Weekend Box Office (September 18 - 20, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers chose 3D fun over Hollywood stars as the animated comedy Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs powered ahead of expectations to debut at number one grossing more than the three new live-action films combined. Matt Damon and Jennifer Aniston generated unimpressive numbers for their debuting films The Informant! and Love Happens, respectively, while Megan Fox failed to lure in ticket buyers to her horror entry Jennifer's Body. Overall, the North American box office did see a healthy double-digit gain over last year.

Movie fans of all ages lined up for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs making it the fifth 3D film of the year to open atop the box office chart. The PG-rated toon took in $30.3M from 3,119 theaters averaging a hearty $9,716 per site. It ranks as the third best opening in the notoriously slow month of September trailing Sweet Home Alabama ($35.6M in 2002) and Rush Hour ($33M in 1998).

As with most 3D films before it, Meatballs set a new record for the widest bow for an extra-dimensional pic with 1,828 (59%) of the theaters offering the 3D version including 127 IMAX 3D venues. Many of the multiplexes also devoted at least one screen to the 2D version for those moviegoers that didn't want to pay the higher ticket price for 3D. The studio estimated that between $17.5M and $18M of the weekend gross came from the 3D screens with industry leader RealD stated that more than $16M of that figure came from their screens. IMAX sites delivered $2.5M. Despite the cost, moviegoers still found it worthy to pay for 3D entertainment on the big screen keeping the year-long boom alive and kicking.

The forecast is bright for Cloudy as the weeks ahead should continue to flourish. Critics raved about the film, audiences were very pleased with those under 24 giving it an A grade from CinemaScore, and the road ahead offers few other options for kids. Disney rolls out its double feature of Toy Story & Toy Story 2 in 3D on October 2 but the next major new film for families comes on October 16 with Where the Wild Things Are. Wild and Cloudy are both movie versions of popular kids books.

With studios and exhibitors still working together to put 3D into every cinema in the country, Cloudy's stronger-than-expected opening proves that consumer demand is still healthy for engaging films in the format, even if they don't come from DreamWorks, Pixar, or Disney. Other 3D films that opened at number one this year include March's Monsters vs. Aliens, May's Up, July's G-Force, and August's horror film The Final Destination. In addition, Ice Age 3 has grossed $195M domestically since debuting in second place in July behind the second weekend of the Transformers sequel. Those five 3D films have collectively grossed a whopping $865M from North America alone and Cloudy stands a chance of adding in another $100M or more.

Opening in second place with a mediocre launch was the Matt Damon undercover drama The Informant! which grossed $10.5M from 2,505 theaters. Averaging a so-so $4,177 per site, the R-rated Warner Bros release from director Steven Soderbergh was marketed as a comedy caper pic and played to mature adults. The opening was worse than the debuts for other adult-skewing star-driven dramas from this year like State of Play ($14.1M) and Duplicity ($14M) and was just barely ahead of the $9.7M of The Soloist showing once again how difficult it can be for studios to draw in paying customers with these types of movies. Reviews were generally good for Informant and Damon is a big star, but outside of the Bourne franchise he has troubling anchoring a hit all by himself.

Tyler Perry fell two spots to third place with his latest film I Can Do Bad All By Myself which grossed $9.9M, off a steep 58% in its second weekend. The sophomore drop was identical to the fall that the filmmaker's The Family That Preys suffered one year ago this weekend and was slightly better than the 61% tumble that February's Madea Goes to Jail witnessed. After ten days, Myself has banked a solid $37.7M and looks headed for a $50-55M final.

Jennifer Aniston found herself in fourth place with the new romantic drama Love Happens which bowed to $8.1M. The Universal release averaged a mild $4,245 per location and launched in the fewest theaters among the new films with only 1,898 sites. The PG-13 love story had little appeal outside of its core audience of adult women. Studio research showed that 78% of the crowd was female and 71% was 30 or older. Budgeted at only $18M, Love was not too expensive of a gamble and did show that outside of comedies, the former Friends star Aniston is not necessarily a bankable draw at the box office.

Having the least bite among the weekend's four new releases was the Megan Fox-led horror flick Jennifer's Body which collected just $6.9M from a very wide 2,702 theaters for a dismal $2,542 average. Despite being one of Hollywood's most followed celebrities, the Transformers starlet failed to pull moviegoers into the multiplexes. Body had a strong marketing push from 20th Century Fox and even some starpower from Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody. But the overabundance of horror films in recent weeks took its toll and Fox could not flex any muscles when it came to anchoring her first major film. Her agents will now have difficulty landing big paydays for future films.

With its R rating, Jennifer's Body skewed towards young adults and successfully played to both genders. Studio research showed that 70% of the audience was under 25 and 51% was female. Reviews were not too good, but most horror films are treated that way from critics. Produced for only $16M, Body should be able to break even when it reaches DVD where it should connect with a larger fan following.

The sci-fi toon 9 fell 48% in its second weekend to $5.6M giving Focus a decent $22.9M in 12 days. Look for a final take of about $35M.

Inglourious Basterds reached two milestones this weekend becoming Quentin Tarantino's top-grossing film both domestically and internationally by surpassing two previous hits. The Nazi flick grossed $3.8M, down 38%, for a $110.1M cume for The Weinstein Co. That edged out the director's previous best in North America, 1994's Pulp Fiction with $108M from the Weinstein-led Miramax. Of course, ticket prices were much lower 15 years ago so Fiction has still sold about 73% more stubs. Overseas where Universal is handling the release, Basterds upped its total to $115.7M beating the $111.4M of 2003's Kill Bill Vol. 1 which was Tarantino's previous high. The global tally for the Brad Pitt starrer stands at $226M on its way to at least $260M.

Dropping 40% to eighth place was Sandra Bullock's All About Steve with $3.4M and $26.7M total for Fox. Summit's horror misfire Sorority Row got slashed by 51% in its second weekend to $2.5M giving the fright flick just $8.9M in ten days. Bookending the top ten with 3D pics, the horror sequel The Final Destination landed in tenth with $2.4M, down 57%, for an impressive $62.4M cume to date.

The top ten films grossed $83.2M which was up 14% from last year when Lakeview Terrace opened in the top spot with $15M; and up 11% from 2007 when Resident Evil: Extinction debuted at number one with $23.7M.

Compared to projections, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs surged higher than my $21M forecast while The Informant was very close to my $10M prediction. Love Happens was also on target with my $8M projection, but Jennifer's Body opened to just half of my $13M forecast.

Check the UPDATED chart of the top September openings. Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

For NEW reviews of Jennifer's Body and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and NEW DVD reviews of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Hero, and The Big Bang Theory, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Fame, Surrogates, and Pandorum open.

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

# Title Sep 18 - 20 Sep 11 - 13 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs $ 30,304,648 3,119 1 $ 9,716 $ 30,304,648 Sony
2 The Informant! 10,464,314 2,505 1 4,177 10,464,314 Warner Bros.
3 I Can Do Bad All By Myself 9,877,436 23,446,785 -57.9 2,255 2 4,380 37,749,545 Lionsgate
4 Love Happens 8,057,010 1,898 1 4,245 8,057,010 Universal
5 Jennifer's Body 6,868,397 2,702 1 2,542 6,868,397 Fox
6 9 5,563,134 10,740,446 -48.2 2,060 2 2,701 22,918,077 Focus
7 Inglourious Basterds 3,818,142 6,140,617 -37.8 2,519 5 1,516 110,116,807 Weinstein Co.
8 All About Steve 3,373,212 5,638,243 -40.2 2,159 3 1,562 26,651,633 Fox
9 Sorority Row 2,499,758 5,059,802 -50.6 2,591 2 965 8,880,742 Summit
10 The Final Destination 2,388,473 5,522,377 -56.7 1,805 4 1,323 62,405,206 Warner Bros.
11 Whiteout 2,131,043 4,915,104 -56.6 2,745 2 776 8,553,633 Warner Bros.
12 Julie & Julia 1,914,186 3,156,316 -39.4 2,003 7 956 88,460,267 Sony
13 District 9 1,913,150 3,538,769 -45.9 1,558 6 1,228 111,685,356 Sony
14 Gamer 1,413,921 3,293,055 -57.1 1,605 3 881 18,997,783 Lionsgate
15 G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra 1,377,943 2,455,620 -43.9 1,361 7 1,012 146,189,915 Paramount
16 The Time Traveler's Wife 1,029,388 2,307,017 -55.4 1,372 6 750 60,825,021 Warner Bros.
17 Halloween II 751,894 2,114,486 -64.4 1,038 4 724 31,477,782 Weinstein Co.
18 Extract 667,284 2,163,337 -69.2 937 3 712 10,137,866 Miramax
19 (500) Days of Summer 644,418 1,174,165 -45.1 608 10 1,060 31,041,803 Fox Searchlight
20 The Proposal 480,548 377,867 27.2 468 14 1,027 162,250,180 Buena Vista
Top 5 $ 65,571,805 $ 51,488,468 27.4
Top 10 83,214,524 71,451,514 16.5
Top 20 95,538,299 86,204,729 10.8
Top 20 vs. 2008 95,538,299 83,148,362 14.9

Last Updated: September 21, 2009 at 6:15PM ET