Weekend Box Office (August 15 - 17, 2003)

THIS WEEKEND New Line Cinema scored its first number-one opening of the year with the slasher showdown Freddy vs. Jason which led a surging North American box office in the typically slow late-summer weeks. Among the three other new releases, Kevin Costner's Open Range posted a solid debut, the Brittany Murphy comedy Uptown Girls fared well, but the skateboarder pic Grind flopped and opened outside of the top ten. Led by five films grossing more than $10M each, the overall box office delivered the strongest session ever in the second half of August.

It was a sold out main event at theaters as Freddy vs. Jason killed the competition and grossed $36.4M in its opening weekend, according to final studio figures, beating industry expectations. The final big release of the summer season played in 3,014 locations and averaged a bloody $12,086. In development for nearly a decade, the Ronny Yu-directed horror film brought together two of the most popular cinematic villians of the late twentieth century - Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th. It was the sixth biggest August opening ever and the largest for the second half of the month. Freddy also represented the fifth R-rated pic to open at number one this summer.

With late-August through September being a traditionally slow period at the turnstiles, Freddy vs. Jason could represent the last $30M+ opener for several weeks and may even be the first summer film since early May's X2: X-Men United to spend back-to-back weekends in the top spot. Budgeted at about $30M, New Line could see $85-90M in domestic grosses for Freddy vs. Jason as well as killer DVD revenue down the road.

Falling by 51% was last weekend's top film S.W.A.T. which arrested $18.1M in its second weekend to lift its ten-day total to a solid $69.7M. The $80M Sony release looks to find its way to $110-120M.

Kevin Costner scored his best opening in four and a half years with his cowboy drama Open Range which lassoed $14M from just 2,075 locations. The Buena Vista release, which the actor also directed, averaged a strong $6,770 per theater and skewed adult male. According to studio research, 77% of the audience was age 25 or older and 55% was male. Saturday sales experienced a healthy 33% bump. With the female-skewing Seabiscuit being the only other popular hit with mature adults in the top ten, Open Range seized an opportunity and generated a promising start. Generally favorable reviews also helped the moderately-priced $20M pic. The PG-13 film gave Costner his best debut since Message in a Bottle which bowed to $16.8M in February 1999.

Disney's mother-daughter comedy Freaky Friday slipped 40% in its second weekend and pulled in $13.4M for fourth place. The PG-rated pic has captured a robust $58.4M in 12 days and could find its way to the $100M mark.

MGM landed in the number five slot with its own female buddy comedy pic Uptown Girls which grossed $11.3M from 2,495 theaters. The PG-13 film about a socialite (Brittany Murphy) who becomes the nanny of a difficult eight-year-old (Dakota Fanning) averaged a respectable $4,520. Budgeted at under $20M, Uptown Girls could find its way to $30-35M.

In its sixth weekend, Pirates of the Caribbean dropped only 30% to $9.2M putting the big-budget Disney adventure in sixth place. With a towering $248.7M in its treasure chest, the high seas actioner now sits at number 27 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters ahead of 1999's Toy Story 2 which grossed $245.8M. Pirates now ranks as producer Jerry Bruckheimer's highest-grossing film ever, and Buena Vista's second biggest live action hit after The Sixth Sense ($293.5M).

Universal followed with a pair of hits destined for the century club. The comedy sequel American Wedding dropped 46% in its third frame to $8.4M and boosted its cume to $80.9M. The horse racing saga Seabiscuit dipped just 32% to $8.1M in its fourth lap for a total of $83M.

Rounding out the top were a pair of sequels. Miramax's Spy Kids 3-D fell 46% to $5.3M while Bad Boys II dropped 48% to $3.1M. Totals to date stand at $96.9M and $128.9M, respectively.

Falling on its face with a weak debut was the skater comedy Grind which bowed to $2.5M from 2,253 theaters for a pathetic $1,115 average. Opening worse than Gigli, the PG-13 title was released by Warner Bros. and will quickly skip to video.

Three big titles fell from the top ten over the weekend. Paramount's Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life tumbled 47% to $2.8M pushing its cume to $59.1M. The $95M action sequel should finish with around $65M domestically, but could still perform respectably in international markets. The stateside haul will end up at half the level of the original 2001 Tomb Raider which took in $131.2M domestically.

Another big action sequel, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, fell 50% to $816,420 for a total of $147.6M to date. With a reported production budget of more than $150M, the Warner Bros. title looks headed for a $150M domestic gross making it Arnold Schwarzenegger's second biggest film ever trailing the $204.8M of 1991's megahit Terminator 2. Internationally, T3 is a monster hit and has already grossed $200M and is still going strong.

The summer's biggest fish, the computer-animated comedy Finding Nemo, finally dropped out of the top ten after eleven weeks with a three-day gross of $1.4M. The Disney/Pixar smash has grossed an eye-popping $327.8M to date and ranks tenth on the all-time domestic list right behind The Lion King which boasts a lifetime gross of $328.5M. Nemo will soon swim past King and its 1994 pal Forrest Gump and finish its theatrical run at number eight on the all-time list.

In limited release, Fine Line saw splendid sales from its Sundance award-winner American Splendor which opened in just six theaters but grossed $159,705 for a scorching $26,618 average. Playing in New York, Los Angeles, and Cleveland, the R-rated film about the exploits of Ohio comic book writer Harvey Pekar expands into more markets over the next few weeks.

Artisan's surfing documentary Step Into Liquid widened from 5 to 16 theaters and grossed $201,387 for a potent $11,875 average. The distributor will expand into ten additional markets on Friday and play in 45-50 total venues.

Fox Searchlight's relationship comedy Le Divorce widened substantially from 34 to 180 theaters and captured $942,594 for a good $5,237 average. The Kate Hudson-Naomi Watts pic will continue to expand and will be playing nationwide over Labor Day weekend.

The top ten films grossed $127.4M which was up a healthy 33% from last year when XXX remained at number one with $22.1M; and up 29% from 2001 when American Pie 2 stayed in the top spot with $21.1M.

Compared to projections, Freddy vs. Jason opened a few notches higher than my $28M forecast. Uptown Girls was very close to my $10M prediction while Open Range debuted much higher than my $5M projection. Grind came in with half of my $5M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on whether Arnold Schwarzenegger will win his election bid for Governor of California. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether the opening of Freddy vs. Jason would be above or below $30M. Of responses, 69% correctly picked Above while 31% said Below.

For a review of Freddy vs. Jason visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Medallion, Marci X, and My Boss's Daughter all open.

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

# Title Aug 15 - 17 Aug 8 - 10 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Freddy vs. Jason $ 36,428,066 3,014 1 $ 12,086 $ 36,428,066 New Line
2 S.W.A.T. 18,122,486 37,062,535 -51.1 3,220 2 5,628 69,672,843 Sony
3 Open Range 14,047,781 2,075 1 6,770 14,047,781 Buena Vista
4 Freaky Friday 13,434,285 22,203,007 -39.5 2,979 2 4,510 58,416,557 Buena Vista
5 Uptown Girls 11,277,367 2,495 1 4,520 11,277,367 MGM
6 Pirates of the Caribbean 9,167,599 13,022,470 -29.6 2,710 6 3,383 248,720,985 Buena Vista
7 American Wedding 8,402,760 15,462,250 -45.7 2,985 3 2,815 80,856,345 Universal
8 Seabiscuit 8,087,670 11,957,955 -32.4 2,462 4 3,285 83,012,545 Universal
9 Spy Kids 3-D 5,288,540 9,794,079 -46.0 3,003 4 1,761 96,893,935 Miramax
10 Bad Boys II 3,143,914 6,040,845 -48.0 1,785 5 1,761 128,856,716 Sony
11 Lara Croft Tomb Raider II 2,786,977 5,221,055 -46.6 1,926 4 1,447 59,079,023 Paramount
12 Grind 2,511,403 2,253 1 1,115 2,511,403 Warner Bros.
13 Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle 1,980,432 558,116 254.8 816 8 2,427 97,740,542 Sony
14 Finding Nemo 1,358,901 2,512,275 -45.9 1,037 12 1,310 327,793,194 Buena Vista
15 Le Divorce 942,594 516,834 82.4 180 2 5,237 1,688,798 Fox Searchlight
16 T3: Rise of the Machines 816,420 1,624,345 -49.7 633 7 1,290 147,611,218 Warner Bros.
17 Whale Rider 717,744 928,293 -22.7 348 11 2,062 14,049,733 Newmarket
18 Legally Blonde 2 648,151 861,960 -24.8 1,007 7 644 88,002,442 MGM
19 Swimming Pool 596,938 835,809 -28.6 257 7 2,323 7,520,148 Focus
20 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 593,487 1,542,272 -61.5 584 6 1,016 63,554,390 Fox
Top 5 $ 93,309,985 $ 99,708,217 -6.4
Top 10 127,400,468 124,900,816 2.0
Top 20 140,353,515 133,684,045 5.0
Top 20 vs. 2002 140,353,515 105,289,185 33.3

Last Updated : August 18, 2003 at 9:45PM EDT

Written by Gitesh Pandya

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing at 12:30pm and 9:30pm ET on CNNfn.