Weekend Box Office (August 27 - 29, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND With mighty sword in hand, Jet Li defeated all opponents to conquer the North American box office with the critically-acclaimed assassin picture Hero which opened stronger than expected in the number one spot. Debuting in second place was the snake thriller Anacondas while the weekend's other new releases Suspect Zero and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 fought each other for tenth place. Overall, the box office suffered its usual late August slump as total sales for the Top Ten fell to its lowest level in over four months.

The subtitled Chinese historical epic Hero bravely marched into 2,031 theaters and led all films this weekend with an opening of $18M, according to final studio figures. Averaging a stellar $8,865 per location, the two-thousand-year-old tale about a nameless warrior who plots to assassinate the Emperor joined last February's The Passion of the Christ to become ancient stories in foreign languages that American moviegoers powered to the number one spot this year. Rated PG-13, Hero became Jet Li's fourth trip to the top of the U.S. charts after 1998's faceoff with Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 4 and the urban actioners Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave.

A 2002 motion picture, Hero was delayed several times by Miramax which added the "Quentin Tarantino presents" line to the marketing campaign trying to appeal to the popular director's sizable fan base. Though somewhat deceptive, the tactic seemed to have worked with precision as Hero's per-theater average slightly exceeded the $8,450 opening weekend average of Tarantino's last film Kill Bill Vol. 2 which featured trailers for Hero when it bowed in April. In fact, three of the last four number one hits for Miramax (Kill Bill Vol. 1 being the other) were in some way tied to the Pulp Fiction director.

Critics across the board were singing praises for Hero which was directed by Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad). The distributor made a gutsy move to release the film nationwide on the first weekend and was shrewd in opening late in the summer to counter the usual clutter of low quality Hollywood fare. Subtitled films from other countries usually debut in limited release and gradually expand when word-of-mouth spreads as with previous box office winners Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life is Beautiful, and Amelie. Hero also earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for best foreign language film a year and a half ago. Yimou indeed had a memorable weekend as his latest film House of Flying Daggers opened at number one in Japan. American audiences will have to wait until December for Daggers.

Though playing in 900 more theaters, Sony's Anacondas settled for a second place debut with $12.8M. The PG-13 fright flick averaged a good $4,410 from 2,905 sites. The studio's exit polls indicated that 52% of the audience was over age 21 and 52% was female. By comparison, the first Anaconda movie, which starred Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, and Jon Voight, opened at number one in April 1997 with $16.6M on its way to $65.5M. Anacondas, which boasted no major stars (just a giant digital snake) carried a budget in the $25-30M range.

Paramount's outdoor comedy Without a Paddle dropped one spot to third with $8.6M for a commendable decline of only 37%. The Seth Green-Matthew Lillard pic has grossed $27.7M in ten days and should find its way to a solid $50M. The Princess Diaries 2 also held up well falling just 38% to $8.1M putting the cume at $75.1M. The Disney sequel should reach the vicinity of $100M, or just slightly less than the $108.2M of its 2001 predecessor.

Last weekend's box office champ Exorcist: The Beginning tumbled 61% in its second weekend to $7.1M. Suffering a fall that is common for a horror pic, the Warner Bros. title upped its sum to $31.2M after ten days and looks to finish with about $45M.

Tom Cruise followed in sixth with Collateral which shot up $6.5M, off 36%, for a cume of $80.2M. The century mark is still within the DreamWorks film's reach. Fox's horror actioner Alien vs. Predator crumbled 61% in its third battle to $4.9M. With $72.2M captured to date, the franchise combo should find its way to a meaty $80-85M.

Suspense drama Open Water dropped 58% in its second weekend of wide release to $4.8M. The low budget Lions Gate film has collected $23.3M to date and is heading for a $32-34M final. The Matt Damon hit The Bourne Supremacy witnessed the smallest decline in the top ten for the second weekend in a row easing only 28% to $4.6M. The Universal sequel has banked $157.7M thus far and should reach $170-175M.

Two new releases opened with similar grosses in tenth and eleventh places. Paramount took the slight edge with the psychological thriller Suspect Zero which bowed to $3.4M while Sony's kidpic Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 followed close behind with $3.3M. Starring Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, and Carrie-Anne Moss, the R-rated Paramount crime pic averaged $2,297 from 1,500 locations and attracted older adults. Averaging $2,548 from 1,276 sites, the PG-rated baby pic starred Jon Voight and Scott Baio and brought in parents with small children. Look for both films to debut on video in about ten minutes.

Three films fell from the top ten over the weekend. The Denzel Washington political thriller The Manchurian Candidate dropped only 29% to $2.8M for a $59M cume so far. The $80M Paramount release should finish with $65-68M. The Village, Disney's top-grossing movie of the year, plunged 49% to $1.9M in its fifth scare bringing the total to date to $110.5M. Look for a $115M final. Warner Bros. saw its animated pic Yu Gi Oh! tumble 58% to $1.4M giving the toon $18.1M so far. It should close with about $20M.

Fox Searchlight continued to expand its two hit indie titles this weekend. Zach Braff's Garden State added 93 theaters and grossed $2.8M from 745 locations for an average of $3,747. Nerd comedy Napoleon Dynamite increased its run by 129 theaters and grossed $2.1M from 706 for a $2,951 average for its tenth consecutive weekend in the Top 20. Cumes stand at $10.9M for Garden State and $22.4M for Napoleon Dynamite.

The top ten films grossed $78.8M which was up 5% from last year when Jeepers Creepers 2 opened at number one with $15.3M over the three-day portion of Labor Day weekend; and up 16% from 2002 when Signs remained in the top spot with $13.4M over the three-day part of its holiday frame.

Compared to projections, Hero doubled my $9M forecast while Anacaondas opened a few notches below my $16M prediction. Suspect Zero and Superbabies were both close to my projections of $5M and $3M, respectively.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the movies of this summer. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether Universal should produce another Jason Bourne film. Of 1,987 responses, 94% said Yes while only 6% voted No.

For a review of Suspect Zero and a NEW review and red carpet coverage of the premiere of Vanity Fair visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Wicker Park, The Cookout, Vanity Fair, and Paparazzi all open over Labor Day weekend.

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

# Title Aug 27 - 29 Aug 20 - 22 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Hero $ 18,004,319 2,031 1 $ 8,865 $ 18,004,319 Miramax
2 Anacondas 12,812,287 2,905 1 4,410 12,812,287 Sony
3 Without A Paddle 8,582,417 13,528,946 -36.6 2,730 2 3,144 27,739,646 Paramount
4 The Princess Diaries 2 8,084,138 13,051,560 -38.1 3,331 3 2,427 75,065,898 Buena Vista
5 Exorcist: The Beginning 7,081,057 18,054,001 -60.8 2,813 2 2,517 31,167,046 Warner Bros.
6 Collateral 6,470,109 10,156,357 -36.3 2,728 4 2,372 80,158,380 DreamWorks
7 Alien vs. Predator 4,907,613 12,409,624 -60.5 2,880 3 1,704 72,173,237 Fox
8 Open Water 4,759,727 11,413,017 -58.3 2,709 4 1,757 23,261,943 Lions Gate
9 The Bourne Supremacy 4,646,125 6,469,275 -28.2 2,079 6 2,235 157,748,855 Universal
10 Suspect Zero 3,446,375 1,500 1 2,298 3,446,375 Paramount
11 Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 3,251,856 1,276 1 2,548 3,251,856 Sony
12 The Manchurian Candidate 2,838,802 4,017,560 -29.3 1,484 4 1,913 59,012,292 Paramount
13 Garden State 2,791,539 3,020,555 -7.6 745 4 3,747 10,857,346 Fox Searchlight
14 Napoleon Dynamite 2,083,493 1,787,873 16.5 706 11 2,951 22,380,194 Fox Searchlight
15 The Village 1,889,981 3,722,806 -49.2 1,560 4 1,212 110,507,857 Buena Vista
16 Spider-Man 2 1,574,837 2,421,434 -35.0 1,186 8 1,328 367,816,575 Sony
17 Yu-Gi-Oh! 1,362,693 3,245,167 -58.0 2,120 2 643 18,121,266 Warner Bros.
18 I, Robot 1,256,914 2,408,877 -47.8 1,003 6 1,253 140,549,286 Fox
19 Benji: Off the Leash! 620,850 1,512,000 -58.9 759 1 818 2,792,309 Mulberry Square
20 Little Black Book 603,551 1,517,423 -60.2 767 3 787 19,806,798 Sony
Top 5 $ 54,564,218 $ 68,457,148 -20.3
Top 10 78,794,167 96,068,313 -18.0
Top 20 97,068,683 111,159,023 -12.7
Top 20 vs. 2003 97,068,683 90,940,301 6.7

Last Updated : August 30, 2004 at 6:00PM 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.