Weekend Box Office (September 19 - 21, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers were in the mood for suspense as the Samuel L. Jackson cop thriller Lakeview Terrace easily topped the North American box office beating out three new comedy openers. Dane Cook's latest My Best Friend's Girl disappointed, the animated pic Igor bowed respectably, while the Ricky Gervais starrer Ghost Town played to empty auditoriums. The debuting films joined forces for just $36M in ticket sales falling short of the $63M pumped in last weekend by that frame's four-pack of new titles. Still, the top ten managed to come close to year-ago levels.

Sony scored its fifth number one opener of the year with Lakeview Terrace which debuted with a solid $15M, according to final studio figures. The PG-13 film about a veteran cop that terrorizes an interracial couple that moves in next door to him played in 2,464 theaters and averaged an impressive $6,090 per site. Produced for about $20M, Terrace connected with adult audiences despite stiff competition in the marketplace for mature moviegoers. According to studio research, 69% of the crowd was over 25 while 56% was female. For Jackson, it was a chance to flex some solo muscle at the box office as the film had no other stars in it. An effective marketing campaign by the studio's Screen Gems unit also helped to deliver results. Reviews were not too positive, but ticket buyers instead responded to starpower and a good promotional push.

Last weekend's number one film Burn After Reading held up well in its second frame. The caper comedy from the Coen brothers grossed $11M falling a reasonable 42% and lifted its ten-day cume to a solid $36.1M. The George Clooney-Brad Pitt pic enjoyed a smaller decline than those seen by other wide releases from the Oscar-winning filmmakers. 2003's Intolerable Cruelty, which also starred the former Batman, dropped 48% in its second weekend while 2004's Tom Hanks starrer The Ladykillers fell by 44%. Focus looks to ride Burn to the vicinity of $65M.

Dane Cook's newest comedy failed to live up to the numbers posted by his previous efforts. The romantic comedy My Best Friend's Girl, which also stars Kate Hudson and Jason Biggs, bowed to $8.3M from 2,604 theaters for a weak $3,174 average. That was a hefty 40% below the $13.7M of Cook's Good Luck Chuck from this same weekend last year, and 28% behind the $11.4M debut of Employee of the Month from October 2006. All three were released by Lionsgate in roughly 2,600 locations. Girl carried an R rating and earned the same negative reviews the comedian routinely sees from critics.

Debuting to respectable results in fourth place was the new animated comedy Igor with $7.8M from 2,339 playdates. The PG-rated film averaged $3,336 and faced no competition in its quest for family audiences. Pre-release expectations were low since it is not based on any popular brand name property. The MGM release has no other kidpics to face next weekend so it may avoid the large drops seen by most other films.

Three sophomore titles followed. The Robert De Niro-Al Pacino cop flick Righteous Kill tumbled 54% in its second weekend to $7.4M ranking fifth. With $28.5M taken in across ten days, the Overture Films release should eventually reach $40-45M. Kill has already become the top-grossing film for the new distribution company which made a name for itself this summer with the indie smash The Visitor.

Tyler Perry's latest hit The Family That Preys took a tumble in its second weekend falling 58% to $7.3M. The drop was just like the sophomore slides of 58% and 57% for past films Madea's Family Reunion and Daddy's Little Girls, respectively. Lionsgate has banked $28.1M in ten days with Family and should find its way to around $40M by the end of the run. Picturehouse witnessed a sharp decline for its chick flick The Women which fell 46% in its second outing to $5.4M. With $19.3M collected in ten days, the ensemble film could reach the neighborhood of $30M.

Good reviews meant nothing to the new Ricky Gervais comedy Ghost Town which opened poorly in eighth place with $5M. Averaging a mild $3,330 from a subdued wide release in 1,505 locations, the PG-13 film about a dentist that can see and speak to spirits also stars Greg Kinnear and Tea Leoni. The target audience of mature adults had many other options to choose from so competition was tough, plus Gervais has yet to prove himself as a box office draw who can sell tickets. The DreamWorks production was released by Paramount.

Warner Bros. spent its tenth weekend in the top ten with The Dark Knight which grossed $2.9M, off just 29%, for a towering $521.9M domestic total. Overseas, the gargantuan smash raised its cume to $456M giving the superhero blockbuster a stunning $978M worldwide. That puts Knight at number four on the all-time global blockbusters list after Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest which all topped the $1 billion mark. Bruce Wayne should become a box office billionaire in early October. Sony's leggy hit The House Bunny rounded out the top ten dipping 36% to $2.7M pushing the cume to $45.6M.

September is when top distributors start rolling out their awards contenders and this weekend saw two of them generate sensational launches. Paramount Vantage unveiled the Keira Knightley costume drama The Duchess in seven theaters in New York and Los Angeles and grossed $190,426 for a sizzling $27,204 average. Attracting mostly good reviews, the PG-13 film will expand into the Top 20 markets this Friday. Warner Bros. rode into twice as many theaters with its Ed Harris-directed Western Appaloosa which collected $248,847. Averaging a sturdy $17,775 from 14 sites, the R-rated pic stars Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, and Jeremy Irons and will expand nationally on October 3.

The top ten films grossed $72.8M which was off only 3% from last year when Resident Evil: Extinction opened in the top spot with $23.7M; and down 6% from 2006 when Jackass: Number Two debuted at number one with $29M.

Compared to projections, Lakeview Terrace opened a bit higher than my $13M forecast while My Best Friend's Girl came in below my $12M prediction. Both Igor and Ghost Town were on target with my respective projections of $8M and $5M.

For a NEW review of Ghost Town visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Eagle Eye, Nights in Rodanthe, and Miracle at St. Anna all open.

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

# Title Sep 19 - 21 Sep 12 - 14 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Lakeview Terrace $ 15,004,672 2,464 1 $ 6,090 $ 15,004,672 Sony
2 Burn After Reading 11,028,257 19,128,001 -42.3 2,657 2 4,151 36,135,221 Focus
3 My Best Friend's Girl 8,265,357 2,604 1 3,174 8,265,357 Lionsgate
4 Igor 7,803,347 2,339 1 3,336 7,803,347 MGM
5 Righteous Kill 7,424,479 16,288,361 -54.4 3,152 2 2,355 28,534,233 Overture
6 The Family That Preys 7,271,899 17,381,218 -58.2 2,070 2 3,513 28,128,159 Lionsgate
7 The Women 5,417,780 10,115,121 -46.4 2,995 2 1,809 19,321,012 Picturehouse
8 Ghost Town 5,012,315 1,505 1 3,330 5,012,315 Paramount
9 The Dark Knight 2,915,174 4,128,153 -29.4 1,905 10 1,530 521,890,027 Warner Bros.
10 The House Bunny 2,662,650 4,154,427 -35.9 2,675 5 995 45,587,131 Sony
11 Tropic Thunder 2,556,241 4,183,405 -38.9 2,333 6 1,096 106,805,722 Paramount
12 Mamma Mia! 1,046,575 1,827,985 -42.7 1,121 10 934 141,192,290 Universal
13 Death Race 1,036,105 2,056,415 -49.6 1,240 5 836 34,918,855 Universal
14 Vicky Cristina Barcelona 951,512 1,264,481 -24.8 637 6 1,494 19,394,888 MGM
15 Traitor 946,744 2,131,639 -55.6 1,407 4 673 22,372,692 Overture
16 Bangkok Dangerous 844,608 2,592,656 -67.4 1,349 3 626 14,535,371 Lionsgate
17 Fly Me To The Moon 3D 776,759 1,495,243 -48.1 662 6 1,173 11,005,828 Summit
18 Journey to the Center of the Earth 768,325 1,127,360 -31.8 675 11 1,138 99,096,933 New Line
19 Babylon A.D. 754,936 1,864,585 -59.5 1,013 4 745 21,709,956 Fox
20 Disaster Movie 660,627 1,565,854 -57.8 971 4 680 13,600,376 Lionsgate
Top 5 $ 49,526,112 $ 67,096,106 -26.2
Top 10 72,805,930 82,159,396 -11.4
Top 20 83,148,362 94,862,588 -12.3
Top 20 vs. 2007 83,148,362 89,952,359 -7.6

Last Updated: September 22, 2008 at 6:00PM ET

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