Weekend Box Office (September 12 - 14, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND A four-pack of fall films from specialty distributors fueled a resurgence at the North American box office led by the caper comedy Burn After Reading from the Coen brothers which made off with the number one spot. Solid bows also greeted Tyler Perry's newest story The Family That Preys and the Robert De Niro-Al Pacino cop thriller Righteous Kill which landed in second and third, respectively. The female-empowerment pic The Women opened in fourth with lukewarm numbers. The four new titles accounted for a whopping 77% of all money spent on the top ten films. It was also the first time that four September films ever opened to double-digit millions on the same weekend.

Just six months after winning the Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture, Joel and Ethan Coen scored the largest debut of their careers and first-ever number one opening with the crime caper Burn After Reading. The R-rated comedy grossed $19.1M according to final studio estimates giving Focus Features the biggest debut in company history and its first top spot bow as well. Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and recent Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton, the ensemble film averaged a terrific $7,215 from 2,651 sites. The previous bests for the Coens came from 2003's Intolerable Cruelty and 2004's The Ladykillers which bowed to $12.5M and $12.6M, respectively. Reviews were generally good for Burn which benefitted from starpower, cross-gender appeal, and good will created by their triumphs with No Country For Old Men. The performance also comes as good news for Focus which has struggled somewhat since 2005's Brokeback Mountain.

Tyler Perry scored yet another hit with his latest film The Family That Preys which opened close behind in second with $17.4M from 2,070 locations. The Lionsgate release played in the fewest locations of any new pic and its solid $8,397 average was tops among all wide releases. The filmmaker's loyal fan following came out once again giving Perry his third impressive debut in under a year. Last March, Meet the Browns opened in second place with $20.1M and a $10,011 average while last October saw Why Did I Get Married? premiere to $21.4M and a $10,618 average. Both were Lionsgate titles released in just over 2,000 theaters. The audience was dominated by African American adult women just as with the Atlanta-based director's previous films. According to studio research, 82% of the crowd was black, 82% was over 25, and 79% was female. Perry returns once again on February 20 with his next comedy, Madea Goes to Jail.

The pairing of screen legends Robert De Niro and Al Pacino led the new action thriller Righteous Kill to a third place debut with $16.3M in ticket sales. The Overture Films release averaged a solid $5,168 from 3,152 theaters and played to an audience that was not as male-oriented as was expected. In fact, the serial killer drama's audience was slightly more female (51%) while mature adults led the way as 69% of the crowd was 25 or older. Reviews were not good, but starpower drove the sales as moviegoers wanted to see the first pairing of the two men since Heat which opened to $8.4M in 1995 on its way to $67.4M. Kill differed in that the Oscar-winning actors played partners and actually had numerous scenes together for the first time. Pacino nailed his best opening in a lead role since 2002's Insomnia ($20.9M) while for De Niro it was his highest since 2005's Hide and Seek ($22M).

Posting the weakest debut among the frame's new titles was the remake The Women starring Meg Ryan which bowed to $10.1M from 2,962 theaters for a mild $3,415 average. Co-starring a long list of actresses such as Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, and Candice Bergen, the PG-13 film attracted harsh reviews from critics. Women is the final film from Picturehouse and only really had strong appeal to one quadrant - females over 25. With the weekend's other new releases also generating interest with adult women and boasting more male appeal to help bring in couples, the Diane English-directed pic faced intense competition during a time that traditionally sees only so many dollars circulating in the marketplace.

Leading all the holdover pics was Tropic Thunder which dropped 42% to $4.2M raising its total to $103M for Paramount and DreamWorks. It is the 15th summer film to join the century club and was joined by Will Ferrell's Step Brothers which reached $100.1M on Sunday to become the season's 16th blockbuster. Journey to the Center of the Earth should become the final film to join the list as it sits at $98.1M to date. Sony's hit sorority comedy The House Bunny followed closely with $4.2M as well, off just 25%, for a $42M cume.

Dipping only 25%, The Dark Knight continued to draw in audiences in its ninth weekend. The Warner Bros. megahit took in $4.1M and pushed its domestic cume to a towering $517.8M. Getting closer to the billion dollar club, the Caped Crusader pulled in an estimated $6.9M overseas this weekend to raise its international tally to $449.1M and its worldwide gross to a stunning $966.9M. The Dark Knight climbed up to number five among all-time worldwide blockbusters in between 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ($970M) and last year's Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ($961M).

Three star-driven action thrillers rounded out the top ten. Nicolas Cage's Bangkok Dangerous collapsed in its second weekend tumbling 67% to $2.6M falling from first to eighth. The Lionsgate release has collected a meager $12.7M in ten days and should finish with only $18M making it one of the actor's worst-performing action movies ever. The Don Cheadle pic Traitor fell 50% to $2.1M while Jason Statham's Death Race fell 45% to $2.1M. Totals are $20.7M and $33.2M for Overture and Universal, respectively.

Four films fell out of the top ten over the weekend. Fox's Vin Diesel actioner Babylon A.D. dropped 55% to $1.9M for a weak $20.4M total to date. The sci-fi flop should limp to a $24M finish. The runaway hit Mamma Mia! took in $1.8M, off just 36% in its ninth session, and boosted its North American tally to $139.4M. A final of about $145M seems likely. Universal's highest-grossing film of the year also shattered the $300M overseas mark with an estimated $17.5M this weekend. That put the amazing international sum at $307M and the global gross at a stellar $446.4M. Produced for $65M, Mamma Mia! will easily take in over $500M at the worldwide box office by the end of its run.

The spoof comedy Disaster Movie dropped 48% to $1.6M giving Lionsgate just $12.7M thus far. Look for a pitiful $16M by the end of its run. Sony's stoner hit Pineapple Express took in $1.1M, off 51%, for a $86M cume. The $27M production should end with a robust $88M.

The top ten films grossed $82.2M which was up 38% from last year when The Brave One opened in the top spot with $13.5M; and up 46% from 2006 when Gridiron Gang debuted at number one with $14.4M.

Compared to projections, both Burn After Reading and The Family That Preys opened higher than my respective forecasts of $11M and $13M. Righteous Kill and The Women were both very close to my $15M and $11M predictions.

Check the updated chart of the Top 20 Summer Blockbusters.

For a NEW review of Loins of Punjab Presents and a DVD review of Baby Mama visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Ghost Town, My Best Friend's Girl, Lakeview Terrace, and Igor all open.

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

# Title Sep 12 - 14 Sep 5 - 7 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Burn After Reading $ 19,128,001 2,651 1 $ 7,215 $ 19,128,001 Focus
2 The Family That Preys 17,381,218 2,070 1 8,397 17,381,218 Lionsgate
3 Righteous Kill 16,288,361 3,152 1 5,168 16,288,361 Overture
4 The Women 10,115,121 2,962 1 3,415 10,115,121 Picturehouse
5 Tropic Thunder 4,183,405 7,230,710 -42.1 2,927 5 1,429 102,974,069 Paramount
6 The House Bunny 4,154,427 5,512,870 -24.6 2,763 4 1,504 42,008,459 Sony
7 The Dark Knight 4,128,153 5,515,119 -25.1 2,191 9 1,884 517,792,764 Warner Bros.
8 Bangkok Dangerous 2,592,656 7,783,266 -66.7 2,654 2 977 12,723,787 Lionsgate
9 Traitor 2,131,639 4,274,297 -50.1 2,014 3 1,058 20,734,170 Overture
10 Death Race 2,056,415 3,710,915 -44.6 2,007 4 1,025 33,232,495 Universal
11 Babylon A.D. 1,864,585 4,180,570 -55.4 2,062 3 904 20,415,057 Fox
12 Mamma Mia! 1,827,985 2,855,945 -36.0 1,517 9 1,205 139,401,320 Universal
13 Disaster Movie 1,565,854 3,031,307 -48.3 1,802 3 869 12,655,988 Lionsgate
14 Fly Me To The Moon 3D 1,495,243 1,338,605 11.7 698 5 2,142 10,003,617 Summit
15 Vicky Cristina Barcelona 1,264,481 2,115,668 -40.2 726 5 1,742 18,020,252 MGM
16 Journey to the Center of the Earth 1,127,360 1,225,237 -8.0 751 10 1,501 98,076,533 New Line
17 Pineapple Express 1,101,252 2,255,875 -51.2 1,030 6 1,069 86,034,248 Sony
18 Mirrors 896,265 1,789,531 -49.9 1,008 5 889 29,137,157 Fox
19 Star Wars: The Clone Wars 881,447 1,692,345 -47.9 1,005 5 877 33,919,298 Warner Bros.
20 The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor 678,720 1,478,630 -54.1 750 7 905 101,596,445 Universal
Top 5 $ 67,096,106 $ 30,316,262 121.3
Top 10 82,159,396 46,350,874 77.3
Top 20 94,862,588 60,159,593 57.7
Top 20 vs. 2007 94,862,588 70,802,850 34.0

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

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