Weekend Box Office (May 20 - 22, 2005)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Legions of George Lucas fans lined up and drove the much-anticipated Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith to the top of the North American charts shattering all kinds of box office records in the process and giving the film industry the jolt that was sorely needed. The final installment in the six-part sci-fi epic grossed a record $158.4M, according to final studio figures, over its four-day Thursday-to-Sunday opening weekend domestically and set a new global milestone debuting with a towering $303M worldwide since its Wednesday launch in certain territories.

It was the largest four-day opening ever eclipsing the $134.3M of The Matrix Reloaded from two years ago this month and also soared higher than the $110.2M of Episode II from 2002. Episode III grossed a stunning $108.4M over the traditional Friday-to-Sunday portion of the frame while playing in 3,661 theaters for a scorching $29,619 per-theater average. It ranks as the second largest Fri-to-Sun performance ever behind the $114.8M of Spider-Man in 2002 which launched on a Friday rather than a Thursday like Sith.

Revenge of the Sith was met with some of the best reviews from critics that the new trilogy has seen. The PG-13 concluding chapter brought back the current cast including Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson. Comparing opening weekends for blockbusters that debut on different days is of course like comparing apples and oranges given that the largest openers have huge fan bases that rush out the second a film hits screens. Episode III grossed $124.7M in its first three days of release which sets a new three-day record beating Spider-Man. The Anakin film also smashed the opening day record with a towering $50M on Thursday which included $16.9M from midnight shows on Wednesday night. On Friday, Sith sales dropped an understandable 33% to $33.8M then climbed 21% to $40.9M on Saturday, and dipped just 16% on Sunday to $33.7M.

With intense demand for the sixth and final Star Wars tale, Episode III entered the marketplace with more than 50% more prints than Episode II from three years ago - 9,400 vs 6,000. Not surprisingly, Sith is absorbing more ticket sales upfront. Studio research showed that Revenge attracted the audience that was expected. Males made up 58% of the crowd while those 25 and older accounted for 52% of the audience. The final chapter carried a production budget of $113M which should easily be recouped.

Launching a highly-anticipated sci-fi sequel on a Thursday on the weekend before Memorial Day weekend in May is nothing new for the industry. Studios have found it to be one of the best ways to maximize ticket sales in the beginning of summer with a holiday frame to help keep things moving in the second weekend. In 2002, Fox tested the strategy with Attack of the Clones and a year later Warner Bros. followed with The Matrix Reloaded. This year, Episode III attacked with even more prints and generated an eye-popping four-day per-print average of $16,856. That exceeded the $15,766 for Reloaded but fell short of the $18,362 for Episode II.

With most recent films disappointing at the box office, there was little depth in the marketplace with Episode III sales commanding 70% of the entire top ten and two-thirds of total business over the weekend. With strong word-of-mouth and repeat business, the current trio of Star Wars films stands an excellent chance of breaking the record for the highest-grossing trilogy of all-time. With $900M and rapidly climbing, it should surpass the $1.03 billion of The Lord of the Rings and the $1.06 billion of the original Star Wars with all its re-releases.

Overseas, the new Anakin pic clobbered records and grossed an estimated $144.7M from 114 markets over five days setting a new international opening record. The previous mark of $130M was generated in December 2003 by The Return of the King which was a Wednesday launch in much of the world. With a $303M global gross after the end of its first weekend, Episode III aims to surpass the $650M worldwide tally of Episode II and hopes to reach or exceed the $923M of Episode I.

Those not interested in Anakin vs. Obi-Wan opted for the undercard match of Lopez vs. Fonda. New Line's comedy Monster-in-Law held up well in its second weekend sliding only 38% to $14.4M which put the ten-day cume at a solid $44.2M. Appealing to an adult female audience not enraptured by the Jedi flick, the PG-13 film played as effective counter-programming and could find its way to $80-85M making it the second biggest hit ever for Jennifer Lopez after 2002's Maid in Manhattan which took in $93.9M.

Will Ferrell took a hit in his second weekend in theaters with the family soccer comedy Kicking and Screaming. The Universal title dropped 47% to $10.7M pushing the total to $34.2M after ten days. Budgeted at $45M, the PG-rated film looks to end with roughly $60M.

Sleeper hit Crash continued to enjoy the smallest drop in the top ten slipping only 21% in its third frame to $5.5M. Lions Gate has taken in $27.6M to date. Focus Features followed in fifth with the Jet Li actioner Unleashed which tumbled 62% with its male audience deserting it for Sith. The R-rated slave pic grossed $4.1M for a ten-day tally of $17.9M. A final take of about $25M seems likely.

More big declines were witnessed by underperformers Kingdom of Heaven and House of Wax which generated third-weekend grosses of $3.5M and $3.3M, respectively. Fox's expensive Orlando Bloom epic crumbled 63% and has totaled just $41.2M to date while the Warner Bros. horror remake fell 50% for a cume of only $26.9M. Kicking off the summer season over the first weekend of May, the pair will go on to collect roughly $80M combined which will still be $40M short of what last year's summer kickoff pic, Van Helsing, ended up grossing domestically.

Universal's The Interpreter held up well dropping 37% to $2.9M for a cume of $65.4M. The Hitchhiker's Guide of the Galaxy crashed 59% to $2.1M leaving Buena Vista with $46.9M thus far. Miramax's long-delayed thriller Mindhunters dropped 47% in its second session to $1M to round out the top ten. With a mere $3.6M in the bank after ten days, the R-rated actioner should end its misery with a puny $5M.

Jettisoned from the top ten was the action flop XXX: State of the Union which tumbled 61% to $828,350 lifting its weak total to only $25.6M. Sony's $87M attempt at a summer sequel should fall flat with only $27M - a far cry from the $142.1M that the first XXX starring Vin Diesel grossed in 2002. With Are We There Yet? becoming Ice Cube's top-grossing film ever and State failing to excite fans, the rapper-turned actor should probably stick with comedies and away from action.

Warner Bros. opened Dominion: A Prequel to The Exorcist with little marketing and only 110 theaters and not surprisingly debuted far down on the charts. With $138,311, the R-rated thriller averaged a dismal $1,257 per theater. Dominion was the original prequel to the spooky classic which was canned and reshot as Exorcist: The Beginning which opened at number one last August finding its way to a $41.8M domestic cume.

Also in limited release, Paramount Classics expanded its dance pic Mad Hot Ballroom from two to 15 theaters and took in $148,971 for a solid $9,931 average. With $216,265 to date, the PG-rated film will continue to slowly roll out over the weeks ahead.

The top ten films grossed $156M which was down 4% from last year when Shrek 2 opened at number one with an astounding $108M; but up 8% from 2003 when Bruce Almighty debuted in the top spot over Memorial Day weekend with $68M over three days.

Compared to projections, Episode III opened very close to my three-day forecast of $107M.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on whether Star Wars Episode III will outgross Episode I domestically. In last week's survey, readers were asked if the four-day opening of Revenge of the Sith would exceed $125M. Of 5,181 responses, 76% correctly said Yes while 24% thought No.

For NEW reviews of Star Wars Episode III and Dominion, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Madagascar and The Longest Yard both open for the long Memorial Day holiday weekend.

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

# Title May 20 - 22 May 13 - 15 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Star Wars Episode III $ 108,435,841 3,661 1 $ 29,619 $ 158,449,700 Fox
2 Monster-in-Law 14,350,134 23,105,133 -37.9 3,424 2 4,191 44,174,005 New Line
3 Kicking and Screaming 10,721,715 20,159,925 -46.8 3,470 2 3,090 34,196,720 Universal
4 Crash 5,546,006 7,021,391 -21.0 1,905 3 2,911 27,648,811 Lions Gate
5 Unleashed 4,123,556 10,900,901 -62.2 1,962 2 2,102 17,850,310 Focus
6 Kingdom of Heaven 3,537,201 9,625,509 -63.3 2,808 3 1,260 41,218,408 Fox
7 House of Wax 3,288,419 6,563,440 -49.9 2,766 3 1,189 26,912,839 Warner Bros.
8 The Interpreter 2,910,580 4,592,505 -36.6 2,164 5 1,345 65,403,045 Universal
9 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 2,054,904 5,049,938 -59.3 2,211 4 929 46,902,653 Buena Vista
10 Mindhunters 1,005,839 1,911,358 -47.4 1,040 2 967 3,562,161 Miramax
11 XXX: State of the Union 828,350 2,134,772 -61.2 1,301 4 637 25,607,347 Sony
12 Sahara 803,664 1,806,454 -55.5 1,074 6 748 65,571,156 Paramount
13 The Amityville Horror 702,477 1,624,161 -56.7 784 5 896 64,255,243 MGM
14 Robots 401,692 622,702 -35.5 516 10 778 126,145,964 Fox
15 Fever Pitch 350,919 813,631 -56.9 491 6 715 41,073,166 Fox
16 Enron 331,007 372,405 -11.1 151 4 2,192 2,072,419 Magnolia
17 Ladies in Lavender 217,994 218,104 -0.1 58 4 3,759 934,545 IDP
18 Kung Fu Hustle 203,658 501,981 -59.4 241 6 845 16,173,057 Sony Classics
19 A Lot Like Love 203,632 1,053,981 -80.7 372 4 547 21,317,478 Buena Vista
20 The Pacifier 189,333 327,536 -42.2 298 11 635 110,247,131 Buena Vista
Top 5 $ 143,177,252 $ 70,812,859 102.2
Top 10 155,974,195 91,064,872 71.3
Top 20 160,206,921 98,887,395 62.0
Top 20 vs. 2004 160,206,921 166,171,405 -3.6

Last Updated : May 23, 2005 at 9:30PM EDT