Weekend Box Office (September 12 - 14, 2003)

THIS WEEKEND With guns blazing, Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, and director Robert Rodriguez all returned to the top spot at the North American box office for the second time in three months with the powerful launch of the action film Once Upon A Time in Mexico. New releases Matchstick Men and Cabin Fever also enjoyed commendable results in their openings claiming second and third places, respectively. The trio of new choices helped invigorate the marketplace which bounced back to year-ago levels after a dismal session last weekend.

Commanding $23.4M in opening weekend ticket sales, according to final studio figures, Once Upon a Time in Mexico led all films at the box office and gave Sony its seventh number one debut of the year. Averaging a terrific $7,137 from an ultrawide bow in 3,282 theaters, the R-rated entry was a follow-up to the 1995 pic Desperado which itself was inspired by the low-budget art hit El Mariachi. All three were helmed by Rodriguez. Mexico, which also starred Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Willem Dafoe, and Enrique Iglesias, delivered the third best opening ever in the month of September after last year's Sweet Home Alabama ($35.6M) and 1998's Rush Hour ($33M) - both of which were PG-13 titles.

Mexico drew upon the fan base of the stylish actioner Desperado which was a modest domestic hit grossing $25.5M eight years ago but grew in popularity over the years on video and television. Hot off the success of this summer's Pirates of the Caribbean, which amazingly is still in the top five this weekend, Johnny Depp added to the appeal of Mexico playing the role of an eccentric CIA specialist. Rodriguez and Banderas were also fresh off their recent number-one hit Spy Kids 3-D. According to studio data, Mexico drew evenly between males and females with 54% of the audience being under 25.

Nicolas Cage debuted in the runner-up spot with his con artist flick Matchstick Men which grossed $13.1M for Warner Bros. The Ridley Scott pic averaged a solid $4,827 from 2,711 runs and drew mostly from adult audiences. The PG-13 title drew positive reviews and also starred Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman.

Horror fans lined up for Cabin Fever, a new low-budget thriller from Lions Gate, which opened in third place with $8.6M from 2,087 theaters. Averaging a good $4,137, the R-rated film finds a group of college graduates confronting a flesh-eating virus while in the remote woods. Cabin Fever hopes to be the year's next hit virus film after June's 28 Days Later which bowed better-than-expected with $10.1M and a $7,986 average.

After a feeble number-one opening last weekend, Paramount's Dickie Roberts held up well in its second weekend dipping just 24% to $5M pushing the ten-day total to $12.9M. Playing well to a family audience, the David Spade comedy looks to find its way to $25-30M. With a Nicolas Cage flick and two R pics making up the new releases, films aimed at kids faced little competition and posted small declines.

In its tenth weekend, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean placed fifth with $4.5M easing a slim 15%. The Johnny Depp smash's treasure chest is now filled with $287.9M in gold putting the film at number 18 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters ahead of 1990's Home Alone which grossed $285.8M. Of course ticket prices were much lower back then.

The studio's other recent hit, Freaky Friday, became the 18th release of the summer season to cross the $100M mark by grossing $4.1M over the weekend for sixth place. Off only 19%, the Jamie Lee Curtis-Lindsay Lohan pic has taken in $102M to date.

MGM's horror sequel Jeepers Creepers 2 followed with $3M, down 54%, for a cume of $31.9M. Universal's Seabiscuit took in $2.8M, off 26%, which brought the sum for the horse racing contender to $113.6M. Shooting up $2.7M was the Sony hit S.W.A.T. which lifted its tally to $112.8M. The Kevin Costner western Open Range dipped 36% to $2.7M as well for a total of $53.5M.

Generating a scorching debut in limited release was the Bill Murray drama Lost in Translation which opened in only 23 venues but grossed $925,087 for a dazzling $40,221 average. Directed by Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides), the critically acclaimed Focus Features release about an American actor in Japan widens into more than 125 locations on Friday.

The Adrien Brody comedy Dummy bowed respectably in five theaters and grossed $30,120 for a $6,024 average. The Artisan release finds the Oscar-winning actor playing a troubled young man who learns to communicate with others through ventriloquism.

Go Fish, the new indie arm of DreamWorks, released the anime feature Millennium Actress but captured just $18,732 from six theaters for a disappointing $3,122 average. No expansion plans have been finalized.

Buena Vista offered sneak previews on Saturday for the Diane Lane drama Under the Tuscan Sky which attracted mostly adult couples with slightly more females than males. An encouraging 90% of those polled would definitely recommend the film which opens in about 1,200 theaters on September 26.

Three films fell from the top ten over the weekend. MGM's comedy Uptown Girls fell 43% to $1.4M and raised its total to $35.5M. Budgeted at under $20M, the PG-13 film should conclude with $37-39M. Two-time chart-topper Freddy vs. Jason tumbled 57% in its fifth frame to $1.4M and lifted its cume to $80.5M. The $30M New Line horror pic looks to end its run with $82-84M. Fox's Heath Ledger thriller The Order collapsed in its second weekend crumbling a horrendous 74% to $1.1M. With just $6.8M collected in ten days, the supernatural flop is set to end with a measly $9M.

The top ten films grossed $69.9M which was even with last year when Barbershop opened at number one with $20.6M; and up 45% from 2001 when Hardball opened in the top spot in the post 9/11 frame with $9.4M.

Compared to projections, Once Upon A Time in Mexico opened a few notches above my $20M forecast while Matchstick Men and Cabin Fever were both very close my respective predictions of $12M and $9M.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on whether or not Pirates of the Caribbean will cross the $300M mark in North America. In last week's survey, readers were asked which of three summer films they most wanted to see a sequel to. Of 3,958 responses, 44% selected Pirates, 36% voted for the The Hulk, and 21% picked Freddy vs. Jason.

For reviews of Cabin Fever and Joggers' Park visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Underworld, Cold Creek Manor, The Fighting Temptations, Secondhand Lions, and Anything Else all open.

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

# Title Sep 12 - 14 Sep 5 - 7 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Once Upon A Time in Mexico $ 23,424,118 3,282 1 $ 7,137 $ 23,424,118 Sony
2 Matchstick Men 13,087,307 2,711 1 4,827 13,087,307 Warner Bros.
3 Cabin Fever 8,633,585 2,087 1 4,137 8,633,585 Lions Gate
4 Dickie Roberts 5,042,028 6,660,540 -24.3 2,083 2 2,421 12,871,357 Paramount
5 Pirates of the Caribbean 4,506,400 5,271,528 -14.5 2,029 10 2,221 287,884,372 Buena Vista
6 Freaky Friday 4,061,689 5,040,247 -19.4 2,567 6 1,582 101,971,030 Buena Vista
7 Jeepers Creepers 2 3,019,860 6,562,008 -54.0 2,784 3 1,085 31,865,481 MGM
8 Seabiscuit 2,754,615 3,705,320 -25.7 2,102 8 1,310 113,606,750 Universal
9 S.W.A.T. 2,708,563 4,570,388 -40.7 2,062 6 1,314 112,791,312 Sony
10 Open Range 2,706,853 4,202,447 -35.6 2,063 5 1,312 53,482,017 Buena Vista
11 Uptown Girls 1,403,912 2,466,987 -43.1 1,425 5 985 35,496,283 MGM
12 Freddy vs. Jason 1,387,720 3,243,261 -57.2 1,577 5 880 80,539,099 New Line
13 The Order 1,140,136 4,438,899 -74.3 1,975 2 577 6,845,194 Fox
14 American Wedding 1,137,375 2,195,325 -48.2 1,011 7 1,125 102,486,890 Universal
15 Lost in Translation 925,087 23 1 40,221 925,087 Focus
16 American Splendor 840,774 580,938 44.7 272 5 3,091 3,871,437 Fine Line
17 The Medallion 835,165 2,183,244 -61.7 990 4 844 21,252,540 Sony
18 The Italian Job 791,525 1,754,500 -54.9 980 16 808 104,733,456 Paramount
19 Finding Nemo 636,935 804,150 -20.8 624 16 1,021 334,702,727 Buena Vista
20 Whale Rider 632,224 893,391 -29.2 492 15 1,285 19,100,089 Newmarket
Top 5 $ 54,693,438 $ 28,104,711 94.6
Top 10 69,945,018 46,161,625 51.5
Top 20 79,675,871 59,654,268 33.6
Top 20 vs. 2002 79,675,871 78,700,557 1.2

Last Updated : September 15, 2003 at 11:30PM EDT

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing at 12:30pm and 9:30pm ET on CNNfn.