Weekend Box Office (September 5 - 7, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers found almost nothing worth paying money for at North American multiplexes as the top ten films at the box office slumped to their lowest gross in five years giving the new fall movie season a disastrous start. Nicolas Cage's latest thriller Bangkok Dangerous suffered one of the worst action openings ever for the Oscar-winning actor, but thanks to a sluggish marketplace it was good enough to claim first place. Summer holdovers performed relatively well with five pics in the top ten dropping by less than 38%, but most wide releases crawled to averages of less than $2,200 as theaters struggled to find ticket buyers.

Bowing to only $7.8M, according to final studio figures, Bangkok Dangerous enjoyed a less-than-spectacular number one debut with a lackluster $2,937 average from 2,650 locations. The R-rated hitman pic gave Cage his second worst opening for an action film since becoming a major player in that genre with 1996's The Rock. Over that twelve-year span, only last year's Next posted a weaker debut for an action film with just $7.1M and a $2,618 average. Reviews were poor and Lionsgate's marketing push was moderate at best.

The weekend after Labor Day is typically one of the slowest frames of the year. With students back in school and a new football season starting, studios generally avoid opening any strong films at this time which in turns helps the box office slow down. But this year with a major tropical storm hitting the east coast and election hoopla getting bigger after the political conventions, moviegoing just was not a priority for people. The top ten films grossed a dismal $46.4M making it the worst showing since this very same weekend in 2003 when the top ten stumbled to nearly identical $46.2M. The Top 20 grossed $59.7M that year and a similar $60.2M this weekend. Factor in ticket price increases and less stubs were definitely sold this time around. This weekend was just as bad as the one five years ago when David Spade's Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star led the chart with only $6.7M in its debut weekend. Bangkok also delivered the smallest gross for any number one film since Dickie.

Following its three-week rule of the box office, the war comedy Tropic Thunder retreated back to a close second place finish with $7.2M dipping only 37%. After its fourth weekend, the Paramount release has collected a solid $96.5M and should cross the century mark next weekend.

The Dark Knight dropped only 36% to $5.5M and raised its amazing North American cume to $512M. Overseas, the Warner Bros. sensation raked in $12.3M boosting the international tally to $438M which allowed the worldwide gross to soar to a staggering $950M. The Christian Bale-Heath Ledger showdown now sits at number six among all-time global blockbusters sandwiched right between last summer's megahits Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ($961M) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ($938M).

Sony's comedy The House Bunny remained in fourth with $5.9M in its third session dipping only 34%. Total stands at $36.6M. Don Cheadle's political thriller Traitor held up well in its second weekend dropping 46% to $4.3M to push the 12-day tally to $17.3M. The Overture Films release should finish off in the vicinity of $28-30M. The Vin Diesel actioner Babylon A.D. fell 56% to $4.2M for Fox putting the ten-day total at $17.4M. A $25M final should result.

Another macho action pic Death Race followed with $3.7M, off 41%, giving Universal $29.9M to date. The spoof comedy Disaster Movie slipped 48% in its sophomore session to $3M. Lionsgate has seen just $10.6M in sales and should conclude its run with a mere $19M or so.

Two successful summer comedy leftovers rounded out the top ten. Mamma Mia! eased 32% to $2.9M boosting the stellar domestic cume to $136.4M allowing it to enter the top ten list of summer blockbusters. Universal's singing sensation smashed through the $400M worldwide mark this weekend thanks to a stellar international frame that saw an estimated $15M. That was enough to push the overseas sum to $280.1M and the global gross to an eye-popping $416M. Mamma is now Universal's top-grossing film of the year both domestically and worldwide beating out the studio's many action offerings like The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Wanted, and The Incredible Hulk which all cost more to produce.

Sony's stoner comedy Pineapple Express took in $2.3M, down 36%, and has grossed $84M thus far.

The top ten films grossed a pathetic $46.4M over the weekend which was down 25% from last year when 3:10 to Yuma opened in the top spot with $14M; and off 5% from 2006 when The Covenant debuted at number one with $9M.

Compared to projections, Bangkok Dangerous opened close to my $9M forecast.

Check the NEW chart of box office grosses for the post-Labor Day weekends from 1998-2008 and the updated 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 Righteous Kill, The Women, Burn After Reading, and The Family That Preys all open to revive the box office.

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

# Title Sep 5 - 7 Aug 29 - 31 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Bangkok Dangerous $ 7,783,266 2,650 1 $ 2,937 $ 7,783,266 Lionsgate
2 Tropic Thunder 7,230,710 11,518,611 -37.2 3,446 4 2,098 96,541,629 Paramount
3 The Dark Knight 5,515,119 8,622,879 -36.0 2,575 8 2,142 511,997,658 Warner Bros.
4 The House Bunny 5,512,870 8,317,426 -33.7 2,736 3 2,015 36,611,667 Sony
5 Traitor 4,274,297 7,868,465 -45.7 2,108 2 2,028 17,265,872 Overture
6 Babylon A.D. 4,180,570 9,484,627 -55.9 3,425 2 1,221 17,378,536 Fox
7 Death Race 3,710,915 6,304,635 -41.1 2,586 3 1,435 29,909,125 Universal
8 Disaster Movie 3,031,307 5,836,973 -48.1 2,642 2 1,147 10,602,140 Lionsgate
9 Mamma Mia! 2,855,945 4,211,495 -32.2 1,904 8 1,500 136,440,050 Universal
10 Pineapple Express 2,255,875 3,535,220 -36.2 1,802 5 1,252 84,013,748 Sony
11 Vicky Cristina Barcelona 2,115,668 2,815,506 -24.9 718 4 2,947 16,026,700 MGM
12 Mirrors 1,789,531 2,751,301 -35.0 1,559 4 1,148 27,733,739 Fox
13 Star Wars: The Clone Wars 1,692,345 2,711,145 -37.6 1,952 4 867 32,752,889 Warner Bros.
14 The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor 1,478,630 2,629,445 -43.8 1,415 6 1,045 100,570,825 Universal
15 The Longshots 1,376,544 2,310,498 -40.4 1,666 3 826 9,893,428 MGM
16 Fly Me To The Moon 3D 1,338,605 1,509,198 -11.3 713 4 1,877 8,324,987 Summit
17 Journey to the Center of the Earth 1,225,237 1,773,815 -30.9 805 9 1,522 96,679,668 New Line
18 The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 975,346 1,435,809 -32.1 1,135 5 859 42,832,311 Warner Bros.
19 College 952,640 2,153,109 -55.8 2,124 2 449 4,107,146 MGM
20 Step Brothers 864,173 1,357,288 -36.3 846 7 1,021 99,415,157 Sony
Top 5 $ 30,316,262 $ 45,812,008 -33.8
Top 10 46,350,874 68,515,837 -32.4
Top 20 60,159,593 88,846,265 -32.3
Top 20 vs. 2007 60,159,593 72,721,798 -17.3

Last Updated: September 8, 2008 at 8:30PM ET

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