Weekend Box Office (May 23 - 26, 2003)

*** Sixth Annual Summer Box Office Preview ***

THIS WEEKEND Jim Carrey conquered the Memorial Day weekend box office with the heavenly opening of his latest comedy Bruce Almighty which grossed a towering $85.7M over the four-day holiday weekend, according to final studio figures, unloading the Matrix sequel into second place. Giving the highly-paid comedian his biggest opening ever, the PG-13 film played in 3,483 theaters and averaged a sizzling $24,615 per location over the Friday-to-Monday period. During the traditional three-day portion of the long weekend, the Tom Shadyac-directed hit grossed $68M and averaged a sensational $19,510.

After spending the last few years making dramatic flops like Man on the Moon and The Majestic, Carrey made his big return to the top by reteaming with the one filmmaker that could orchestrate a major comeback. Shadyac not only directed Carrey's Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar, but he also helmed such blockbuster comedies as Patch Adams and The Nutty Professor. Bruce Almighty finds Carrey playing a news reporter who challenges God after the worst day of his life and is then given all of His powers. Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Aniston co-star.

Audiences returned in full force to see Carrey. The $84M production represented the biggest debut ever for the actor besting the $55.1M of 2000's How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Almighty also ranks as the third best opening for Universal trailing 1997's The Lost World and 2001's The Mummy Returns which launched with $72.1M and $68.1M over three days, respectively. For Memorial Day weekend, which is often the busiest session of the year at the box office, the bow was second best after The Lost World. Rainy weather in much of the country over the long holiday weekend also helped overall ticket sales.

The opening of Bruce Almighty ranks number eleven among the industry's top ten all-time debuts, but what makes the bow so remarkable is that all others on that list are either sequels (The Matrix Reloaded, X2) or are based on wildly popular sources (Spider-Man, Harry Potter). Almighty generated its incredible gross not from a pre-existing concept, but mostly from the starpower of Carrey which apparently is stronger than ever after the many years. The former In Living Color star enjoyed a string of eight consecutive number-one openers over five years, but has not offered fans a trademark PG-13 comedy since 1997's Liar Liar. Among comedies, Almighty's bow ranks second all-time after last summer's hit sequel Austin Powers in Goldmember which debuted to $73.1M over a regular three-day frame.

With a CinemaScore grade of A, Universal is hoping that Almighty will remain a major summer contender in the weeks ahead. Studio exit polls found the film appealing to a broad audience as those under and over 25 were even while females made up 53% of the crowd. Of those polled, 87% rated the film "excellent" or "very good." With the studio not having a hit in over six months, Bruce Almighty kicks off what is a crucial summer line-up for Universal which includes The Hulk and the sequels 2 Fast 2 Furious and American Wedding.

Dropping to second place was The Matrix Reloaded with $45.6M over the long holiday weekend. The Warner Bros. picture fell a steep 50% from its three-day bow of $91.8M and its three-day tally of $36.9M plunged an alarming 60%. With a 12-day total of $209.5M, Reloaded broke the $200M barrier on Saturday after eleven days becoming the second fastest film in box office history to cross the double century mark after Spider-Man which took only nine days last May.

Although sci-fi sequels generally attract much of their audience on opening weekend and experience large sophomore drops, the decline for Reloaded was especially sizable. The Keanu Reeves pic debuted on a Thursday taking business from hard-core fans out of the traditional weekend frame, and this weekend was part of a holiday session when overall moviegoing rises. By comparison, X2: X-Men United had a better second weekend with $40M over three days.

Last year, Star Wars Episode II witnessed a healthier 40% drop over the Friday-to-Sunday period with a $47.9M take and a 25% decline over the four days with a $60M haul. By the end of Memorial Day weekend, the Jedi pic had grossed $201.3M, or two-thirds of its overall domestic take. As of last Sunday, Reloaded was running 22% ahead of Episode II after the same amount of days. Now after the holiday weekend, the lead has been cut to just 4%.

With The Matrix Reloaded opening bigger than Episode II but also falling faster, the Wachowski brothers saga might find its domestic gross reach $290-300M. Many Matrix fans are holding onto their dollars until the June 6 Imax release in order to see Reloaded again. That extra boost should allow the film to break the triple century mark. Episode II collected an extra $8.7M from its Imax run which followed the original release by six months and The Matrix Reloaded is expected to perform even better due to its shorter three-week window.

Sony's family comedy Daddy Day Care placed third over the weekend with $18.1M over four days in its third frame. After 18 days, the Eddie Murphy hit has grossed $73.3M. X2: X-Men United followed in fourth place with $13.2M boosting its cume to $192.2M.

The new remake of The In-Laws starring Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks got off to a sluggish start with an opening of $9.2M. Playing in 2,652 theaters, the PG-13 comedy about a pair of mismatched fathers of an engaged couple averaged just $3,478 over four days. During the three-day span, the Warner Bros. redo of the 1979 Peter Falk-Alan Arkin pic grossed just $7.3M and averaged a weak $2,764.

Fox's romantic comedy Down With Love took sixth place with $5.1M in its second weekend for a total of only $14.6M. Over the Friday-to-Sunday span, the Renee Zellweger-Ewan McGregor pic fell 41% which was acceptable, but not indicative of a lengthy run ahead.

Disney filled the next two slots with The Lizzie McGuire Movie which collected $4.3M and Holes which grossed $3.2M. Cumes stand at $37.6M and $60.2M, respectively.

Rounding out the top ten were a pair of Sony releases. The suspense thriller Identity took in $2.7M for a sum of $49.3M to date, and the Adam Sandler-Jack Nicholson comedy Anger Management laughed up $2.3M putting its cume at $131.7M.

Two of the year's most successful independent films dropped out of the top ten, but still managed to bring in solid numbers. Fox Searchlight's British-Indian comedy Bend It Like Beckham kicked up $2.2M and lifted its total to $17.8M. Warner Bros. took in $1.7M for A Mighty Wind and saw its cume climb to $14.5M.

The top ten films grossed $189.5M over four days which was even with last year when Star Wars Episode II remained at number one with $60M; but up 8% from 2001 when Pearl Harbor debuted in the top spot with $75.2M.

Compared to projections, Bruce Almighty opened well ahead of my $48M forecast while The In-Laws debuted below my $15M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on June's biggest action films. In last week's survey, readers were asked if The Matrix Reloaded was as good as they expected. Of 6,460 responses, 57% said Yes, 32% voted No, and 11% Did Not See It.

Be sure to read the Sixth Annual Summer Box Office Preview. For a review of Bruce Almighty visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Finding Nemo, The Italian Job, and Wrong Turn all open.

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

# Title May 23 - 26 May 16 - 18 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Bruce Almighty $ 85,734,045 3,483 1 $ 24,615 $ 85,734,045 Universal
2 The Matrix Reloaded 45,612,152 91,774,413 -50.3 3,603 2 12,659 209,481,877 Warner Bros.
3 Daddy Day Care 18,113,333 18,880,185 -4.1 3,472 3 5,217 73,254,194 Sony
4 X2: X-Men United 13,237,398 17,301,287 -23.5 3,067 4 4,316 192,197,843 Fox
5 The In-Laws 9,222,334 2,652 1 3,478 9,222,334 Warner Bros.
6 Down With Love 5,055,054 7,001,906 -27.8 2,118 3 2,387 14,582,029 Fox
7 The Lizzie McGuire Movie 4,317,247 4,755,225 -9.2 2,118 4 2,038 37,599,278 Buena Vista
8 Holes 3,227,634 3,160,190 2.1 1,762 6 1,832 60,235,819 Buena Vista
9 Identity 2,682,373 3,662,843 -26.8 1,590 5 1,687 49,263,016 Sony
10 Anger Management 2,300,346 3,554,771 -35.3 1,809 7 1,272 131,745,970 Sony
11 Bend It Like Beckham 2,247,421 1,372,198 63.8 522 11 4,305 17,776,783 Fox Searchlight
12 A Mighty Wind 1,738,341 1,692,463 2.7 588 6 2,956 14,461,645 Warner Bros.
13 Ghosts of the Abyss (Lg. Scr) 727,811 506,612 43.7 75 7 9,704 9,654,424 Buena Vista
14 Bringing Down the House 597,852 300,437 99.0 461 12 1,297 129,833,337 Buena Vista
15 Chicago 586,000 572,963 2.3 340 22 1,724 168,269,003 Miramax
16 The Dancer Upstairs 536,702 279,816 91.8 152 4 3,531 1,442,749 Fox Searchlight
17 Nowhere in Africa 388,802 244,645 58.9 73 12 5,326 3,977,818 Zeitgeist
18 Malibu's Most Wanted 324,179 891,410 -63.6 314 6 1,032 33,534,875 Warner Bros.
19 Winged Migration 295,745 139,896 111.4 25 6 11,830 866,036 Sony Classics
20 How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days 294,179 59,807 391.9 270 16 1,090 104,602,764 Paramount
Top 5 $171,919,262 $ 139,713,016 23.1
Top 10 189,501,916 153,155,481 23.7
Top 20 197,238,948 157,147,555 25.5
Top 20 vs. 2002 197,238,948 195,878,060 0.7

Last Updated : May 27, 2003 at 7:30PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya