Weekend Box Office (September 16 - 18, 2005)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Reese Witherspoon's new comedy Just Like Heaven debuted at number one over a sluggish box office frame which saw the top ten drop to its lowest point of the entire year. Other new films were met with mostly disappointing results, holdovers with strong word-of-mouth witnessed slim declines, and a handful of independent films debuted impressively in limited release.

DreamWorks generated a solid, but somewhat underwhelming, top spot debut with Just Like Heaven which opened ultrawide in 3,508 theaters with $16.4M, according to final studio figures. It was the widest launch ever in the month of September, but the PG-13 film's average of $4,678 did not live up to the strength Witherspoon has displayed in the past with other romantic comedies. The Louisiana-born actress has been a bankable draw in this genre with Legally Blonde ($20.4M opening, $7,778 average), Sweet Home Alabama ($35.6M, $10,826), and Legally Blonde 2 ($22.2M, $6,633). Alabama still holds the September opening weekend record. Heaven cost $58M to produce and was met with generally upbeat reviews from critics.

Two factors seemed to have prevented a larger bow for the film. Co-starring Mark Ruffalo, the story of a man falling for the spirit of the woman who last lived in his apartment lacked male appeal and faced stronger-than-expected competition for young women from surprise smash The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The cast and concept did little to attract men as evidenced by studio research which showed that a whopping 77% of the audience was female. 52% were 25 and older and 86% of those polled marked the film "excellent" or "very good." Plus, even with half of its opening weekend sales gone, Exorcism took away a substantial amount of money and played to many of the same people who would have opted for Reese.

After a surprisingly potent opening weekend, Emily Rose dropped 51% in its sophomore session to $14.9M. The decline was on par with what most horror films experience in their second weekends and the Sony title's ten-day cume climbed to $51.6M. Playing in 2,983 theaters, the PG-13 thriller averaged a solid $4,979 which was better than Heaven's debut average. Produced for only $19M, Emily should power its way to about $85-90M domestically.

Lions Gate went after male action fans with its new Nicolas Cage film Lord of War, but generated an opening of just $9.4M. The R-rated film about an international gun smuggling ring averaged a mild $3,337 from 2,814 theaters and did not come close to the openings the action star has seen when paired with producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Instead, Lord bowed below such Cage underperformers as Windtalkers and Matchstick Men which debuted with $14.5M and $13.1M, respectively.

Still showing stamina in its fifth weekend was Universal's The 40-Year-Old Virgin which slipped just 23% to $6M. The Steve Carrell hit continues to add more theaters each week and is now playing in 3,006 locations - its highest count to date. Cume after one month is $90.7M.

Opening in fifth place was the campus thriller Cry Wolf which grossed $4.4M from 1,789 locations. Averaging a disappointing $2,475 per site, the Focus Features release about prep school killings carried a PG-13 rating and attracted mixed reviews.

Fox's action flick Transporter 2 dropped 46% to $4M in its third weekend to boost its 17-day cume to $36.5M. The Constant Gardner followed with $3.6M, off only 23%, giving Focus $24.3M in 19 days. Down 36% to $2.9M was the DreamWorks airline thriller Red Eye which has scared up $55.2M to date.

Two of the year's most durable hits followed. Enjoying a small decline once again was New Line's Wedding Crashers which eased only 22% to $2.5M shooting the cume to an amazing $203.6M. The R-rated comedy sensation has spent the most time in the top ten of any film this year with ten consecutive frames. That beats the nine-week streaks enjoyed by Million Dollar Baby during its Oscar run in the spring and March of the Penguins over the last couple of months. The hit doc was close behind and took in $2.5M, off a scant 5%. The Warner Independent documentary has climbed up to $70.4M to date.

One week before its national debut, Tim Burton's dark animated comedy Corpse Bride platformed in five New York and Los Angeles theaters grossing a stunning $385,078. That gave the PG-rated pic a colossal $77,015 per theater. Warner Bros. goes nationwide into over 2,900 theaters this Friday facing Jodie Foster's action thriller Flightplan bowing in 3,400 locations and the 1970s comedy Roll Bounce skating into 1,700 sites.

With summer gone, several distributors began limited-release campaigns for a wide selection of films this weekend with most seeing encouraging results. Miramax saw a potent launch for its Gwenyth Paltrow-Anthony Hopkins film Proof which grossed $193,840 from only eight houses for a muscular $24,230 average per location. The PG-13 drama reunites Paltrow with her Shakespeare in Love director John Madden. Miramax also dumped its new horror flick Venom into 489 theaters and scared up a weak debut of $519,489 for a pitiful average of $1,062 per site.

The hip-hop saga G opened in 42 theaters and debuted with an estimated $252,000 for a solid average of $6,006. Aloha Releasing launched the Blair Underwood-Richard T. Jones drama in only four non-traditional markets like Memphis and Baltimore.

Warner Independent Pictures opened its Elijah Wood drama Everything is Illuminated in New York and Los Angeles and grossed $66,806 from six cinemas for a strong $11,134 average. The Liev Schreiber-directed film about a young Jewish man searching for the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis will expand into the top ten markets this Friday.

Fox Searchlight got off to a solid start with its British import Separate Lies which premiered in a pair of Manhattan locations to the tune of $22,341 for a $11,170 average. The Tom Wilkinson-Emily Watson drama expands to more cities on September 30 and will gradually expand to additional arthouses throughout October.

Miramax's Robert Redford-Morgan Freeman starrer An Unfinished Life expanded from 139 to 753 theaters nationwide grossing $2.1M. The Lasse Hallstrom-directed film managed a mild average of only $2,725 and raised its total to $3.4M.

Three action entries fell from the top ten over the weekend. Miramax's period adventure The Brothers Grimm dropped 41% to $2M putting its cume at $36.2M. The Matt Damon-Heath Ledger pic should finish with $40-42M. Samuel L. Jackson's flop The Man tumbled 51% in its second weekend to $2M giving New Line a mere $7.1M in ten days. A final tally of about $10-11M seems likely. Paramount collected $1.9M for its revenge hit Four Brothers which declined 36% in its sixth round. Budgeted at over $40M, the Mark Wahlberg flick has grossed a solid $71.1M to date and is heading for about $75M.

The top ten films grossed $66.6M which was up 11% from last year when Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow debuted at number one with $15.6M; but down 23% from 2003 when Underworld opened in the top spot with $21.8M.

Compared to projections, Just Like Heaven and Lord of War both opened below my respective forecasts of $20M and $13M. Cry Wolf and Venom also opened a bit below my predictions of $6M and $1M, respectively.

For a NEW review of Corpse Bride, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Corpse Bride, Flightplan, and Roll Bounce all open nationally.

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

# Title Sep 16 - 18 Sep 9 - 11 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Just Like Heaven $ 16,408,718 3,508 1 $ 4,678 $ 16,408,718 DreamWorks
2 The Exorcism of Emily Rose 14,851,719 30,054,300 -50.6 2,983 2 4,979 51,561,110 Sony
3 Lord of War 9,390,144 2,814 1 3,337 9,390,144 Lions Gate
4 The 40-Year-Old Virgin 5,967,005 7,717,530 -22.7 3,006 5 1,985 90,726,553 Universal
5 Cry Wolf 4,428,209 1,789 1 2,475 4,428,209 Focus
6 Transporter 2 4,012,866 7,389,470 -45.7 2,805 3 1,431 36,495,152 Fox
7 The Constant Gardener 3,618,254 4,726,644 -23.4 1,387 3 2,609 24,289,337 Focus
8 Red Eye 2,859,529 4,470,741 -36.0 2,455 5 1,165 55,185,874 DreamWorks
9 Wedding Crashers 2,527,642 3,252,154 -22.3 1,807 10 1,399 203,620,728 New Line
10 March of the Penguins 2,518,327 2,639,936 -4.6 1,876 13 1,342 70,393,482 Warner Ind.
11 An Unfinished Life 2,052,066 1,008,308 103.5 753 2 2,725 3,370,348 Miramax
12 The Man 2,009,547 4,065,014 -50.6 2,040 2 985 7,149,964 New Line
13 The Brothers Grimm 1,970,306 3,343,644 -41.1 2,002 4 984 36,225,567 Miramax
14 Four Brothers 1,877,892 2,946,003 -36.3 1,509 6 1,244 71,065,317 Paramount
15 Sky High 805,146 1,131,891 -28.9 795 8 1,013 61,706,274 Buena Vista
16 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 737,101 992,389 -25.7 651 10 1,132 203,563,984 Warner Bros.
17 Valiant 723,140 1,123,546 -35.6 949 5 762 18,399,969 Buena Vista
18 The Skeleton Key 627,195 1,510,180 -58.5 896 6 700 46,853,185 Universal
19 Broken Flowers 541,302 753,289 -28.1 372 7 1,455 12,379,258 Focus
20 Venom 519,489 489 1 1,062 519,489 Miramax
Top 5 $ 51,045,795 $ 54,358,685 -6.1
Top 10 66,582,413 70,605,436 -5.7
Top 20 78,445,597 81,021,863 -3.2
Top 20 vs. 2004 78,445,597 71,259,072 10.1

Last Updated : September 20, 2005 at 1:00AM EDT