Weekend Box Office (June 25 - 27, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND No recount was needed as President George W. Bush won the votes of moviegoers across North America and was elected commander-in-chief of the box office in the scathing Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 which shattered all industry expectations on its way to the number one spot. Never before has a doc hit the top position and in just its first weekend of release, the award-winning feature has already become the top-grossing documentary of all time. Elsewhere, Sony's White Chicks grabbed a solid number-two finish in its debut while the New Line romance The Notebook posted a respectable opening as well. Universal disappointed with its kidpic Two Brothers while most holdovers enjoyed small declines. For the first time all year, seven different films took home a $10M+ slice of the box office pie as dollars were spread out across a wide variety of entertainment choices.

Michael Moore's supporters and detractors showed bi-partisan cooperation and showed up en masse at theaters giving Fahrenheit 9/11 a final opening weekend gross of $23.9M - two million higher than originally estimated. Playing in only 868 theaters (the most ever for a doc, but still just a quarter of what top summer blockbusters play in), the top ten's only R-rated entry averaged a scorching $27,558 per location. To put that into perspective, other movies with similar debut weekend averages this season include Shrek 2 ($25,952), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ($24,303), and The Day After Tomorrow ($20,071). With $24.1M to date since its Manhattan debut on Wednesday, Fahrenheit has already surpassed the $21.6M that the former top-grossing doc, Moore's Oscar-winning Bowling For Columbine, grossed during its eleven-month theatrical run.

Fahrenheit, which examines various aspects of the Bush presidency, rode into theaters on a tidal wave of media attention which has been building steadily over the past two months. From winning the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, to leaving the distribution hands of Disney and Miramax, to the unsuccessful appeal of the MPAA's R rating, controversy has kept 9/11 in the public's eye and translated into robust ticket sales with sold out shows from sea to shining sea. Lions Gate and IFC Films, the distributors in North America, capitalized on the controversy making the Moore vehicle the can't-miss hit of the summer. And while sales from underage teens buying tickets for other movies and sneaking into Fahrenheit can't accurately be measured, it is notable that all other titles in the top ten witnessed declines that were smaller than normal.

All aspects of the distribution and publicity were executed brilliantly. The director, who has now officially gone mainstream, popped up on all the right talk shows to promote his moneymaking venture. The distributors also picked out a key weekend to launch. With Spider-Man 2 swinging into theaters on Wednesday, studios refrained from opening any really big titles on the June 25 frame. That left the field wide open for a $20M+ gross to capture first place. Now, with red-hot averages, and a new round of publicity touting its historic top spot debut, Fahrenheit 9/11 will be able to add even more locations hoping to tap into the country's patriotic mood over the upcoming Independence Day holiday frame. This Wednesday, the distributors plan to widen to over 1,000 sites.

Reviews were understandably mixed but in general, critics gave positive remarks. The opinions of the public will count more towards longevity at the box office, though. On Yahoo Movies, with over 20,000 users voting, Fahrenheit has scored a B grade which is decent, but not exactly promising. National debate over the content of the documentary could keep cash registers ringing for the inexpensive $6M film and just like Easter weekend resurrected interest in The Passion of the Christ, media coverage of the Republican and Democratic political conventions later this summer will ensure that Fahrenheit 9/11 stays in the headlines. The era of $100M-grossing documentaries may have just begun.

Landing in second place with $19.7M was the Wayans brothers comedy White Chicks from Sony. Directed by eldest brother Keenan, and starring younger siblings Shawn and Marlon, the PG-13 film about two FBI agents who go undercover as hotel heiresses averaged a stellar $7,218 from 2,726 locations. Since its Wednesday launch, White Chicks has grossed $27.2M. The cross-dressing comedy played young and to both genders. Studio exit polls showed that two-thirds of the audience was under 25 while the male-female split was even. An encouraging 90% marked the film as being "excellent" or "very good" and 35% of the crowd was non-white. By comparison, the R-rated sequel Scary Movie 2, which also featured the three brothers in the same employment roles, opened three summers ago with $20.5M over three days and $34M over five days.

Last weekend's hottest game in town, Dodgeball, held up well in its second match dipping just 38% to $18.8M. That came with an assist from 326 added theaters. Produced for only $20M, the Fox hit comedy has grossed a solid $67.5M in ten days and could find its way to a robust $110-120M. Add in winners like Along Came Polly and Starsky & Hutch and North American moviegoers will end up spending over $300M this year on Ben Stiller's comedies. Look for that figure to rise significantly in December when the comedian reunites with Robert De Niro for Meet the Fockers.

Fans of novelist Nicholas Sparks came out to the multiplexes for the latest big-screen adaptation of one of his best-sellers - The Notebook. New Line embraced $13.5M for the PG-13 romance averaging a warm $5,846 from 2,303 playdates. Directed by Nick Cassavetes, the 1940s-set drama stars Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, and Gena Rowlands. Teenage girls and young women made up the majority of the audience. A built-in following of fans of the book, some good reviews, and positive buzz from last week's sneak previews all contributed to a solid opening. The Notebook's debut almost mirrored the bow of Sparks' last pic A Walk to Remember which opened to $12.2M and a $5,051 average in January 2002.

The Tom Hanks airport saga The Terminal enjoyed a remarkable hold in its second weekend easing just 31% to $13.1M. Even with the addition of 103 new theaters, the DreamWorks title showed impressive staying power - especially since 9/11 was taking away adult audiences. After ten days, the Steven Spielberg-directed drama has grossed $41M and could go on to collect $85-95M.

In its fourth weekend, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban dropped 38% to $11.2M lifting the cume to $211.5M. The Warner Bros. title now sits at number 49 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters right behind Austin Powers in Goldmember which grossed $213.1M in 2002. A final tally of around $240M seems likely. Overseas, Azkaban opened powerfully in Japan this weekend and grossed $40.2M from 50 countries boosting the international total to $321.2M and the worldwide tally to $533M.

Shrek 2 placed seventh with an estimated $10.2M, off only 27%, for an astounding $396.8M total. Fox's Garfield: The Movie followed with $7.5M, down 34%, giving the cat pic $56.3M to date.

With so many high-profile franchise films aimed at young kids on summer vacation, it was no wonder that Universal's tiger story Two Brothers debuted down in ninth place with only $6.1M. The Guy Pierce jungle adventure averaged a not-so-ferocious $2,824 from 2,175 locations. Rounding out the top ten was Nicole Kidman's The Stepford Wives which fell 42% to $5.1M boosting the total to $48.9M.

Four summer films, each with budgets at or above $100M, dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Fox's The Day After Tomorrow declined 41% in its fifth storm to $4.8M raising the cume to $175.6M. The $140M global warming disaster film should find its way to about $185M domestically and over $500M worldwide. Disney's $100M+ flop Around the World in 80 Days fell 44% in its second weekend to $4.3M for a 12-day gross of just $18.3M. Jackie Chan's idea of a global disaster film looks to finish with a miserable $25-30M.

Another expensive underachiever, the Vin Diesel actioner The Chronicles of Riddick, continued to show a lack of muscle tumbling 52% to $4.5M. With $51.2M after 17 days, the $100M Universal sequel should close with about $60M. After six weeks in the top ten, Brad Pitt's gladiator epic Troy departed the list with a cume of $130.9M. The Warner Bros. release is the actor's second-highest-grossing movie ever after studio stablemate Ocean's Eleven and looks to reach about $133M in North America. Produced for a massive $175M, Troy has collected $327.8M internationally putting its current global gross at a victorious $458M and counting.

Fox Searchlight expanded its indie teen comedy Napoleon Dynamite from 18 to 73 theaters and saw mixed results in wider release. The PG-rated film grossed $388,112 averaging a mediocre $5,316 with the cume rising to $953,215.

The top ten films grossed $127.1M which was up 20% from last year when Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle opened at number one with $37.6M; and up 3% from 2002 when Mr. Deeds debuted on top with $37.2M.

Compared to projections, Fahrenheit 9/11 surged past my $15M forecast while White Chicks came in a little below my $23M prediction. The Notebook debuted better than my $8M forecast and Two Brothers was close to my $5M projection.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on Spider-Man 2. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether Fahrenheit 9/11 would go on to gross over $75M. Of 4,158 responses, 37% said Yes, while 63% thought No.

For a review of Fahrenheit 9/11 visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Spider-Man 2 invades theaters everywhere.

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

# Title Jun 25 - 27 Jun 18 - 20 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Fahrenheit 9/11 $ 23,920,637 868 1 $ 27,558 $ 24,078,959 Lions Gate / IFC
2 White Chicks 19,676,748 2,726 1 7,218 27,180,139 Sony
3 Dodgeball 18,787,419 30,070,196 -37.5 3,020 2 6,221 67,458,145 Fox
4 The Notebook 13,464,745 2,303 1 5,847 13,464,745 New Line
5 The Terminal 13,135,148 19,053,199 -31.1 2,914 2 4,508 41,040,124 DreamWorks
6 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 11,247,412 18,027,466 -37.6 3,404 4 3,304 211,537,548 Warner Bros.
7 Shrek 2 10,216,452 13,941,950 -26.7 2,937 6 3,479 396,782,535 DreamWorks
8 Garfield: The Movie 7,526,987 11,340,298 -33.6 2,880 3 2,614 56,297,265 Fox
9 Two Brothers 6,144,160 2,175 1 2,825 6,144,160 Universal
10 The Stepford Wives 5,056,343 8,762,198 -42.3 2,437 3 2,075 48,861,783 Paramount
11 The Day After Tomorrow 4,755,505 8,104,100 -41.3 2,212 5 2,150 175,626,913 Fox
12 The Chronicles of Riddick 4,531,765 9,415,155 -51.9 2,443 3 1,855 51,151,705 Universal
13 Around the World in 80 Days 4,274,941 7,576,132 -43.6 2,801 2 1,526 18,281,896 Buena Vista
14 Troy 957,313 1,778,352 -46.2 711 7 1,346 130,906,716 Warner Bros.
15 Saved! 565,151 1,226,058 -53.9 456 4 1,239 7,932,238 MGM/UA
16 Napoleon Dynamite 388,112 193,506 100.6 73 3 5,317 953,215 Fox Searchlight
17 Super Size Me 383,178 616,670 -37.9 190 7 2,017 9,512,152 Roadside / Goldwyn
18 Raising Helen 359,663 1,292,792 -72.2 409 4 879 35,836,206 Buena Vista
19 Van Helsing 294,840 511,955 -42.4 351 7 840 118,559,420 Universal
20 NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience 267,702 265,429 0.9 52 14 5,148 13,982,427 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 88,984,697 $ 92,433,109 -3.7
Top 10 129,176,051 128,069,046 0.9
Top 20 145,954,221 133,739,030 9.1
Top 20 vs. 2003 145,954,221 118,800,362 22.9

Last Updated : June 28, 2004 at 6:30PM EDT

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing at 12:30pm ET on CNNfn.