Weekend Box Office (May 5 - 7, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Tom Cruise climbed into his usual number one spot at the box office with his heavily-hyped spy sequel Mission: Impossible III, however ticket sales fell below most industry expectations as the debut was not spectacular. The weekend's other new releases, the horror flick An American Haunting and the kid drama Hoot, both generated lukewarm openings. But thanks to a weak early May in 2005, the overall marketplace still beat out last year.for the seventh consecutive frame.

Paramount claimed the top spot with MI3 which invaded a staggering 4,054 theaters collecting $47.7M in ticket sales over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final studio figures. The third installment in the decade-old franchise averaged a potent $11,777 per venue. But Tom Cruise's box office muscles were expected to lift the tally much higher given all the factors that were working in the $150M film's favor. The newest Mission pic obviously had plenty of starpower but with its early May bow, it had virtually no competition in the multiplexes to deal with. Plus the studio's marketing hype was deafening, the pic opened in the second highest number of theaters in history for a live-action film (behind Spider-Man 2's 4,152), and even the reviews were mostly favorable. That was a welcome bonus as critics are rarely kind to big-budget action sequels.

According to studio research, MI3 connected with the same audience that the previous two did. Men made up 56% of the crowd and 64% were age 25 or older. Joining Cruise in the PG-13 film's cast were Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, and recent Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Openings for other high-profile action films debuting on the first weekend of May include $68.1M for 2001's The Mummy Returns, $85.6M for 2003's X2: X-Men United, and $51.7M for 2004's Van Helsing. MI3 didn't even reach the level of Van Helsing. In fact, its opening gross was even weaker than that of Mission: Impossible 2 which launched over Memorial Day weekend six years ago with $57.8M over three days, $70.8M over four days, and $91.8M over its six-day Wednesday-to-Monday span. Even with higher ticket prices, a Friday bow, and hundreds of more theaters, MI3 still failed to reach the heights of MI2. Adjusting for inflation, MI3's opening was the weakest among the Ethan Hunt flicks. The first Mission bowed to $74.9M over its six-day holiday frame in May 1996 including $45.4M over the Friday-to-Sunday span.

Instead, the new J.J. Abrams-directed IMF saga opened in the same neighborhood as other recent star-driven spy films like last summer's Mr. & Mrs. Smith ($50.3M), 2004's The Bourne Supremacy ($52.5M), and 2002's James Bond film Die Another Day ($47.1M). Although opening near the $50M mark over three days is an impressive feat, Cruise's new film was backed by one of the most expensive marketing campaigns in recent memory. The highly-paid star/producer attended premieres all around the world, popped up on major talk shows and magazine covers, and press coverage, not surprisingly, was non-stop.

Industry watchers must now wonder - was there too much marketing? Were audiences sick and tired of hearing and seeing Tom Cruise everywhere? Did they really want to spend money seeing even more of him? Media-saavy moviegoers voted with their dollars and those who seemed to have had enough chose to stay away. The MI3 hype machine brought back memories of Sony's Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle from three years ago. That action sequel also arrived in theaters on a disturbingly loud wave of promotion revolving around its flamboyant stars and Demi Moore's relationship with Ashton Kutcher which was constantly covered on the airwaves. Despite the pricey marketing investment, Throttle debuted weaker than expected with $37.6M and crumbled 63% in its sophomore frame.

Paramount was pleased with the international results for Mission: Impossible III as the actioner took in an estimated $70M over the weekend opening in almost all major markets around the world except for Japan. The spy sequel blanketed the globe in over 7,000 theaters in 57 markets putting its worldwide opening weekend tally at $118M. The ratio between sales outside and within North America remained the same as with previous Mission pics. The 1996 original grossed 61% of its $465M global tally overseas while MI2 took in 60% of its $538M internationally. This weekend, 60% of MI3's dollars came from abroad.

With no major competition for the family audience, the Robin Williams comedy RV enjoyed the smallest decline in the top ten easing just 33% to $11M. The Sony release dropped one notch following its top spot bow and has grossed a solid $30.9M to date. In just ten days, RV has already become the second biggest live-action grosser for Williams in the past seven years after the $67.4M of 2002's Insomnia. Look for the $50M road trip flick to end its journey in the neighborhood of $60M.

Opening in third place was the supernatural thriller An American Haunting which scared up $5.8M in ticket sales in its first three days. The PG-13 film averaged a mediocre $3,467 from 1,668 theaters. Reviews were mostly negative for the Donald Sutherland-Sissy Spacek starrer about a possessed young woman in the 1800s.

The gymnastics comedy Stick It tumbled 49% in its second weekend to $5.5M giving Buena Vista $17.9M in ten days. Look for the teen pic to reach $27-29M which is commendable for its genre. After a solid takeoff last weekend, the 9/11 hijack thriller United 93 declined a substantial 53% in its sophomore frame and grossed $5.3M. After ten days, Universal's $15M pic has collected $20.2M and should find its way to roughly $30M domestically.

Fox's Ice Age: The Meltdown dropped 42% to $4.2M in its sixth frame to boost its cume to $183.4M. Crumbling 57% in its third spook was Sony's fright flick Silent Hill which grossed $4M lifting the cume to $40.9M.

The spoof sequel Scary Movie 4 fell 53% to $3.7M and brought its total to $83.6M. The Starbucks-promoted kid drama Akeelah and the Bee enjoyed a respectable second weekend hold dropping 44% to $3.4M. After ten days, the Lionsgate release has still only grossed $10.6M and seems likely to finish with close to $20M.

Opening to dismal results with $3.4M from 3,018 theaters was the kid drama Hoot from New Line. The PG-rated story of a group of boys who set out to save endangered owls averaged a pitiful $1,116 per location. Fans of the best-selling book apparently avoided the film adaptation and critics for the most part were unimpressed.

A handful of films opened in limited release to mixed results. Warner Independent debuted the Chinese epic The Promise in 213 theaters but grossed only $272,838 for a poor $1,281 average. The Golden Globe-nominated adventure was China's official submission to this year's Oscars and is reportedly that country's most expensive film ever made. U.S. critics were not very pleased.

Sony Classics bowed its indie comedy Art School Confidential which grossed $135,733 from a dozen sites in New York and Los Angeles averaging a strong $11,311 per site. The Terry Zwigoff-directed film expands to nearly 800 theaters in most major markets on Friday. ThinkFilm debuted its Edward Norton starrer Down in the Valley to $22,806 from three New York houses for a solid $7,602 average. The film widens to three more cities on Friday before gradually expanding throughout May.

Among holdovers, Fox Searchlight expanded its widow drama Water from five to 36 theaters and grossed $174,727 for a $4,854 average. The ten-day total stands at $256,727 and this Friday the Deepa Mehta film will widen to about 60 sites. The distributor's indie sensation Thank You for Smoking collected $1.1M, off 41%, for a $20M cume.

Three April releases were pushed out of the top ten this weekend. The Michael Douglas political thriller The Sentinel took a big hit from MI3 and crashed 60% to $3.1M putting its 17-day cume at $30.9M. Fox should find its way to about $36M. Disney's underperforming toon The Wild slumped 45% to $2.6M. With only $32.1M in the bank, the animated film looks to conclude with $36-38M. Sony, on the other hand, has generated solid numbers for its sports comedy The Benchwarmers which grossed $2M this weekend. Down 54%, the Rob Schneider-David Spade film has taken in $55.6M thus far and is set to end with just under $60M.

The top ten films grossed $94M which was up a healthy 23% from last year when Kingdom of Heaven opened at number one with $19.6M; but off 5% from 2004 when Van Helsing debuted in the top spot with $51.7M.

Compared to projections, MI3 opened well below my $74M forecast while An American Haunting was close to my $5M prediction. Hoot bowed weaker than my $9M projection.

For a NEW review of MI3 visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Poseidon, Just My Luck, and Goal! The Dream Begins all open.

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

# Title May 5 - 7 Apr 28 - 30 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Mission: Impossible III $ 47,743,273 4,054 1 $ 11,777 $ 47,743,273 Paramount
2 RV 11,004,706 16,414,767 -33.0 3,651 2 3,014 30,910,618 Sony
3 An American Haunting 5,783,508 1,668 1 3,467 5,783,508 Freestyle
4 Stick It 5,479,658 10,803,610 -49.3 2,044 2 2,681 17,934,291 Buena Vista
5 United 93 5,347,860 11,478,360 -53.4 1,819 2 2,940 20,192,305 Universal
6 Ice Age: The Meltdown 4,161,724 7,204,960 -42.2 2,426 6 1,715 183,435,937 Fox
7 Silent Hill 4,013,871 9,336,399 -57.0 2,556 3 1,570 40,919,014 Sony
8 Scary Movie 4 3,690,454 7,805,568 -52.7 2,537 4 1,455 83,644,761 Weinstein Co.
9 Akeelah and the Bee 3,369,630 6,011,585 -43.9 2,195 2 1,535 10,632,413 Lionsgate
10 Hoot 3,368,197 3,018 1 1,116 3,368,197 New Line
11 The Sentinel 3,086,304 7,787,208 -60.4 2,343 3 1,317 30,936,133 Fox
12 The Wild 2,649,182 4,799,676 -44.8 1,930 4 1,373 32,091,706 Buena Vista
13 The Benchwarmers 2,038,358 4,385,855 -53.5 1,835 5 1,111 55,640,184 Sony
14 Friends With Money 1,103,119 2,077,019 -46.9 643 4 1,716 9,883,710 Sony Classics
15 Thank You for Smoking 1,055,031 1,776,580 -40.6 560 7 1,884 20,003,976 Fox Searchlight
16 Inside Man 896,145 2,081,690 -57.0 750 6 1,195 86,019,430 Universal
17 Take the Lead 626,768 1,891,185 -66.9 640 4 979 33,725,209 New Line
18 Lucky Number Slevin 406,253 1,117,900 -63.7 490 4 829 21,588,013 MGM
19 Failure to Launch 394,101 600,430 -34.4 437 8 902 87,208,192 Paramount
20 American Dreamz 316,185 1,597,475 -80.2 408 2 775 6,946,510 Universal
Top 5 $ 75,359,005 $ 55,838,704 35.0
Top 10 93,962,881 86,027,988 9.2
Top 20 106,534,327 98,361,984 8.3
Top 20 vs. 2005 106,534,327 83,493,333 27.6

Last Updated : May 8, 2006 at 9:15PM EDT