Weekend Box Office (August 14 - 16, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Audiences went alien crazy as the sci-fi action drama District 9 rode a wave of strong buzz, slick marketing, and stellar reviews to debut easily at number one powering ahead of expectations. The counter-programming romance The Time Traveler's Wife fared well in its opening weekend while the frame's three other new releases struggled to find paying customers with the summer movie season slowly winding down. But the top ten saw encouraging double-digit gains over last year and 2007 as the marketplace continued to attract a sizable amount of business.

Bowing impressively at number one, District 9 took in $37.4M for Sony from 3,049 theaters for a muscular $12,251 average, according to final studio figures. The R-rated story about humans trying to relocate an alien population living in South Africa was directed by rookie feature helmer Neill Blomkamp and was produced by Oscar winner Peter Jackson. The marketing campaign was brilliantly executed and highlighted Jackson (the only known star attached to the project) plus engaged moviegoers with its alien invasion theme. The studio also got the film on the map with sci-fi fans with its screening at Comic-Con three weeks ago which got excitement going. It was the perfect place for a tough-sell like 9 to attack.

Budgeted at only $30M, the Johannesburg-set flick played to adult men with studio research showing that 64% of the audience was male and 57% was 25 or older. Critics poured on the praise which came in very handy for a non-star pic like this. Sony acquired rights for numerous markets around the world for just $25M and should be able to turn it into a moneymaker quickly. Saturday sales dipped by 10% from Friday which was normal for this type of genre film. District 9's opening even came close to the $40.1M bow of last year's PG-13 documentary-style no-star monster attack film Cloverfield.

Last weekend's top film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra tumbled an understandable 59% to $22.3M in its second weekend. After ten days of play, the $175M production is on the verge of hitting the $100M mark with $98.6M in the bank. Paramount should finish off in the vicinity of $150M from North America. Along with Star Trek and the Transformers sequel, the studio will end up scoring about $800M from its trio of effects-heavy action tentpoles with more installments to come in the years ahead.

Women powered the sci-fi romance The Time Traveler's Wife to a third place opening with $18.6M in sales on the first weekend. The Warner Bros. release landed in 2,988 sites and averaged a good $6,233 per site. But the Rachel McAdams-Eric Bana pic may be in for a stormy relationship in the weeks ahead as reviews were mostly negative and grosses fell 17% on Saturday after a strong opening day indicating moviegoers are not too enamored with what they are seeing. By comparison, last weekend's female-skewing newbie Julie & Julia enjoyed a healthy 17% Friday-to-Saturday boost.

Meryl Streep's Julia held up well against the new female-skewing competitor and dropped 40% to $12.1M. Produced for $38M, the Sony release has cooked up a solid $43.3M in ten days and looks headed for the neighborhood of $75M. The Disney action hit G-Force slipped just 30% to $6.9M boosting the total to $99.1M. It will break nine digits on Monday or Tuesday.

Opening poorly in sixth was the used car salesmen comedy The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard with just $5.6M which translated to a weak $3,070 from 1,838 sites. The R-rated pic stars Jeremy Piven who attracts millions on television to his acclaimed series Entourage, but has yet to prove himself as a box office draw.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince followed in seventh with $5.1M, down 42%, for a $283.9M total to date. That's about even with the fifth weekend of the last wizard flick Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which grossed $5.4M, off 43%, for a $272M cume. Compared to Phoenix, Prince is running 4% ahead in grosses but 2% behind in admissions. Overseas, the new Hogwarts chapter grossed an estimated $14.6M to lift the international cume to $578M and the worldwide total to a staggering $862M.

Placing eighth with just a 34% decline was the R-rated romantic comedy The Ugly Truth which collected $4.4M putting Sony's total at $77.5M.

Disney's attempt at showing a nationwide audience the brilliance of Hayao Miyazaki's latest animated film Ponyo met with only modest results. The G-rated tale of a fish that wishes to be human bowed to $3.6M from 927 locations for a mild $3,868 average. The legendary Japanese filmmaker's last two films, the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, were also released by the Mouse House but in only limited markets appealing to a small but loyal following. A box office juggernaut in Japan and Asia, Miyazaki has not found mainstream commercial success in America yet.

Universal's Funny People continued to repel audiences crumbling 62% to $3M in its third round putting the cume at $47.9M.

Virtually ignored by audiences was the new high school comedy Bandslam which opened to $2.2M from 2,121 theaters for a dismal $1,052 average. Summit tried to boost interest by playing the new Twilight teaser with the PG-rated film, but tween girls didn't fall for it and spent their dollars elsewhere.

The top ten films grossed $119.1M which was up 12% from last year when Tropic Thunder opened in the top spot with $25.8M; and up 10% from 2007 when Superbad debuted at number one with $33.1M.

Compared to projections, District 9 flew well ahead of my $23M forecast while The Time Traveler's Wife opened close to my $16M prediction. The Goods and Ponyo both debuted very close to my respective projections of $5M and $4M but Bandslam bowed well below my $6M prediction.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter. Check the UPDATED chart for the top films of 2009.

For a review of District 9 and DVD reviews of 17 Again, Race to Witch Mountain, and Gossip Girl S2 visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Inglourious Basterds, Post-Grad, Shorts, and X Games 3D: The Movie all open.

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

# Title Aug 14 - 16 Aug 7 - 9 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 District 9 $ 37,354,308 3,049 1 $ 12,251 $ 37,354,308 Sony
2 G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra 22,324,341 54,713,046 -59.2 4,007 2 5,571 98,577,529 Paramount
3 The Time Traveler's Wife 18,623,171 2,988 1 6,233 18,623,171 Warner Bros.
4 Julie & Julia 12,055,918 20,027,956 -39.8 2,354 2 5,121 43,340,386 Sony
5 G-Force 6,915,642 9,870,594 -29.9 3,065 4 2,256 99,056,616 Buena Vista
6 The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard 5,642,137 1,838 1 3,070 5,642,137 Paramount
7 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 5,141,072 8,928,349 -42.4 2,771 5 1,855 283,879,025 Warner Bros.
8 The Ugly Truth 4,448,232 6,750,125 -34.1 2,733 4 1,628 77,450,118 Sony
9 Ponyo 3,585,852 927 1 3,868 3,585,852 Buena Vista
10 Funny People 3,010,755 7,986,435 -62.3 2,584 3 1,165 47,910,620 Universal
11 (500) Days of Summer 2,967,462 3,739,702 -20.6 1,048 5 2,832 17,897,509 Fox Searchlight
12 A Perfect Getaway 2,860,100 5,948,555 -51.9 2,159 2 1,325 11,560,335 Universal
13 Bandslam 2,231,273 2,121 1 1,052 2,231,273 Summit
14 The Hangover 1,988,986 3,369,178 -41.0 1,185 11 1,678 265,790,452 Warner Bros.
15 Transformers: ROTF 1,604,523 3,008,825 -46.7 1,007 8 1,593 396,758,605 Paramount
16 Orphan 1,577,433 3,674,306 -57.1 1,261 4 1,251 38,346,772 Warner Bros.
17 Aliens in the Attic 1,449,859 4,021,478 -63.9 1,535 3 945 20,568,729 Fox
18 The Proposal 1,301,551 2,825,483 -53.9 1,084 9 1,201 157,693,055 Buena Vista
19 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 1,268,700 2,670,160 -52.5 858 7 1,479 190,855,447 Fox
20 Kaminey 726,834 82 1 8,864 726,834 UTV
Top 5 $ 97,273,380 $ 101,526,380 -4.2
Top 10 119,101,428 125,660,546 -5.2
Top 20 137,078,149 142,775,510 -4.0
Top 20 vs. 2008 137,078,149 119,620,243 14.6

Last Updated: August 17, 2009 at 6:00PM ET