Weekend Box Office (August 15 - 17, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND After ruling the North American box office for four consecutive weekends, The Dark Knight was finally bumped aside thanks to the top spot bow of the new action-comedy Tropic Thunder which enjoyed a solid debut. The Batman juggernaut still held up well in its fifth attack and became both the number two domestic blockbuster of all-time and the number one global smash of this year. The frame saw five other new films squeeze into the multiplexes with varying results. The overall top ten remained mostly flat with last weekend as well as with last year.

Ben Stiller took control of the marketplace with his war movie Tropic Thunder which shot up $25.8M this weekend over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final studio figures, and $36.8M over five days since debuting on Wednesday. The R-rated star vehicle averaged a solid $7,777 from 3,319 theaters. The extended gross lagged behind the $41.3M five-day bow of rival R-rated comedy Pineapple Express from just one week earlier despite having more starpower (Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., and Jack Black) and three times the budget ($90M compared to $27M for Pineapple).

But Tropic did earn better reviews, skews a little older, and has less direct competition on the second weekend so it does have the chance of holding up better in the weeks ahead. The raunchy comedy was heavily promoted by Paramount all summer and even scored extra media attention in recent weeks from protests and boycotts from groups offended by its envelope-pushing humor. The tale of actors shooting a war film who get thrown into harm's way saw more of its business come later in its extended debut period than the younger-skewing Express did. Tropic's Friday-to-Sunday gross represented 70% of the overall take while for the Judd Apatow stoner movie, the weekend accounted for only 56%. According to studio research, 57% of the audience was male while 67% was 25 or older.

Settling for second place for the first time, The Dark Knight captured $16.4M and boosted its amazing cume to $471.1M. That allowed the Heath Ledger film to overtake Star Wars' $461M tally for the number two spot on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters. Of course, the original Darth Vader pic still sold more tickets given the differences in prices over the last few decades when it was released multiple times. As for tickets sold, the new Bruce Wayne actioner has generated roughly 66 million admissions putting it ahead of 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (about 65 million) but a bit behind 2002's Spider-Man (approximately 69 million).

Knight displayed another great hold in its fifth weekend dipping only 37% for its lowest decline yet. Overseas, the Caped Crusader hauled in an estimated $42.4M lifting the international total to a stunning $328.2M and the global gross to an eye-popping $800M. That allowed The Dark Knight to surpass the $780M of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to become 2008's highest grossing movie worldwide. The domestic cume now looks to reach about $525M while the global gross may break the $1 billion mark.

Opening in third was the latest moneymaking vehicle from George Lucas, the computer animated feature Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The PG-rated film debuted to $14.6M from 3,452 theaters for a moderate $4,233 average. Warner Bros. released the film as an appetizer to October's new Cartoon Network series which will pick up where the feature leaves off. The studio and the television network are both Time Warner entities. Reviews were harsh and the audience size was much smaller compared to the live-action Jedi tales.

The new horror entry Mirrors bowed in fourth place with $11.2M. Fox's R-rated release stars Kiefer Sutherland as an ex-cop who battles spooky spirits and averaged a decent $4,190 from 2,664 locations.

Dropping from second to fifth, Sony's stoner flick Pineapple Express grossed $9.8M in its second weekend and raised its total to $62.7M after only 12 days. Down a steep 58%, the $27M Judd Apatow production looks to end its run in the neighborhood of $90M making it another profitable late-summer R-rated comedy just like the producer's Superbad from last year and 2005's The 40-Year-Old-Virgin which grossed $121.5M and $109.3M, respectively.

Universal's The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor fell 50% to $8.2M raising the 17-day sum to $86.2M. Overseas where the Brendan Fraser-Jet Li pic is seeing more muscular results, the adventure sequel took in an estimated $32.6M from 56 markets this weekend. That boosted the third Mummy flick's international total to $196.6M and the global gross to a stellar $283M.

Pierce Brosnan's creepy singing in Mamma Mia! attracted another $6.1M of business giving the Universal musical a slim 26% dip and a $116M domestic haul. The ABBA songfest grossed $16.8M internationally to lift the overseas take to $204.6M and the worldwide sum to a stellar $321M.

Following in eighth place was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 with $5.8M, down 46%, for a 12-day tally of $32M. Look for a final of roughly $50M for the Warner Bros. sequel which will easily surpass the $39M of its 2005 predecessor. Sony's Step Brothers ranked ninth with $4.8M, off 47%, for a $90.7M cume for Sony.

Rounding out the top ten was Woody Allen's latest story Vicky Cristina Barcelona with $3.8M from a moderate national release in 692 playdates. Averaging a solid $5,427 per location, the PG-13 pic stars recent Oscar winner Javier Bardem as a Spanish casanova and attracted strong reviews from critics. The Weinstein Company marketed the film while MGM handled distribution duties. The performance was on par with the $5,663 opening weekend average of Allen's last summer film Scoop from July 2006. Both starred Scarlett Johansson.

Debuting outside of the top ten with moderate results was the 3D animation offering Fly Me To The Moon which took in $1.9M from 452 3D-equipped theaters for a respectable $4,205 average. The G-rated release from Summit played mostly to young children and their families. The frame's sixth national release was the Luke Wilson drama Henry Poole is Here which was mostly ignored by ticket buyers. The PG-rated film grossed $805,219 from 527 sites for a poor $1,528 average for Overture Films.

Four films were kicked out of the top ten over the weekend by the flood of new contenders. The 3D adventure Journey to the Center of the Earth dropped 31% to $3.3M in its sixth frame to boost its haul to $88M. A final gross of $97-100M seems likely making it a strong performer. Kevin Costner's political comedy Swing Vote tumbled 64% to $1.1M and has collected just $14.7M to date. The Buena Vista release should drop out of the race with a mere $17M in sales.

Disney and Pixar watched their latest hit toon WALL•E become the top-grossing animated film of the year. The lovable Earth-class robot took in $1.8M, off 42%, and lifted its total to $214.1M. That put it ahead of the $211.9M of Kung Fu Panda for the toon crown. Look for WALL•E to finish its run with $217-219M putting it above the $206.4M of last summer's Ratatouille, but behind the $244.1M of 2006's Cars.

After six weeks, Will Smith flew out of the top ten with his latest hit Hancock which banked $1.7M. The superhero-with-an-attitude pic fell 48% and saw its cume soar to $225M. It's the fourth $200M+ blockbuster for the actor's career and his second one in nine months after December's I Am Legend exploded to $256.3M. Smith also has starred in $100M+ smashes for seven consecutive years now. Look for Hancock to reach $230M domestically and more than $600M worldwide.

The top ten films grossed $106.4M which was off 2% from last year when Superbad opened in the top spot with $33.1M; but up 23% from 2006 when Snakes on a Plane debuted at number one with $15.2M.

Compared to projections, Tropic Thunder opened very close to my $25M prediction while Star Wars: The Clone Wars came in a few notches below my $19M forecast. Mirrors, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Fly Me To The Moon, and Henry Poole is Here were all on target with my respective projections of $11M, $4M, $2M, and $1M.

Check the updated list of all-time domestic blockbusters featuring The Dark Knight's new position and the updated chart of the top ten films of this summer.

For NEW reviews of Tropic Thunder and Bachna ae Haseeno visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's crowded frame when Death Race, The Rocker, The House Bunny, and The Longshots all premiere.

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

# Title Aug 15 - 17 Aug 8 -10 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Tropic Thunder $ 25,812,796 3,319 1 $ 7,777 $ 36,845,588 Paramount
2 The Dark Knight 16,379,293 26,117,030 -37.3 3,590 5 4,562 471,082,150 Warner Bros.
3 Star Wars: The Clone Wars 14,611,273 3,452 1 4,233 14,611,273 Warner Bros.
4 Mirrors 11,161,074 2,664 1 4,190 11,161,074 Fox
5 Pineapple Express 9,808,295 23,245,025 -57.8 3,072 2 3,193 62,740,789 Sony
6 The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor 8,205,720 16,490,970 -50.2 3,363 3 2,440 86,245,775 Universal
7 Mamma Mia! 6,096,250 8,208,580 -25.7 2,771 5 2,200 116,013,715 Universal
8 The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 5,785,250 10,678,430 -45.8 2,714 2 2,132 32,002,712 Warner Bros.
9 Step Brothers 4,807,904 9,128,662 -47.3 2,648 4 1,816 90,695,938 Sony
10 Vicky Cristina Barcelona 3,755,575 692 1 5,427 3,755,575 MGM
11 Journey to the Center of the Earth 3,348,341 4,871,478 -31.3 1,405 6 2,383 88,002,999 New Line
12 Fly Me To The Moon 3D 1,900,523 452 1 4,205 1,900,523 Summit
13 WALL•E 1,836,332 3,140,083 -41.5 1,403 8 1,309 214,129,943 Buena Vista
14 Hancock 1,720,241 3,317,450 -48.1 1,277 7 1,347 225,022,587 Sony
15 Swing Vote 1,137,385 3,125,290 -63.6 1,281 3 888 14,687,549 Buena Vista
16 Henry Poole is Here 805,219 527 1 1,528 805,219 Overture
17 Space Chimps 775,152 1,767,277 -56.1 768 5 1,009 27,568,802 Fox
18 Brideshead Revisited 740,030 1,062,247 -30.3 501 4 1,477 4,650,150 Miramax
19 Hellboy II: The Golden Army 541,150 1,254,895 -56.9 481 6 1,125 74,616,780 Universal
20 Bottle Shock 392,440 278,075 41.1 117 2 3,354 837,155 Freestyle
Top 5 $ 77,772,731 $ 85,660,117 -9.2
Top 10 106,423,430 108,322,998 -1.8
Top 20 119,620,243 117,383,625 1.9
Top 20 vs. 2007 119,620,243 124,844,363 -4.2

Last Updated: August 18, 2008 at 6:00PM ET

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