Weekend Box Office (August 18 - 20, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Samuel L. Jackson's much-talked-about thriller Snakes on a Plane landed in first place at the North American box office, but lacked the kind of bite that was expected given all the media attention and internet buzz that surrounded the film. The weekend's two other new releases Accepted and Material Girls targeted teens and met with only mild-to-moderate results. However, the indie comedy Little Miss Sunshine flexed some muscle in its national expansion jumping into the top ten in its fourth weekend of release. Former number one Talladega Nights raced past the $100M mark while Pirates of the Caribbean cruised past the $400M milestone this weekend. However, the late-summer slowdown took its toll on the box office as for the first time in fourteen weeks, the top ten films failed to attract at least $100M in ticket sales.

Following months of online buzz which translated into tons of national publicity, Snakes on a Plane finally arrived in theaters and collected $15.2M over the weekend, according to final studio figures, including about $1.4M in Thursday night preview grosses. Taking off in an ultrawide 3,555 theaters, the R-rated film averaged a mediocre $4,277 per site. Of the 62 films in history that have opened in 3,500 or more theaters, 61 have grossed more than Snakes on opening weekend. Only last summer's Herbie: Fully Loaded fared worse with $12.7M from 3,521 sites following a Wednesday bow. Snakes also suffered the second lowest gross for a number one opener this year after Glory Road's $13.6M top spot bow in January.

Since no film before it had generated the same type of grassroots hype, expectations varied greatly leading into the frame with most believing it would at least surpass the $20M mark. The New Line release finds Jackson playing an FBI agent escorting a key witness on a commercial airliner when deadly snakes are let loose. The studio did not screen the film for the media ahead of the release. Fans on the internet have been talking up the picture since last year creating a cult fan following which no one knew how to measure when it came to box office sales. Ultimately, Snakes did not appear to have had much appeal outside of its core fan base of young men. With a budget just north of $30M, Snakes on a Plane should still end up being a moneymaker for New Line after worldwide DVD sales are tallied. However, hopes for a new franchise seem to have been crushed.

After two weeks in pole position, Will Ferrell's hit comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby finished close behind in second place this weekend with $13.8M in its third lap. The Sony release dropped only 38% and showed good legs. On Thursday, Talladega became the eleventh film of the year to cross the $100M mark and has pushed its total to $114.3M after 17 days. Snakes led all films at the box office on Friday, but Ricky Bobby raced ahead on both Saturday and Sunday.

Oliver Stone's 9/11 drama World Trade Center enjoyed a good hold in its second weekend grossing $10.9M. Down a moderate 42%, the Paramount release upped its total to $45.1M after 12 days. The $65M film looks to reach about $70M domestically. Last weekend's surprise hit Step Up fell an understandable 51% in its second session taking in $10.2M for fourth place. Buena Vista's low-budget dance drama has captured a robust $39.7M in ten days and could end its run with a terrific $60M. At the beginning of August, no one thought that Step Up would score a bigger opening than Snakes on a Plane.

Universal's new teen comedy Accepted bowed in fifth place with $10M from 2,914 theaters. The PG-13 film about a high school senior who forms the fictitious S.H.I.T. (South Harmon Institute of Technology) after being rejected by every other college averaged a mild $3,440 per location. Budgeted at $23M, Accepted appealed mostly to a teen and young adult audience with studio research showing that a whopping 74% of the crowd was under 25. Males slightly outnumbered females with 52% of the audience.

The animated comedy Barnyard followed with $7.6M dropping only 22%. The strong hold for the Paramount release helped boost the cume to $46.1M after 17 days.

Boasting the best per-theater average in the top ten by far was indie sensation Little Miss Sunshine which expanded nationally and grossed $5.6M. Fox Searchlight's dysfunctional family comedy averaged a stellar $8,120 from 691 locations after widening from 153 playdates last weekend. Cume to date stands at $12.7M with much more to come. The distributor reported that the Greg Kinnear-Steve Carell pic is broadening its audience beyond just the arthouse crowd and is now playing well in mainstream multiplexes in suburban markets. Sunshine will double its theater count on Friday with over 1,400 runs and will add a few hundred more the following weekend for the Labor Day holiday frame.

Disney's unstoppable smash Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ranked eighth this weekend with $5.2M in its seventh voyage. Down only 28%, the Johnny Depp adventure broke the quadruple-century mark and pushed its cume to $401.3M in North America making it the seventh biggest domestic blockbuster ever trailing the $403.7M of 2002's Spider-Man. Worldwide, the Pirates sequel cruised to a staggering $924M this weekend and will break through the $1 billion barrier soon allowing it to join only Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the ten-digit club.

Opening quietly in ninth place were sisters Hilary and Haylie Duff with their comedy Material Girls which debuted with only $4.6M. Playing in 1,509 theaters, the MGM release averaged just $3,050 per site. The PG-rated story about wealthy sisters who must cope with being bankrupt opened much like Hilary Duff's recent films Raise Your Voice ($4M in October 2004) and The Perfect Man ($5.3M in June 2005).

Rounding out the top ten was the horror entry Pulse with $3.5M, off 57%, for a ten-day total of just $14.7M. The Weinstein Co. should reach a mere $20M with this one.

There was plenty of activity in limited release over the weekend. Yari Film Group opened its period mystery The Illusionist in 51 theaters and grossed $927,956 for a powerful $18,195 average. The Edward Norton-Paul Giamatti starrer earned strong reviews and will add more theaters on Friday before expanding nationwide on September 1.

Fox Searchlight saw more modest results with its new relationship pic Trust the Man which debuted to $180,271 from 38 locations for a moderate $4,743 average. Playing in eight cities, the R-rated story stars Billy Crudup, David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Trust will widen to more than 100 theaters on Friday. Reviews have been mixed.

Four summer movies dropped out of the top ten this weekend. Lionsgate's horror film The Descent fell 47% to $2.4M putting its total at $22.3M. The chicks-in-a-cave thriller should end with $27-29M. Sony's Tim Allen flop Zoom declined 46% to $2.4M increasing its sum to a puny $9M. A horrendous final total of around $15M seems likely.

Universal's $135M cop pic Miami Vice dropped 48% to $2.4M as well in its fifth frame and lifted its sum to $59.9M. A disappointing $65M final seems likely. The $75M animated film Monster House grossed $2M, down 40%, for a cume of $67.4M. Sony should end up with a respectable $72M.

Among holdovers in limited release, ThinkFilm's critically-acclaimed drama Half Nelson added one theater and grossed $56,264 from three sites for a solid $18,754 average. The existing pair of theaters in Manhattan suffered almost no decline from last weekend and continued to sell out most of their weekend shows. Cume stands at $147,246 and the film debuts on Friday in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

The global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth became the highest-grossing film in company history for Paramount Classics this weekend. Al Gore's environmental pic took in $258,781 from 221 theaters and upped its total to $22.4M. The distributor's previous top grosser was last summer's Hustle & Flow with $22.2M.

The top ten films grossed $86.6M which was down 7% from last year when The 40-Year-Old Virgin debuted at number one with $21.4M; and down 10% from 2004 when Exorcist: The Beginning opened in the top spot with a robust $18.1M.

Compared to projections, Snakes on a Plane fell short of my $28M forecast while Accepted was close to my $12M prediction. Little Miss Sunshine and Material Girls were both very close to my respective projections of $5M and $4M.

For NEW reviews of Snakes on a Plane, The Quiet, Looking For Kitty, The Illusionist, and Trust the Man visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Invincible, Beerfest, Idlewild, and How to Eat Fried Worms all open.

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

# Title Aug 18 - 20 Aug 11 - 13 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Snakes on a Plane $ 15,206,301 3,555 1 $ 4,277 $ 15,206,301 New Line
2 Talladega Nights 13,755,387 22,126,226 -37.8 3,741 3 3,677 114,341,263 Sony
3 World Trade Center 10,901,350 18,730,762 -41.8 2,998 2 3,636 45,105,868 Paramount
4 Step Up 10,157,605 20,659,573 -50.8 2,639 2 3,849 39,738,435 Buena Vista
5 Accepted 10,023,835 2,914 1 3,440 10,023,835 Universal
6 Barnyard 7,581,622 9,701,882 -21.9 3,227 3 2,349 46,088,273 Paramount
7 Little Miss Sunshine 5,610,845 2,603,168 115.5 691 4 8,120 12,692,059 Fox Searchlight
8 Pirates of the Caribbean: DMC 5,212,351 7,237,927 -28.0 2,277 7 2,289 401,253,092 Buena Vista
9 Material Girls 4,603,121 1,509 1 3,050 4,603,121 MGM
10 Pulse 3,519,889 8,203,822 -57.1 2,323 2 1,515 14,695,988 Weinstein Co.
11 The Descent 2,437,269 4,616,462 -47.2 1,720 3 1,417 22,320,119 Lionsgate
12 Miami Vice 2,427,730 4,706,430 -48.4 1,680 4 1,445 59,852,850 Universal
13 Zoom 2,415,611 4,510,408 -46.4 2,501 2 966 9,023,155 Sony
14 Monster House 1,970,819 3,285,771 -40.0 1,673 5 1,178 67,372,285 Sony
15 The Devil Wears Prada 1,307,434 1,869,313 -30.1 824 8 1,587 118,996,040 Fox
16 John Tucker Must Die 1,103,954 3,009,329 -63.3 1,218 4 906 38,637,285 Fox
17 The Ant Bully 1,041,357 1,872,420 -44.4 850 4 1,225 24,616,815 Warner Bros.
18 You, Me, and Dupree 1,005,675 1,920,025 -47.6 760 6 1,323 72,887,490 Universal
19 The Illusionist 927,956 51 1 18,195 927,956 Yari Film Group
20 Superman Returns 848,255 1,242,461 -31.7 383 8 2,215 194,165,746 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 60,044,478 $ 79,422,265 -24.4
Top 10 86,572,306 103,779,263 -16.6
Top 20 102,058,366 121,197,450 -15.8
Top 20 vs. 2005 102,058,366 108,151,756 -5.6

Last Updated : August 21, 2006 at 5:30PM EDT

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