Weekend Box Office (August 4 - 6, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Comedy superstar Will Ferrell scored his first-ever number one opening in a lead role with the stronger-than-expected debut of his latest hit Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby which left all competitors in the dust at the North American box office. Solid opening weekend results came from the animated comedy Barnyard: The Original Party Animals in second place and the horror film The Descent in fifth, but the Robin Williams thriller The Night Listener failed to find much of an audience in its debut. Overall, the marketplace was healthy and showed substantial improvement over the first weekend of August from the last two summers.

Sony crossed the finish line in first place for the industry-leading eighth time this year with the turbo-charged opening of Talladega Nights which grossed $47M over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final studio figures. Playing in a massive 3,803 theaters, the PG-13 film about a legendary NASCAR driver averaged a fantastic $12,370 per location. Will Ferrell has collected more than his share of second place trophies. The former Saturday Night Live star has opened at number two numerous times in recent years with films such as Kicking and Screaming, Bewitched, Anchorman, Elf, and Old School. Elf climbed into first place in its second weekend, and Ferrell has had supporting roles and cameos in number one openers from other stars. But Talladega Nights marks the first time he has anchored a top spot debut, and he did it decisively.

Reviews were generally positive for the racing comedy, which co-starred John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Michael Clarke Duncan, and the weekend gross was three times the take of its closest competition. Sony backed the $73M film with a lavish marketing campaign which involved promotional support from numerous corporate sponsors. Even veteran talk show host Larry King turned his daily chat session on opening night into a one-hour commercial for the film by interviewing Ferrell and Reilly in character as Ricky Bobby and his racing pal Cal Naughton Jr.

Talladega reached a broad audience with young males standing out slightly, as expected. Studio research indicated that 53% of the audience was male and that 52% was under 25. Aside from being Ferrell's biggest opening weekend ever, the film also generated the third best bow ever in the month of August. Only 2001's Rush Hour 2 and the following year's Signs did better with debuts of $67.4M and $60.1M, respectively. Those two pics also launched on the first frame of the month which studios still look at as a good weekend for programming a high-profile summer film on. By this point, most of the season's tentpole films have played out, but there is still enough summer playing time ahead to have long-term success.

Finishing far back in second place, but still enjoying an impressive debut, was Paramount's animated comedy Barnyard with $15.8M. The PG-rated toon bowed in 3,311 locations and averaged a solid $4,778 per theater. The opening was better than The Ant Bully's $8.4M from last weekend, but did not reach the $22.2M debut of Monster House from two weeks ago. Barnyard was produced by Nickelodeon Movies for just over $50M and played mostly to kids and parents. Audience research showed that 75% of the crowd was made up of families with males and females represented evenly. With two other cartoons in the top ten, and with Pirates still pulling in every age group, the opening performance of Barnyard was commendable.

The year's biggest blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest dropped 47% to $11M boosting its domestic treasure to a stunning $379.7M. That puts the Johnny Depp adventure sequel at number eight among all-time domestic blockbusters surpassing the $377M of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Pirates also managed to bump Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ off the all-time top ten list. Overseas, Disney scored another colossal gross taking in an estimated $57M from 47 markets to rule the international box office for the fifth straight frame. That sent the offshore cume soaring to $392M and the worldwide haul to $771.7M making it the top-grossing global hit of 2006 after just one month of release. Pirates could certainly be on its way to the one billion dollar mark with another installment in the franchise on deck for a May 2007 release.

Audiences rejected Miami Vice which tumbled a horrendous 60% in its second weekend to $10.3M. With $46.3M in ten days, the Universal action thriller is on course to end with $65-70M. That would give Vice a domestic gross of about half of its $135M production budget. Good news did, however, come from the U.K. where the cop pic debuted at number one this weekend.

Opening in fifth place was the new horror entry The Descent with $8.9M from 2,095 locations. The R-rated fright flick about a six-pack of young ladies trapped in an underground cave full of flesh-eating creatures averaged a solid $4,254 per venue. Reviews were unusually positive for the genre and distributor Lionsgate pitched The Descent in its advertising as being from the studio that brought audiences Saw and Hostel. But the opening was far short of the $18.3M and $19.6M that those low-budget hits opened to. Still, with a modest pricetag of its own, the cave exploration flick looks to make a few bucks theatrically and dig up a bigger audience when released on DVD.

Fox's teen comedy John Tucker Must Die dropped 57% in its second weekend to $6.2M. With $28.7M in ten days, the revenge flick should find its way to the neighborhood of $40M. Sony's animated scarefest Monster House followed close behind with $6.1M, off 48%, for a $57M cume. Competing toon The Ant Bully fell 54% in its sophomore session to $3.9M. Warner Bros. has collected just $18.2M in ten days and should conclude with an underwhelming $25-27M.

A pair of films followed with grosses of $3.6M a piece. Universal's comedy You, Me and Dupree declined 49% and upped its sum to $66.8M. Miramax's new Robin Williams thriller The Night Listener bowed in 1,367 locations and averaged a weak $2,600 per site.

Opening with healthy but not spectacular results in platform release was the teen drama Quinceanera which grossed $95,400 from only eight sites for a $11,925 average. The R-rated tale of a Mexican-American girl's impending coming-of-age party won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival and was snapped up by Sony Classics. Quinceanera will expand beyond New York and Los Angeles in the weeks ahead.

Three comedies and a bedtime story dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Fox's hit fashion industry pic The Devil Wears Prada held up well once again in its sixth frame with $3M, off 35%, lifitng the cume to a stellar $112.7M. It was the Meryl Streep film's fourth consecutive weekend with a drop of less than 40%. Produced for just $35M, Devil should find its way to a fabulous $120-125M making it one of the more profitable hits of the summer.

On the other hand, the Warner Bros. suspense thriller Lady in the Water has been falling by more than 60% each frame and took in $2.7M in its third scare. Down a steep 62%, the M. Night Shyamalan pic has grossed only $38.6M in 17 days and looks to drown with a mere $42-44M overall. The production budget was reportedly in the $75M range.

Sony's Little Man fell 50% to $2.5M in its fourth outing and pushed its cume to $55.1M. The Wayans brothers pic cost $64M to produce and should end its domestic run with a respectable $58-60M. Fox's super hero comedy flop My Super Ex-Girlfriend stumbled 70% in its third flight and grossed $1.2M. With $20.3M in the bank, look for a disappointing $22M finish.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight expanded its hit indie comedy Little Miss Sunshine from seven to 58 theaters in the top dozen markets and grossed $1.5M. That resulted in a muscular $25,521 average and a $2.2M total. The distributor will add 17 more cities on Friday and widen nationally the following weekend on the heels of strong word-of-mouth momentum.

The top ten films grossed $116.3M which was up 19% from last year when The Dukes of Hazzard debuted at number one with $30.7M; and up 24% from 2004 when Collateral opened in the top spot with $24.7M.

Compared to projections, Talladega Nights raced ahead of my $30M forecast and Barnyard opened a few notches above my $12M prediction. The Descent was close to my $10M projection while The Night Listener was on target with my $4M forecast.

For NEW reviews of Talladega Nights and the Chappelle's Show: The Lost Episodes DVD, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when World Trade Center, Zoom, Step Up, and Pulse all open.

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

# Title Aug 4 - 6 Jul 28 - 30 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Talladega Nights $ 47,042,215 3,803 1 $ 12,370 $ 47,042,215 Sony
2 Barnyard 15,820,864 3,311 1 4,778 15,820,864 Paramount
3 Pirates of the Caribbean: DMC 11,001,686 20,606,578 -46.6 3,436 5 3,202 379,699,644 Buena Vista
4 Miami Vice 10,227,880 25,723,815 -60.2 3,026 2 3,380 46,284,665 Universal
5 The Descent 8,911,330 2,095 1 4,254 8,911,330 Lionsgate
6 John Tucker Must Die 6,150,596 14,276,534 -56.9 2,566 2 2,397 28,723,356 Fox
7 Monster House 6,058,649 11,663,308 -48.1 3,029 3 2,000 57,010,414 Sony
8 The Ant Bully 3,892,443 8,432,465 -53.8 3,050 2 1,276 18,152,994 Warner Bros.
9 You, Me, and Dupree 3,643,430 7,106,280 -48.7 2,263 4 1,610 66,822,635 Universal
10 The Night Listener 3,554,134 1,367 1 2,600 3,554,134 Miramax
11 The Devil Wears Prada 3,046,881 4,673,346 -34.8 1,453 6 2,097 112,707,816 Fox
12 Lady in the Water 2,711,191 7,144,275 -62.1 2,670 3 1,015 38,633,274 Warner Bros.
13 Little Man 2,541,166 5,124,245 -50.4 1,561 4 1,628 55,093,150 Sony
14 Superman Returns 2,158,227 3,788,228 -43.0 1,710 6 1,262 190,176,570 Warner Bros.
15 Scoop 1,811,050 3,046,924 -40.6 541 2 3,348 6,280,168 Focus
16 Little Miss Sunshine 1,480,193 370,782 299.2 58 2 25,521 2,218,375 Fox Searchlight
17 Clerks II 1,315,286 4,008,335 -67.2 1,496 3 879 22,303,202 MGM
18 My Super Ex-Girlfriend 1,216,996 4,096,933 -70.3 1,093 3 1,113 20,335,659 Fox
19 Cars 1,084,684 2,620,756 -58.6 942 9 1,151 237,517,306 Buena Vista
20 Click 750,387 1,922,308 -61.0 651 7 1,153 134,344,223 Sony
Top 5 $ 93,003,975 $ 80,702,700 15.2
Top 10 116,303,227 108,847,779 6.8
Top 20 134,419,288 126,848,819 6.0
Top 20 vs. 2005 134,419,288 110,083,981 22.1

Last Updated : August 7, 2006 at 5:30PM EDT

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