Weekend Box Office (August 20 - 22, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Three new late-summer entries enter wide release hoping to cash in on the remaining dollars left in the marketplace. Paramount offers up the outdoor comedy Without A Paddle while Warner Bros. and Lions Gate split the suspense vote with Exorcist: The Beginning and Open Water which expands after a red hot limited release. With another summer season coming to an end, the frame could very well be the first weekend without a $20M+ opener in more than four months.

Paramount hopes to catch teenagers in their final weeks of summer vacation with the new comedy Without A Paddle which debuts on Friday. The PG-13 film stars Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, and Dax Green as three young guys who find misadventure during their trip to the Oregon wilderness. After directing Adam Sandler in Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds, Steven Brill takes the helm here looking to provide silly fun for adolescents. Teens of both genders should find interest in Paddle and the film packs the most starpower and least direct competition of all three new releases this weekend. With so many action films and mature-themed pictures entering the box office in recent weeks, young people are craving some mindless laughs before heading back to school. The studio toyed with moving the film up to a Wednesday bow, and then returned back to its original Friday slot. Hiking into 2,730 theaters, Without A Paddle might open with around $13M this weekend.

Warner Bros. offers horror fans a prequel to one of the scariest films in history with Exorcist: The Beginning. Directed by Renny Harlin, the R-rated picture finds a young priest encountering demonic forces in post-WWII Africa. Competition will come from fellow fright flicks Alien vs. Predator and Open Water as well as all the star-driven action holdovers that summer moviegoers may want to catch up on this weekend. Some business may come from genre fans young and old, but a bigger audience will find this film on video. The studio's marketing push has been decent, but at this time of year, it is difficult to generate a big opening for any title. Haunting 2,803 theaters, Exorcist: The Beginning may gross about $12M for the weekend.

Widening after two solid weeks of limited play is the Lions Gate stranded-at-sea drama Open Water. After debuting to a $23,424 average from 47 theaters, the R-rated pic saw its average drop 30% to $16,268 from 55 theaters this past weekend and has grossed about $3M to date. Reviews and word-of-mouth have been mediocre so an explosive bow in nationwide release is not expected. Plus with Exorcist and AVP taking up dollars from those looking for a scare, the main audience for Open Water should be those more open to low budget indie fare. Expanding to over 2,000 theaters, the thriller could gross around $12M this weekend.

Fox is aiming to reach Hulk territory and post one of the largest declines of the year with its number one hit Alien vs. Predator. The sci-fi and franchise elements plus the added competition for scary fare show that rapid audience erosion is guaranteed. A 65% fall to $13.5M could result giving the monster fight $64M in ten days. The Princess Diaries 2 should also see a big sequel drop, but maybe a more reasonable 45% decline. that would give the Disney hit $12.5M for the frame and $61M in 12 days. Another 35% drop for Collateral would give Tom Cruise $10.5M for the weekend and a 17-day tally of $70M.

Take this week's Reader Survey on the future of the Jason Bourne franchise. For reviews of Without a Paddle and Open Water visit The Chief Report.

LAST YEAR Despite tumbling 64% in its second weekend, horror hit Freddy vs. Jason still held onto the number one spot with $13.2M thanks to all three new releases flopping. Second place went to S.W.A.T. with $10.6M, Open Range took third with $9.5M, and Freaky Friday placed fourth with $9.3M. Opening in fifth place was Jackie Chan's The Medallion with $8.1M on its way to $22.2M. Elsewhere, My Boss's Daughter debuted to $4.9M in tenth place while Marci X bowed to a dismal $872,950 from 1,200 theaters for a 17th place showing. Final grosses reached $15.6M and $1.6M, respectively.

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Last Updated : August 19, 2004 at 8:45AM EDT

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing live at 12:30pm ET on CNNfn with replays at 4:30pm and 9:30pm.