Weekend Box Office (September 27 - 29, 2002)

THIS WEEKEND Led by Reese Witherspoon's hit comedy Sweet Home Alabama, the North American box office generated the biggest September weekend in history and cemented the blonde actress's status as one of the most bankable twentysomethings in Hollywood. Jackie Chan settled for second place with the solid bow of his action-comedy The Tuxedo while the ethnic comedies Barbershop and My Big Fat Greek Wedding continued to hold on strong.

The skies were blue (and green) for Witherspoon who achieved a career best with the blockbuster debut of Alabama which bowed to an astounding $35.6M, according to final studio figures, making it the largest opening ever in the September-October corridor. The PG-13 film played in an ultrawide 3,293 theaters, another September best, and averaged a sensational $10,826 per playdate. 1998's Rush Hour previously held the September opening weekend record with $33M from 2,638 theaters for a better $12,510 average.

The Reese piece also swiped the record for the best opening for a romantic comedy edging out genre queen Julia Roberts who pulled in $35.1M for 1999's Runaway Bride. Sweet Home Alabama also ranks as the third biggest opening for a female-led film behind the action flicks Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ($47.7M) and Charlies Angels ($40.1M).

Moviegoers flocked to the multiplexes to see Sweet Home Alabama which finds Witherspoon having to choose between her old hometown sweetheart and her wealthy New York beau. Females made up 60% of the audience according to studio exit polls and ticket buyers were very pleased with those polled by CinemaScore.com giving the film an A- grade. Directed by Andy Tennant (Ever After), Alabama also starred Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, and Candace Bergen.

Last year, Witherspoon established herself as an anchor with MGM's Legally Blonde which bowed at number one with $20.4M on its way to a stellar $96.4M. Alabama nearly doubled that opening and will give the 26-year-old star her first ever ticket to the century club. Salary inflation is well under way as Witherspoon already bagged a $15M payday for Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde which will hit theaters next July and battle testosterone films like Terminator 3 and Bad Boys 2 in another sequel-filled summer. Look for William Morris to push their client into the $20M club soon.

Former September opening record-holder Jackie Chan premiered in second place with the new spy pic The Tuxedo which grossed $15.1M. The DreamWorks title swooped into 3,022 theaters and averaged a good $4,980 per site. Reviews were not too encouraging and CinemaScore.com audiences gave the PG-13 film a decent B grade. Co-starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, The Tuxedo performed best with young men as 55% of the crowd was male and 54% under 25. Business from families was also strong. Aside from the Rush Hour blockbusters, which nobody was comparing The Tuxedo to, the opening was similar to the launch of Chan's 2000 action-comedy Shanghai Noon which took in $15.6M over the three-day portion of the Memorial Day holiday weekend. That film went on to gross $56.9M.

After two weeks at number one, MGM's comedy hit Barbershop dropped two spots to third but held on strong slipping just 22% to $10M. The studio added 157 playdates and averaged a still-solid $4,881 from 2,051 theaters. With $51.3M in only 17 days, the $12M pic should find its way to $80-85M adding to Ice Cube's long line of highly profitable hits. Controversy surrounding offensive remarks made by Cedric the Entertainer's character spread through the media all week long and may have helped bring in curious new moviegoers. Last weekend's decline was a higher 38%.

With its amazing run in the Top 20 approaching the half-year mark, My Big Fat Greek Wedding once again enjoyed the smallest decline around easing just 3% to $9.4M for fourth place. The IFC Films smash averaged $5,125 from 1,841 sites. The sleeper sensation has lifted its cume to $136.6M and its neverending honeymoon is now on a collision course with the $175-200M range.

Sophomore titles all fell by more than 45% this weekend. Fox Searchlight's The Banger Sisters led the way once again with $5.4M, off 46%, for a $18.8M total. The Susan Sarandon-Goldie Hawn comedy should finish with about $35M. The Four Feathers dropped 48% to $3.6M pushing its ten-day cume to only $12.4M. Paramount's big-budget war story should concede with around $20M.

Robin Williams followed in seventh with One Hour Photo which collected $3M, down 35%, for a $26.1M total. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever tumbled 61% to $2.7M giving the Warner Bros. title a pitiful $11.6M take.

Signs held up well taking ninth place in its ninth weekend with $2.4M, off 33%, giving the M. Night Shyamalan thriller $221.2M. The Buena Vista release climbed a notch on the list of all-time blockbusters and now sits at number 31 behind last year's Rush Hour 2 which grossed $226.1M. Rounding out the top ten was Fox's Swimfan which plunged 55% to $1.6M for a $26.7M cume.

Sony followed close behind with the comedy Stealing Harvard and the kidnapping drama Trapped with weekend takes of $1.5M each. Harvard has bagged just $12.7M on its way to about $16M while Trapped has captured only $5.7M and should conclude with around $9M.

There was plenty of activity in the limited-release world over the frame. Buena Vista debuted the critically acclaimed drama Moonlight Mile in just five major markets and grossed $329,771. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, and Jake Gyllenhaal, the R-rated pic averaged a sparkling $14,990 from 22 theaters. Moonlight Mile expands nationally into roughly 425 theaters on Friday and will continue to widen throughout October - a month packed with adult fare.

The distributor's Japanese animated hit Spirited Away expanded from 26 to 53 locations and grossed $527,719 for a $9,956 average. The PG-rated toon has bumped its cume up to $1.1M. Media Partners opened the Bollywood psychological thriller Road in 17 theaters and took in $73,636 for a $4,332 average.

Among American flicks, UA's Igby Goes Down grossed $686,000 from 121 theaters for a good $5,669 average and $2.1M total. Lions Gate's Secretary widened from 11 to 53 theaters and took in $361,695 for a solid $6,824 average and $629,329 sum.

The top ten films grossed $88.8M which was up 45% from last year when Don't Say A Word opened at number one with $17.1M; and up 77% from 2000 when Remember the Titans bowed in the top spot with $20.9M.

Compared to projections, Sweet Home Alabama soared higher than my $27M forecast while The Tuxedo opened very close to my $14M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on summer sequels. In last week's survey, readers were asked if Sweet Home Alabama would open with more than $20M. Of 1,954 responses, 77% correctly guessed Yes while 23% said No.

For reviews of Sweet Home Alabama and The Tuxedo visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Red Dragon and Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie both open.

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

# Title Sep 27 - 29 Sep 20 - 22 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Sweet Home Alabama $ 35,648,740 3,293 1 $ 10,826 $ 35,648,740 Buena Vista
2 The Tuxedo 15,051,028 3,022 1 4,980 15,051,028 DreamWorks
3 Barbershop 10,007,996 12,817,223 -21.9 2,051 3 4,880 51,312,650 MGM
4 My Big Fat Greek Wedding 9,434,602 9,748,969 -3.2 1,841 24 5,125 136,628,662 IFC Films
5 The Banger Sisters 5,426,857 10,037,846 -45.9 2,738 2 1,982 18,821,609 Fox Searchlight
6 The Four Feathers 3,556,687 6,857,879 -48.1 2,187 2 1,626 12,377,402 Paramount
7 One Hour Photo 3,021,854 4,631,662 -34.8 1,307 6 2,312 26,107,155 Fox Searchlight
8 Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever 2,738,311 7,010,474 -60.9 2,705 2 1,012 11,589,220 Warner Bros.
9 Signs 2,363,791 3,500,717 -32.5 1,783 9 1,326 221,155,028 Buena Vista
10 Swimfan 1,554,112 3,486,197 -55.4 1,842 4 844 26,676,405 Fox
11 Trapped 1,502,880 3,210,765 -53.2 2,227 2 675 5,725,991 Sony
12 Stealing Harvard 1,488,770 3,303,778 -54.9 2,323 3 641 12,720,603 Sony
13 Spy Kids 2 1,130,047 1,695,600 -33.4 1,570 8 720 81,468,030 Miramax
14 XXX 1,010,682 2,013,634 -49.8 1,261 8 801 139,802,584 Sony
15 City by the Sea 764,416 1,978,267 -61.4 1,034 4 739 21,629,419 Warner Bros.
16 Igby Goes Down 613,890 758,140 -19.0 121 3 5,073 2,048,514 MGM/UA
17 Spirited Away 527,719 449,839 17.3 53 2 9,957 1,110,559 Buena Vista
18 Austin Powers in Goldmember 489,582 925,687 -47.1 707 10 692 211,809,083 New Line
19 Secretary 361,695 182,306 98.4 53 2 6,824 629,329 Lions Gate
20 Moonlight Mile 329,771 22 1 14,990 329,771 Buena Vista
Top 5 $ 75,569,223 $ 46,472,391 62.6
Top 10 88,803,978 64,605,510 37.5
Top 20 97,023,430 74,316,274 30.6
Top 20 vs. 2001 97,023,430 70,050,356 38.5

Last Updated : September 30, 2002 at 6:30PM EDT