Weekend Box Office (September 15 - 17, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Wrestler-turned-actor The Rock suffered the worst opening of his career with the football drama Gridiron Gang, but thanks to weak competition, it was still enough to capture the number one position at the North American box office. The new murder mystery The Black Dahlia bowed in second place with less-than-spectacular results while fellow freshmen Everyone's Hero and The Last Kiss both failed to excite moviegoers. For the first time in over a year, only three movies were able to gross more than $5M during the frame. Overall ticket sales rose slightly from last weekend's dismal showing, but still managed to post the second worst performance of 2006 giving the fall season a worrisome start.

For the third time in the last four weekends, football ruled the box office as Gridiron Gang topped the charts with a $14.4M kickoff, according to final studio figures. Playing extremely wide in 3,504 theaters, the PG-13 drama averaged a decent $4,114 per site and gave The Rock the fifth number one opener of his career, but also his smallest debut ever. The action star continued to see diminishing returns on opening weekend with Gang which followed last fall's Doom ($15.5M), 2004's remake of Walking Tall ($15.5M), The Rundown ($18.5M) in 2003, and 2002's The Scorpion King ($36.1M). The Rock also saw a $23.5M bow for the 2005 flick Be Cool, but his comedic turn was only a supporting role.

In Gridiron Gang, the charismatic actor plays a juvenile detention camp counselor who inspires delinquent kids by coaching them in football. Budgeted at about $30M, the pic played to a younger and more male audience, as expected. Studio research showed that 52% of the crowd consisted of guys and 55% was under the age of 25. Reviews were not very good.

For Sony, Gang's top spot bow marked the tenth number one opening of the year for the studio setting a new industry record. Having already banked over $1 billion in box office this year, Sony aims to extend its record performance with promising sequels like The Grudge 2 and Casino Royale which debut in October and November, respectively. The studio has opened a whopping 18 films so far in 2006, the most of any distributor. It has placed films in the top ten in all but two weekends this year.

September is often the worst month of the year at the box office as people shift their attention to other distractions like a new school year, a new television season, and the return of football. But this year, the late summer and early fall have been especially slow at theaters. Over the past two months, only one film (Talladega Nights) has managed to open north of $30M. Four films did the deed during the same period in each of the last two years while five surpassed that mark in 2003.

Universal debuted its new crime thriller The Black Dahlia in second place with just $10M. Playing in about 1,300 fewer theaters than Gridiron Gang, the Brian De Palma-directed pic averaged a moderate $4,495 per location giving it the best average among all the weekend's wide releases. Starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, and Hilary Swank, Dahlia played to a mature adult audience with its tale of the investigation behind the brutal murder of a Hollywood starlet in the 1940s. The $60M film needed strong reviews to score with its target audience, but was met with little support from critics. In fact, the film scored only a 30% rating on RottenTomatoes.com's critic scale which was even lower than Gridiron Gang's 43%.

The weekend's two other new national releases were mostly ignored by moviegoers. Fox opened its animated baseball kidpic Everyone's Hero to $6.1M from a very wide 2,896 theaters. Co-directed by the late Christopher Reeve, the G-rated film averaged a soft $2,093 per site. 2006 has seen nearly a dozen toons invade the multiplexes. Hero's opening ranks as the second worst of the year for an animated pic trailing only Doogal's $3.6M launch in February.

Paramount quietly opened its DreamWorks romantic comedy The Last Kiss in fifth place with only $4.6M. Landing in a mere 1,357 theaters, the R-rated film starring Zach Braff as a soon-to-be-dad with jitters averaged a mild $3,410 per location. Reviews were mixed.

Falling from first place was the supernatural teen thriller The Covenant which grossed $4.8M for fourth place, off 46% from its debut. With $15.8M collected in ten days, Sony's $20M pic could end its run with $24-26M. Another former number one, Buena Vista's football drama Invincible, placed sixth with $4.1M, down only 27%, lifting the total to $51.1M.

A pair of solid word-of-mouth hits from smaller distributors followed. Yari Film Group's period mystery The Illusionist slipped just 20% to $3.6M in its third weekend of wide release and upped its cume to $23.1M. Fox Searchlight's indie hit Little Miss Sunshine became the company's second-biggest grosser of all-time this weekend taking in $3.3M, down just 22%, raising the sum to $46.4M. The distributor's only bigger hit has been 2004's Sideways with $71.5M thanks to a prolonged Oscar run.

The George Reeves murder mystery Hollywoodland fell sharply in its second weekend tumbling 54% to $2.7M. Suffering the worst decline in the top ten, the Focus release has taken in a disappointing $10.5M in ten days and looks headed for a quick finish with only $15-17M. Rounding out the top ten was the Jason Statham actioner Crank with $2.7M as well, down 45%, giving Lionsgate $24.4M to date.

Buena Vista offered sneak previews in 800 theaters on Saturday for its upcoming marine adventure The Guardian and drew a well-balanced audience with males slightly edging out the women with 51% of the crowd. The Ashton Kutcher-Kevin Costner pic played to 70% capacity and will officially open on September 29 opposite Sony's animal toon Open Season and MGM's comedy School for Scoundrels.

Arthouses were flooded with new product this weekend as a number of films platformed in hopes of generating strong indie buzz. Lionsgate got off to a good start with its documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon which debuted in only six theaters and grossed $69,143 for a solid $11,523 average. The film expands on September 29 into more than ten additional markets.

Proving once again that he is not much of a box office draw without pirates or Hobbits around, Orlando Bloom's new revenge thriller Haven flopped in its debut grossing $38,355 from 24 sites for a dismal $1,598 average for Yari Film Group. Fox Searchlight also struggled with its new wedding mockumentary Confetti which debuted to $20,560 from a dozen sites for a poor $1,713 average. Both films still plan to expand this Friday with Haven widening to about 75 theaters and Confetti falling into over 130 playdates.

Four films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. The Thai action pic The Protector grossed $2.5M in its sophomore frame falling 51% from its opening. The Weinstein Co. has kicked up $9.1M in ten days and should end up with only $13-15M. Nicolas Cage's suspense thriller The Wicker Man dropped 47% to $2.1M pushing the cume to a lukewarm $20.8M. The Warner Bros. title looks to complete its run with around $25M.

The summer's top-grossing comedy, Tallageda Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, slipped 35% to $2M in its seventh lap and boosted its stellar total to $145M. Sony's Will Ferrell smash could cross the $150M line before calling it quits. Paramount's Barnyard, another late-summer hit, grossed $1.7M while also in its seventh weekend. Down 39%, the animated entry has laughed up $69.1M thus far and is headed for $72-74M.

The top ten films grossed $56.3M which was down 15% from last year when Just Like Heaven debuted at number one with $16.4M; and down 6% from 2004 when Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow opened in the top spot with $15.6M.

Compared to projections, Gridiron Gang opened a couple of notches below my $17M forecast while The Black Dahlia debuted one notch above my $9M prediction. Both Everyone's Hero and The Last Kiss were very close to my respective projections of $7M and $4M.

For NEW reviews of Jet Li's Fearless and The Black Dahlia visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Jackass: Number Two, Fearless, Flyboys, and All the King's Men all open.

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

# Title Sep 15 - 17 Sep 8 - 10 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Gridiron Gang $ 14,414,630 3,504 1 $ 4,114 $ 14,414,630 Sony
2 The Black Dahlia 10,005,895 2,226 1 4,495 10,005,895 Universal
3 Everyone's Hero 6,061,762 2,896 1 2,093 6,061,762 Fox
4 The Covenant 4,777,554 8,852,485 -46.0 2,681 2 1,782 15,791,085 Sony
5 The Last Kiss 4,627,989 1,357 1 3,410 4,627,989 Paramount
6 Invincible 4,114,921 5,630,126 -26.9 2,830 4 1,454 51,121,579 Buena Vista
7 The Illusionist 3,623,084 4,514,306 -19.7 1,438 5 2,520 23,126,885 Yari Film Group
8 Little Miss Sunshine 3,319,124 4,273,545 -22.3 1,436 8 2,311 46,359,579 Fox Searchlight
9 Hollywoodland 2,722,954 5,926,177 -54.1 1,551 2 1,756 10,522,553 Focus
10 Crank 2,680,225 4,904,308 -45.3 2,177 3 1,231 24,393,847 Lionsgate
11 The Protector 2,475,333 5,034,180 -50.8 1,541 2 1,606 9,059,180 Weinstein Co.
12 The Wicker Man 2,141,978 4,062,271 -47.3 2,407 3 890 20,770,644 Warner Bros.
13 Talladega Nights 1,973,922 3,012,596 -34.5 1,912 7 1,032 145,014,500 Sony
14 Barnyard 1,652,321 2,715,092 -39.1 1,818 7 909 69,131,901 Paramount
15 Accepted 1,443,420 2,511,445 -42.5 1,458 5 990 34,176,225 Universal
16 Step Up 1,350,484 2,519,702 -46.4 1,408 6 959 63,595,775 Buena Vista
17 Pirates of the Caribbean: DMC 1,282,394 1,994,611 -35.7 1,039 11 1,234 418,423,143 Buena Vista
18 World Trade Center 1,041,893 2,565,386 -59.4 1,474 6 707 69,090,404 Paramount
19 How to Eat Fried Worms 695,558 1,482,722 -53.1 1,121 4 620 12,192,292 New Line
20 Beerfest 525,370 1,401,073 -62.5 714 4 736 18,449,573 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 39,887,830 $ 30,347,276 31.4
Top 10 56,348,138 48,925,086 15.2
Top 20 70,930,811 64,975,180 9.2
Top 20 vs. 2005 70,930,811 78,445,597 -9.6

Last Updated : September 18, 2006 at 5:45PM EDT

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Friday at 9:50am ET.