Weekend Box Office (September 24 - 26, 2010)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Michael Douglas and director Oliver Stone reteamed for the financial crisis drama Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and scored the best openings of their careers with $19M topping a sluggish box office that saw the top ten fail to break $90M for the fifth consecutive weekend. The PG-13 film marking the return of corporate raider Gordon Gekko (a role that won Douglas the Best Actor Oscar) averaged a decent $5,333 from 3,565 theaters for Fox. Stone's previous best opening was $18.7M for World Trade Center which bowed on a Wednesday in August 2006 while Douglas beat his previous high (in a lead role) of $17.1M for the kidnapping thriller Don't Say A Word which bowed this very weekend in 2001 when it led a box office resurgence just weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Word was also the last number one hit for Douglas.

Co-starring Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, and Josh Brolin, the Wall Street sequel was met with mixed reviews from film critics who didn't love it as much as the first one which opened in December 1987, just two months after the stock markets crashed. The new Gekko pic marked Fox's first number one opener of 2010, something the studio was waiting some time for. It did, however, top the first five weekends of the year with 2009's Avatar. Wall Street played to an older crowd with 65% of the audience being over 30 while males and females were evenly split. Formidable competition for review-reading adults came from last week's acclaimed champ The Town which held up quite well in its sophomore frame.

Warner Bros. landed in second place with the opening of its 3D adventure film Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole which bowed to $16.1M from a very wide 3,575 theaters. The PG-rated kidpic based on the popular book series averaged $4,507 per location which was not too strong considering the higher ticket prices at the more than 2,400 3D locations including 193 IMAX 3D sites. Reviews were mixed and starpower from the voices of Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, and Sam Neill did little to excite families. Plus, how many owl movies soar at the box office?

The book series did not come with as large of a built-in fan base as other literary properties have had when making the move to the multiplexes. The Ga'Hoole launch amounted to about half of the bows from last fall's book-turned-kidpics Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Where the Wild Things Are which opened to $30.3M and $32.7M, respectively.

Strong word-of-mouth is helping Ben Affleck's bank robbery thriller The Town become that elusive type of film that all studios want - the durable box office winner with legs. The Warner Bros. hit suffered the smallest decline among all wide releases dipping only 35% to $15.6M in its second weekend for a solid ten-day score of $48.7M. That puts the Boston-set drama not far behind the pace of the studio's Martin Scorsese winner The Departed which dropped 29% in its sophomore outing with a $57M take in ten days. Town lags by just 15% in terms of gross sales. The critically acclaimed film also scored the weekend's best per-theater average among wide releases with $5,409 in its sophomore session edging out Wall Street and others. Affleck and company should easily be able to make off with $90M in the end and may even reach nine-digit territory.

The high school comedy Easy A followed in fourth with $10.6M dropping a respectable 40% in its sophomore frame. With $32.7M in ten days, the Sony release could be headed for $55-60M.

Opening one spot below was another female-driven comedy that mines high school for laughs - You Again. The PG-rated pic starring Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, and Betty White debuted with $8.4M from 2,548 locations for a mild $3,300 average. Despite the starpower, the Buena Vista release was affected by direct competition from Easy A which still pulled in a sizable number of young women. Even the male-driven dramas Wall Street and The Town have been seeing about half of their business come from females. Critics gave You Again unfavorable marks.

The M. Night Shyamalan production Devil fell 46% in its second weekend - not too bad for a horror film - and grossed $6.6M. After ten days, the Universal release has collected $21.9M and should finish with $32-35M.

Falling 51% in its third weekend was Sony's 3D zombie sequel Resident Evil: Afterlife with $5M for the frame and $52.1M total. International markets brought in an additional $24M boosting the overseas cume to an impressive $150.7M for a stellar global tally of $203M and counting. Afterlife is now the top-grossing Resident Evil pic both domestically and worldwide, thanks to higher 3D ticket prices and continued fan interest in the franchise.

Proving that not all 3D films are big sellers, the animated pic Alpha and Omega dropped 48% in its sophomore frame to $4.7M for a ten-day take of only $15.2M. The Lionsgate release looks to end with around $24M. Sony's hit heist film Takers followed with $1.6M, off 46%, for a $54.9M total.

Christopher Nolan's Inception became the only 2010 release to spend eleven weekends in the top ten thanks to its $1.2M frame. The long-running Warner Bros. smash eased by only 37% and raised its sum to $287.1M from North America.

In limited release, the documentary Waiting for "Superman" which examines the pitfalls of the American educational system earned a terrific grade in its platform debut with $139,033 from just four locations for a scorching $34,758 average. Winning the Documentary Audience Award at Sundance earlier this year, the PG-rated film from the director of An Inconvenient Truth bowed in only New York and Los Angeles this weekend and expands to the top ten markets on Friday. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive and Paramount used an aggressive online pledge campaign to boost interest and engage moviegoers in the release.

Lionsgate saw a solid debut for its horror entry Buried starring Ryan Reynolds which scared up $100,268 from just 11 locations for a $9,115 average. The R-rated chiller opens wider on October 8 against Wes Craven's 3D fright flick My Soul to Take splitting the Halloween month's horror crowd that weekend.

The Will Ferrell-produced sex comedy The Virginity Hit failed to score with audiences opening to a pathetic $301,885. Sony's no-budget pic averaged a puny $431 from an unusually wide release in 700 theaters and showed no signs of being a breakout hit deserving so many playdates.

The top ten films grossed $88.9M which was up 12% from last year when Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs stayed in the top spot with $25M; and up 8% from 2008 when Eagle Eye debuted at number one with $29.2M.

Compared to projections, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps opened a couple of notches below my $23M forecast while Legend of the Guardians was on target with my $16M prediction. You Again opened below my $14M projection.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

For reviews of The Town and Never Let Me Go visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Social Network, Let Me In, and Case 39 all open.

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

# Title Sep 24 - 26 Sep 17 - 19 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps $ 19,011,188 3,565 1 $ 5,333 $ 19,011,188 Fox
2 Legend of the Guardians 16,112,211 3,575 1 4,507 16,112,211 Warner Bros.
3 The Town 15,605,171 23,808,032 -34.5 2,885 2 5,409 48,692,072 Warner Bros.
4 Easy A 10,600,497 17,734,040 -40.2 2,856 2 3,712 32,714,215 Sony
5 You Again 8,407,513 2,548 1 3,300 8,407,513 Buena Vista
6 Devil 6,605,960 12,289,375 -46.2 2,811 2 2,350 21,859,425 Universal
7 Resident Evil: Afterlife 4,954,791 10,002,592 -50.5 2,642 3 1,875 52,073,588 Sony
8 Alpha and Omega 4,735,271 9,106,906 -48.0 2,625 2 1,804 15,164,944 Lionsgate
9 Takers 1,622,302 3,026,285 -46.4 1,413 5 1,148 54,885,175 Sony
10 Inception 1,247,006 1,967,137 -36.6 907 11 1,375 287,053,292 Warner Bros.
11 The Other Guys 992,812 1,972,046 -49.7 1,047 8 948 116,966,981 Sony
12 The American 896,382 2,672,521 -66.5 1,315 4 682 34,607,381 Focus
13 Eat Pray Love 704,613 1,614,431 -56.4 855 7 824 79,040,038 Sony
14 Machete 642,832 1,755,550 -63.4 682 4 943 25,733,677 Fox
15 Despicable Me 582,585 910,965 -36.0 610 12 955 245,514,665 Universal
16 The Expendables 564,081 1,373,298 -58.9 852 7 662 102,070,047 Lionsgate
17 Catfish 452,580 257,285 75.9 57 2 7,940 811,280 Universal
18 Nanny McPhee Returns 394,275 969,345 -59.3 765 6 515 28,226,225 Universal
19 The Last Exorcism 344,675 1,211,349 -71.5 707 5 488 40,773,301 Lionsgate
20 Get Low 317,164 551,494 -42.5 354 10 896 8,317,497 Sony Classics
Top 5 $ 69,736,580 $ 72,940,945 -4.4
Top 10 88,901,910 84,334,484 5.4
Top 20 94,793,909 94,444,473 0.4
Top 20 vs. 2009 94,793,909 89,524,770 5.9

Last Updated: September 27, 2010 at 9:00PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.