Weekend Box Office (August 29 - September 1, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Studios dumped out their usual trash over Labor Day weekend and moviegoers responded by avoiding most of them. That allowed Robert Downey Jr. to rock both the opening and closing ceremonies of the summer movie season as Tropic Thunder retained the number one spot for the third consecutive weekend. Five films opened or expanded nationally and were scattered all across the Top 20, most with weak results. Meanwhile, The Dark Knight moved up a notch in its seventh session and broke through the $500M mark over the long holiday weekend putting an end to what turned out to be a better-than-expected summer box office.

Still ahead of the pack for a third time, Tropic Thunder grossed $14.6M over the four-day Friday-to-Monday holiday weekend according to final studio figures and lifted its impressive total to $86.9M after 18 days of release. The Ben Stiller-directed war comedy saw its three-day take of $11.5M drop only 29% from last weekend and joined the Batman juggernaut as this year's only films to rank number one for three or more weekends. The $90M DreamWorks production is on course to end its run in the vicinity of $110M for Paramount which coincidentally also kicked off the summer blockbuster season at the top in May with Iron Man.

Leading all new releases, but lacking muscle, was Vin Diesel's return to the action genre with Babylon A.D. which bowed to $11.5M over the long holiday weekend. Fox's latest clunker enjoyed the widest launch by far among debuting titles but generated a lackluster $3,405 average over four days from 3,390 theaters. During the Friday-to-Sunday portion, the PG-13 thriller grossed $9.5M for a weak $2,797 average. Babylon A.D. capped off a summer that the studio would like to forget following such misfires as Meet Dave, The Rocker, and The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Some were not costly films and others Fox just distributed for a fee, but the studio still failed to score a $100M+ summer grosser for the first time in eleven years.

The comic book overachiever The Dark Knight smashed through the $500M mark and placed third in its seventh weekend with $11.2M. Warner Bros. bumped its stunning cume up to $504.8M and surpassed the quintuple century barrier on Sunday in its 45th day of release. The new Batman epic has now sold approximately 70 million tickets beating out Spider-Man which snapped up roughly 69 million stubs in 2002. Knight is on a trajectory to end its North American run with about $525M translating to around 74 million admissions. Overseas, The Joker's antics attracted an estimated $19.2M boosting the international total to $417M and the global gross to an eye-popping $922M. That was enough for The Dark Knight to break into the all-time top ten list of worldwide blockbusters. Shattering the $1 billion mark is a virtual guarantee.

Sony's sorority comedy The House Bunny ranked fourth for the weekend with $10.2M over four days in its second term. The Anna Faris starrer has grossed a solid $29.7M in 11 days and could finish in the neighborhood of $45M. The budget was only $25M.

Overture Films saw a respectable debut for its Don Cheadle political thriller Traitor which bowed to $10M over the long weekend and $11.5M in the six days since opening on Wednesday. The PG-13 pic landed in 2,054 theaters and averaged a good $4,872 over four days representing the second best average among films in wide release. Reviews were somewhat positive.

Jason Statham's latest action offering Death Race fell to sixth grossing $7.9M over the long weekend pushing the 11-day total to $24.7M. The $45M Universal release should end up with $35-38M.

Moviegoers finally said no to spoof kings Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg as their newest comedy Disaster Movie flopped taking in a mere $6.9M over four days. Opening in 2,642 locations, the PG-13 pic averaged a weak $2,629 for Lionsgate. Disaster's three-day bow of $5.8M was less than one-third of what the filmmakers saw on opening weekend for their most recent hits Meet the Spartans and Epic Movie which both debuted at number one with respective takes of $18.5M and $18.6M.

Two hit comedies followed. Universal's musical sensation Mamma Mia! sang to the tune of $5.4M and raised its cume to $132.5M. The studio released a new sing-along version in selected theaters on Friday which helped give sales a boost over the holiday weekend. A final domestic tally of $140-145M could result for the $65M songfest. Sony's stoner hit Pineapple Express collected $4.4M and took its sum to $80.8M. The final gross for the $27M production should reach $85-90M.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars rounded out the top ten with $3.8M which lifted the Warner Bros. tally to $30.7M. A $35M final should result.

With seven other comedies ahead of them on the charts, two new R-rated laughers stumbled in wide release this weekend grossing less than $3M each over four days. MGM's teen pic College failed miserably with $2.6M from 2,123 locations for a dismal $1,234 four-day average. Focus expanded its expensive Sundance acquisition Hamlet 2 from 103 to 1,597 theaters in the second weekend and walked away with just $2.1M for a pitiful four-day average of just $1,331. Cume for the Steve Coogan pic is an embarrassing $3.2M which will not help the distributor recoup the $10M it paid for the indie comedy. Hamlet 2 is shaping up to be this year's Happy, Texas which Miramax bought for around $10M at 1999's Sundance but grossed a measly $1.9M from 146 theaters in commercial release that fall.

The top ten films grossed $85.9M over the Friday-to-Monday span which was down 25% from last year when Halloween opened in the top spot with $30.6M; and off 4% from 2006 when Invincible stayed at number one with $15.4M in its sophomore frame.

Compared to projections, Babylon A.D. opened below my $17M four-day forecast while Traitor debuted close to my $10M six-day prediction. The comedies Disaster Movie, College, and Hamlet 2 all debuted with about half of my respective four-day projections of $12M, $6M, and $5M.

Check the NEW chart of the Top 20 Summer Blockbusters.

For DVD  reviews of Gossip Girl: The Complete First Season and The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Bangkok Dangerous opens.

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

# Title Aug 29 - Sep 1 Aug 22 - 24 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Tropic Thunder $ 14,602,121 $ 16,272,195 -10.3 3,473 3 $ 4,204 $ 86,935,945 Paramount
2 Babylon A.D. 11,541,571 3,390 1 3,405 11,541,571 Fox
3 The Dark Knight 11,127,290 10,542,424 5.5 2,750 7 4,046 504,798,337 Warner Bros.
4 The House Bunny 10,177,701 14,533,702 -30.0 2,714 2 3,750 29,728,944 Sony
5 Traitor 10,006,327 2,054 1 4,872 11,507,654 Overture
6 Death Race 7,889,755 12,621,090 -37.5 2,537 2 3,110 24,739,285 Universal
7 Disaster Movie 6,945,535 2,642 1 2,629 6,945,535 Lionsgate
8 Mamma Mia! 5,421,815 4,314,840 25.7 1,968 7 2,755 132,512,495 Universal
9 Pineapple Express 4,448,782 5,452,163 -18.4 2,047 4 2,173 80,832,163 Sony
10 Star Wars: The Clone Wars 3,764,410 5,661,456 -33.5 2,444 3 1,540 30,672,432 Warner Bros.
11 Vicky Cristina Barcelona 3,525,970 3,005,031 17.3 692 3 5,095 13,309,881 MGM
12 The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor 3,443,120 4,177,950 -17.6 1,713 5 2,010 98,671,990 Universal
13 Mirrors 3,326,853 5,010,663 -33.6 1,820 3 1,828 25,395,133 Fox
14 The Longshots 3,041,255 4,080,687 -25.5 2,089 2 1,456 8,190,879 MGM
15 College 2,619,730 2,123 1 1,234 2,619,730 MGM
16 Journey to the Center of the Earth 2,415,283 2,188,254 10.4 801 8 3,015 95,194,543 New Line
17 Hamlet 2 2,126,310 439,925 383.3 1,597 2 1,331 3,152,510 Focus
18 Fly Me To The Moon 3D 2,050,645 1,422,547 44.2 630 3 3,255 6,783,708 Summit
19 The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 1,864,131 2,807,076 -33.6 1,252 4 1,489 41,536,342 Warner Bros.
20 Step Brothers 1,668,902 2,301,992 -27.5 1,036 6 1,611 98,237,639 Sony
Top 5 $ 57,455,010 $ 59,630,867 -3.6
Top 10 85,925,307 82,667,170 3.9
Top 20 112,007,506 99,867,757 12.2
Top 20 vs. Labor Day 2007 112,007,506 136,831,023 -18.1

Last Updated: September 2, 2008 at 7:15PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Friday at 8:50am ET.