviews were predictably negative and some fans may have passed on the chance to see McConaughey play a cocky but lovable hunk for the umpteenth time. The studio is hoping Ghosts, which reportedly cost $50M to produce, will keep running throughout the early summer weeks since the rest of May has virtually no date movies or female-skewing comedies.

Sony's hit thriller Obsessed dropped from first to third and lost 58% of its opening weekend business grossing $12.1M pushing the ten-day cume to $46.9M. The decline was on the high end of what films of the type generally see and the cume to date is impressive for a $20M-budgeted pic. Look for star/executive producer Beyoncé to reach a stellar $70M by the end of the domestic run.

In its third weekend, Zac Efron's 17 Again dropped 45% to $6.4M giving Warner Bros. $48.5M to date. Paramount enjoyed the smallest drop in the top ten with DreamWorks Animation's 3D toon Monsters vs. Aliens which took in another $5.8M in its sixth adventure, off just 32%, boosting the total for the year's top-grossing blockbuster to $182.4M.

Robert Downey Jr., the king of the box office one year ago, settled for sixth place with his disappointing violinist drama The Soloist which dipped 42% to $5.7M for $18.2M in ten days. Paramount's $60M DreamWorks/Universal co-production which also stars Jamie Foxx should stumble to a $30M final tally and may be a tough sell overseas too. Disney's nature documentary Earth followed with $4.3M, down 51%, putting the 12-day sum at $22M. The final gross should approach $30M as well, a solid figure for a non-fiction pic.

The G-rated fun of Hannah Montana The Movie followed declining 35% to $4.2M putting Disney at $70.9M. The girlpower flick has surpassed the $65.3M of last year's 3D concert film Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds. Universal's tough guy flick Fighting dropped a hefty 64% in its second round to $4M. With $17.3M in ten days, look for a decent $25M by the end of the run. Rounding out the top ten was State of Play which grossed $3.7M, down 46%, for a $30.9M total for Universal.

Wolverine kicked two of April's action sequels out of the top ten this weekend. Vin Diesel's franchise pic Fast & Furious grossed $2.8M, down 56%, and raised its stellar cume to $149.8M to become the year's second-biggest grosser and top-performing live-action film - for now. Universal has found that the fourth time is a charm as the new Furious has become the highest-grossing installment in the eight-year-old series. Look for a $155M domestic finish. Overseas, Fast & Furious captured $6.7M this weekend boosting the international total to $182.4M and the global gross to a stunning $332M.

Attracting a slightly smaller audience was Crank High Voltage which collapsed by 81% this weekend to $488,781 domestically. Lionsgate has taken in just $13.3M in 17 days and should conclude with a lackluster $14M for its Jason Statham vehicle, or half of the $27.8M total that 2006's Crank took in.

Crashing and burning with the worst opening of 2009 for a wide release was the animated sci-fi film Battle for Terra which stumbled to $1.1M from 1,160 theaters for a pitiful $933 average. The PG-rated film from Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate tells the story of humans trying to conquer a new planet for their survival. Moviegoers found no reason to pay top dollar to see this on the big screen.

Focus saw a strong platform debut for its crime thriller The Limits of Control which grossed $55,820 from only three locations for a sturdy $18,607 average. Directed by Jim Jarmusch, the R-rated film stars Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Gael Garcia Bernal and did well despite weak reviews. Business for new independent films in general has been horrendous this year so Limits hopes to find some early summer success from arthouse crowds not in the mood for mutants, Vulcans, or terminators.

The top ten films grossed $146.6M which was off 1% from last year when Iron Man opened in the top spot with $98.6M; and down 18% from 2007 when Spider-Man 3 debuted at number one with a then-record $151.1M.

Be sure to check back all this week for daily box office coverage of Wolverine's opening week.

Compared to projections, X-Men Origins: Wolverine opened on target with my $85M forecast. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Battle for Terra both debuted a couple of notches below my respective predictions of $19M and $3M.

Check the UPDATED box office charts for the top May openings and the summer kickoff movies from 1996 to 2009.

For NEW reviews of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Star Trek and Next Day Air both open.

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

# Title May 1 - 3 Apr 24 - 26 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 X-Men Origins: Wolverine $ 85,058,003 4,099 1 $ 20,751 $ 85,058,003 Fox
2 Ghosts of Girlfriends Past 15,411,434 3,175 1 4,854 15,411,434 Warner Bros.
3 Obsessed 12,052,151 28,612,730 -57.9 2,514 2 4,794 46,854,485 Sony
4 17 Again 6,361,358 11,518,495 -44.8 3,255 3 1,954 48,503,817 Warner Bros.
5 Monsters vs. Aliens 5,803,429 8,520,826 -31.9 2,626 6 2,210 182,407,971 Paramount
6 The Soloist 5,654,558 9,716,458 -41.8 2,033 2 2,781 18,162,696 Paramount
7 Earth 4,340,235 8,825,760 -50.8 1,804 2 2,406 22,004,284 Buena Vista
8 Hannah Montana The Movie 4,164,185 6,437,141 -35.3 2,819 4 1,477 70,946,323 Buena Vista
9 Fighting 4,011,465 11,024,370 -63.6 2,312 2 1,735 17,344,805 Universal
10 State of Play 3,715,980 6,848,885 -45.7 2,445 3 1,520 30,944,180 Universal
11 Fast & Furious 2,763,875 6,204,940 -55.5 2,547 5 1,085 149,806,190 Universal
12 Battle For Terra 1,082,362 1,160 1 933 1,082,362 Roadside Attractions
13 Taken 896,888 355,149 152.5 494 14 1,816 143,623,907 Fox
14 I Love You, Man 738,275 1,952,921 -62.2 685 7 1,078 69,308,548 Paramount
15 Knowing 568,096 1,943,154 -70.8 822 7 691 77,932,861 Summit
16 Crank High Voltage 488,781 2,618,379 -81.3 724 3 675 13,293,986 Lionsgate
17 Sunshine Cleaning 424,191 587,176 -27.8 471 8 901 10,436,574 Overture
18 The Haunting in Connecticut 415,749 1,497,120 -72.2 603 6 689 55,030,421 Lionsgate
19 Observe and Report 302,146 1,746,102 -82.7 501 4 603 23,177,042 Warner Bros.
20 12 Rounds 297,333 100,484 195.9 159 6 1,870 11,812,067 Fox
Top 5 $ 124,686,375 $ 69,697,813 78.9
Top 10 146,572,798 100,327,984 46.1
Top 20 154,550,494 110,147,730 40.3
Top 20 vs. 2008 154,550,494 154,866,852 -0.2

Last Updated: May 4, 2009 at 4:45PM ET