Weekend Box Office (June 13 - 15, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Two new releases that were both follow-ups to widely hated summer films from recent years rocked the North American box office and were each embraced by moviegoers who spent a combined $86M on the pair. The comic book actioner The Incredible Hulk smashed its way to number one with a solid debut while M. Night Shyamalan's latest thriller The Happening soared above the industry's pessimistic expectations to land in third with a sturdy opening of its own. The overall marketplace remained sizzling hot thanks to five consecutive weekends of $55M+ openers which have given multiplexes a wide range of popular holdovers for their customers.

Five years after Ang Lee gave it a go, Marvel and Universal tried a second take at the angry green man with The Incredible Hulk and generated an impressive first-place debut with $55.4M. Leaping into 3,505 theaters, the PG-13 film from director Louis Leterrier averaged a fantastic $15,810 per site. It was still below the level of 2003's Hulk which bowed to $62.1M ($73M at today's ticket prices), but the new Incredible Hulk was not expected to soar that high. With so many fans feeling cheated the first time around, it was known that some would take a wait-and-see approach with this reboot of the franchise.

Budgeted at roughly $150M, Incredible stars Edward Norton as Bruce Banner with Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, and William Hurt co-starring. Reviews were mostly good and were much better than those for Lee's film. Initial audience reactions have been encouraging too as the actioner's CinemaScore rating was an A-. Studio research showed that The Incredible Hulk skewed male, as expected, with men making up 60% of the crowd. 52% were 25 and older and an ethnically diverse audience came out as 54% were non-Caucasian. Friday got off to a potent $21.7M start, Saturday fell an unsettling 15% to $18.4M, and Sunday declined by just 17% to $15.3M.

Marvel listened to the complaints of fans and made the new Hulk more action-packed and kept it under two hours in length. Plus Universal's marketing department took no chances and even used shots of Robert Downey Jr.'s cameo as Tony Stark in the television commercials to tap into Iron Man's current popularity. The not-so-jolly green giant ranks fifth among this summer's biggest opening weekends. Overseas, The Incredible Hulk debuted to an estimated $31M from 38 territories.

Dropping down to second place was the animated comedy Kung Fu Panda with $33.6M for a moderate 44% decline. After ten days, the Paramount-DreamWorks title has amassed an impressive $117.3M. So far the Jack Black pic is matching the performance of the Disney/Pixar offering Cars almost dollar for dollar. That film opened on the same early June weekend in 2006 with a nearly identical $60.1M before dropping 44% to $33.7M on the sophomore session for a ten-day cume of $117.1M. Cars went on to gross $244.1M. A similar final tally for Kung Fu Panda may result.

Fox scored a better than expected opening for the M. Night Shyamalan thriller The Happening which landed in third with $30.5M. Attacking 2,986 locations, the director's first-ever R-rated film averaged a sensational $10,220 per theater. It was the second biggest debut of the year for a R pic after Sex and the City's $56.8M. Negative buzz and horrible reviews did little to scare away audiences from the supernatural eco-thriller and tickets buyers responded to the studio's marketing campaign which highlighted the Friday the 13th release date as well as the rating. Shyamalan's built-in audience of fans also were a main reason for the strong start.

After his last film Lady in the Water bombed in 2006 with a $18M bow and weak $42.3M final, the waters became very unfriendly for the director, especially with film critics. But The Happening fought off the bad buzz and played to a broad audience as studio research showed that 52% of the crowd was under 25 while males and females were equally represented. Overseas, the creepfest grossed an additional $32M offering up some variety to the summer box office which so far has been driven by action and comedy.

Long-term prospects for the $50M-budgeted film look shaky though. The Mark Wahlberg starrer debuted to $13.1M domestically on Friday, fell a disturbing 22% to $10.3M on Saturday, and dropped a modest 30% to $7.2M on Sunday. Plus the disaster tale has earned a troubling C- average from over 9,000 users of Yahoo Movies so not too many recommendations will be floating around this week.

Audiences abandoned Adam Sandler's newest comedy You Don't Mess With the Zohan which tumbled 58% to $16.4M in its second weekend in theaters for a $68.8M cume. It was the worst drop of any film in the top ten. Considering the fact that most of the comedian's films decline by 45-50% in the sophomore session and that no new comedies opened against it this weekend, the soldier-turned-hairdresser pic could be suffering from terrible word-of-mouth. Compared to Sandler's other broad comedies from this decade, Zohan posted the largest second weekend decline and the second smallest sophomore weekend gross trailing just the 2000 disaster Little Nicky. His effort from last summer I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry dropped 44% to $19.1M while 2006's Click fell 50% to $19.9M. At its current pace, Zohan looks to find its way to $100-105M.

Steven Spielberg and company ranked fifth with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull which fell 35% to $14.7M. The Paramount title has been holding up nicely and lifted its total to $276.5M after 25 days. Harrison Ford's latest adventure now sits at number 36 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters just behind the $279.2M of 2004's Meet the Fockers. The De Niro-Stiller comedy's haul would be about $310M at today's ticket prices however. For Spielberg, Crystal Skull is his highest-grossing film since 1993's Jurassic Park.

Dropping 54% in its third weekend was Sex and the City which bagged $9.8M giving the ladies of HBO a stunning $119.5M from North America alone. Overseas, the New Line/Warner Bros. film took in a sizable $23.3M to push the international cume to $136M. Worldwide, audiences have spent an amazing $256M on Sex with the $300M barrier looking to fall later this month.

For the second straight weekend Iron Man posted the smallest decline in the top ten. The Tony Stark adventure dipped 25% to $5.6M, despite the arrival of his green Marvel buddy, and raised its tally to an amazing $297.9M. That put the Paramount release at number 27 on the all-time domestic list right behind the first Pirates of the Caribbean which looted $305.4M in 2003. The Pirates total would be roughly $358M at today's prices though. Look for Iron Man to zoom past the $300M mark by the end of the week.

Three May hits rounded out the top ten. Universal's The Strangers dropped 55% to $4M to boost the cume to $45.3M making it the top-grossing horror title of the year so far. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian collected $3.2M, off 44%, for a total of $131.9M for Disney. And Fox's comedy What Happens in Vegas laughed up $1.7M, down 52%, giving the Cameron Diaz-Ashton Kutcher pic a robust $75.8M to date.

The top ten films grossed $174.9M which was up 27% from last year when Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer opened in the top spot with $58.1M; and up 25% from 2006 when Cars stayed at number one with $33.7M.

Compared to projections, The Incredible Hulk opened very close to my $53M forecast while The Happening surged higher than my $22M prediction.

For a NEW review of Hulk visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when the comedies Get Smart and The Love Guru both debut.

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

# Title Jun 13 - 15 Jun 6 - 8 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Incredible Hulk $ 55,414,050 3,505 1 $ 15,810 $ 55,414,050 Universal
2 Kung Fu Panda 33,612,594 60,239,130 -44.2 4,136 2 8,127 117,289,932 Paramount
3 The Happening 30,517,109 2,986 1 10,220 30,517,109 Fox
4 You Don't Mess With the Zohan 16,370,344 38,531,374 -57.5 3,466 2 4,723 68,760,685 Sony
5 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom... 14,741,834 22,793,630 -35.3 3,804 4 3,875 276,524,265 Paramount
6 Sex and the City 9,788,353 21,218,305 -53.9 3,155 3 3,102 119,522,016 New Line
7 Iron Man 5,620,375 7,477,439 -24.8 2,403 7 2,339 297,918,329 Paramount
8 The Strangers 4,024,485 8,941,970 -55.0 2,410 3 1,670 45,287,220 Universal
9 The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian 3,165,013 5,658,836 -44.1 2,308 5 1,371 131,904,474 Buena Vista
10 What Happens in Vegas 1,667,587 3,437,801 -51.5 1,422 6 1,173 75,755,145 Fox
11 Baby Mama 441,685 806,750 -45.3 453 8 975 58,797,040 Universal
12 The Visitor 420,928 477,091 -11.8 254 10 1,657 6,621,330 Overture
13 Made of Honor 303,434 804,055 -62.3 357 7 850 45,400,892 Sony
14 Forgetting Sarah Marshall 287,625 481,780 -40.3 306 9 940 62,106,520 Universal
15 Horton Hears A Who 188,736 254,418 -25.8 294 14 642 153,355,932 Fox
16 Speed Racer 183,385 427,547 -57.1 260 6 705 42,504,512 Warner Bros.
17 Sea Monsters 3D 168,794 180,873 -6.7 19 37 8,884 14,218,129 National Geo.
18 Sarkar Raj 168,040 642,523 -73.8 70 2 2,401 833,005 Eros
19 Nim's Island 165,442 192,400 -14.0 277 11 597 46,694,283 Fox
20 The Fall 152,713 249,967 -38.9 84 6 1,818 1,364,206 Roadside Attr.
Top 5 $ 150,655,931 $ 151,724,409 -0.7
Top 10 174,921,744 169,909,290 3.0
Top 20 177,402,526 173,175,632 2.4
Top 20 vs. 2007 177,402,526 142,676,876 24.3

Last Updated: June 16, 2008 at 11:00PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Friday at 9:50am ET.