Weekend Box Office (September 29 - October 1, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Ashton Kutcher ambushed the top two spots at the North American box office playing an animated mule and a Coast Guard rookie in Open Season and The Guardian, respectively. Both films enjoyed strong openings pumping in a combined $41M+ and helped the marketplace beat last year's levels for the first time in four weeks. The weekend's other new wide release, the comedy School for Scoundrels, saw more modest results with a fourth place bow.

Sony claimed its usual position atop the charts with the animated comedy Open Season which brought in $23.6M in ticket sales over the weekend, according to final studio figures. Hunting moviegoers in an ultrawide 3,833 theaters, the PG-rated film about funny forest animals fighting off hunters averaged a strong $6,163 per site. Open Season marked the first venture from the studio's new in-house animation division which will compete in the years ahead with dominant players in CG toons like Pixar and DreamWorks. Martin Lawrence and Kutcher led the voice cast.

Sony research showed that 77% of the crowd consisted of parents with children under the age of 12, while girls were a bigger force making up 56% of the audience. A high 89% marked the film "excellent" or "very good". With strong exit polls and the Columbus Day school holiday coming up next week, the $85M film hopes to last throughout the month of October. For the studio, it was Sony's record eleventh number one opening of the year. Of the company's twenty film releases in the first nine months of 2006, half have debuted north of $20M.

Kutcher's face and body showed up in the weekend's number two film, the Coast Guard action drama The Guardian, which opened with $18M. Also starring Kevin Costner, the Buena Vista release averaged a solid $5,556 per theater from 3,241 sites. The starpower helped bring in moviegoers who in turn liked the film. The Guardian earned an impressive CinemaScore grade of A-. Studio research showed that 50% of the crowd was in the 26-49 age bracket while males outnumbered the ladies with 53% of the audience. For Costner, who has not been a major box office force in over a decade, it was actually his best opening since Waterworld's $21.2M debut in 1995. Kutcher has seen many films debut in the same ballpark like The Butterfly Effect with $17.1M, Just Married with $17.5M, and Guess Who with $20.7M.

Falling an understandable 50% from its top spot debut, Jackass: Number Two finished the weekend in third place with $14.6M. With $52.1M in ten days, the $12M production should deliver $70-75M for Paramount plus healthy DVD revenue down the road. The first Jackass film grossed $42.1M in its first ten days on its way to a $64.3M cume in 2002.

Earning passing grades in fourth place was the Billy Bob Thornton-Jon Heder comedy School for Scoundrels which opened to $8.6M. Playing in 3,004 theaters, the PG-13 film about a young loser who seeks advice from an older pro on how to get women averaged a mild $2,864 per site. Reviews were not too encouraging for the MGM release.

Jet Li's Fearless dropped a steep 53% in its second weekend and placed fifth with $5M. The action star's "final" martial arts epic has grossed $18.1M in ten days and looks headed for about $26M. Each of Li's last five films also fell by more than half on its sophomore frame.

Sony's football drama Gridiron Gang fell 52% to $4.6M pushing its cume to $33.3M. Enjoying the smallest decline in the top ten for the fourth consecutive weekend was the sleeper hit The Illusionist with $2.7M, off only 18%, for a total of $31.4M for Yari Film Group. MGM's fighter pilot adventure Flyboys tumbled 61% in its second weekend to $2.4M. With only $9.9M in ten days, a final take of around $14M seems likely.

Yet another period drama The Black Dahlia followed with $2.1M, down 52%, giving Universal only $20.7M to date. Rounding out the top ten with the biggest cume on the list was indie sensation Little Miss Sunshine with $2M, off 29%, for a total of $53.1M for Fox Searchlight. The acclaimed comedy has now matched megablockbusters Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Da Vinci Code, and Cars by spending seven consecutive weekends in the top ten.

A pair of critically-acclaimed dramas about world leaders opened to fantastic results in limited release. Miramax launched its Helen Mirren starrer The Queen on Saturday and grossed $122,014 from just three New York theaters for a potent two-day average of $40,671. The story of Queen Elizabeth II after the death of Princess Diana was double-screened at a pair of the arthouse venues and opened a day later than usual since on Friday it screened as the opening night film of the New York Film Festival. Mirren won the Best Actress prize at the Venice International Film Festival and is considered a major contender for an Oscar nod.

Also a likely Academy Award nominee, but for the Best Actor trophy, was Forest Whitaker whose new film The Last King of Scotland debuted powerfully with $142,899 over three days from only four venues in New York and Los Angeles for a muscular $35,725 average. The Fox Searchlight release finds Whitaker playing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the early 1970s. Since its Wednesday launch, Scotland has grossed $172,036 in five days and will expand into the top ten markets on Friday before spreading nationally on October 20.

Posting a respectable debut in moderate national release was the football drama Facing the Giants which collected $1.3M from 441 theaters for a mild $3,047 average. The PG-rated pic about a coach who finds inspiration from God was released by Destination Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Warner Independent Pictures expanded its Michel Gondry pic The Science of Sleep from 14 to 221 theaters nationwide and grossed $1.1M. Averaging a solid $5,044 per location, the R-rated drama lifted its sum to $1.6M. Lionsgate widened its doc The U.S. vs. John Lennon grossing $200,366 from 57 sites for a moderate $3,515 average. Cume stands at $351,505.

Three films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. Sony's big fall flop All the King's Men crumbled 58% in its second weekend to $1.5M giving the political drama a puny $6.2M in ten days. Rejected by audiences, the Sean Penn flick should finish its run quickly with a horrendous $9M. The studio's supernatural teen thriller The Covenant fell 58% to $1.3M and upped its total to $22.3M. A $25M final should result for the $20M production. Fox's baseball toon Everyone's Hero got crushed by the arrival of Open Season and sank 75% to $1.2M. With a modest $13.3M thus far, the animated film could end up with only $15M.

The top ten films grossed $83.6M which was up 17% from last year when Flightplan remained at number one with $14.8M; but down 15% from 2004 when Shark Tale opened in the top spot with a fierce $47.6M.

Compared to projections, Open Season and The Guardian were both on target with my respective forecasts of $24M and $18M. School for Scoundrels debuted a few notches below my $12M prediction.

For a NEW review of The Last King of Scotland visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Departed, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Employee of the Month, and Alex Rider all open.

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

# Title Sep 29 - Oct 1 Sep 22 - 24 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Open Season $ 23,624,548 3,833 1 $ 6,163 $ 23,624,548 Sony
2 The Guardian 18,006,064 3,241 1 5,556 18,006,064 Buena Vista
3 Jackass: Number Two 14,605,343 29,002,002 -49.6 3,063 2 4,768 52,070,722 Paramount
4 School for Scoundrels 8,602,333 3,004 1 2,864 8,602,333 MGM
5 Fearless 4,983,865 10,590,244 -52.9 1,810 2 2,754 18,066,869 Focus
6 Gridiron Gang 4,581,565 9,456,617 -51.6 3,033 3 1,511 33,258,307 Sony
7 The Illusionist 2,735,500 3,333,383 -17.9 1,319 7 2,074 31,378,398 Yari Film Group
8 Flyboys 2,351,841 6,004,219 -60.8 2,033 2 1,157 9,946,969 MGM
9 The Black Dahlia 2,129,070 4,449,985 -52.2 2,009 3 1,060 20,742,610 Universal
10 Little Miss Sunshine 1,991,723 2,821,315 -29.4 1,065 10 1,870 53,133,641 Fox Searchlight
11 All the King's Men 1,543,633 3,672,366 -58.0 1,520 2 1,016 6,230,588 Sony
12 Facing the Giants 1,343,537 441 1 3,047 1,343,537 Goldwyn
13 The Covenant 1,326,387 3,178,953 -58.3 1,700 4 780 22,265,370 Sony
14 The Last Kiss 1,231,232 2,509,999 -50.9 1,116 3 1,103 10,420,006 Paramount
15 Everyone's Hero 1,182,556 4,690,466 -74.8 2,201 3 537 13,307,759 Fox
16 The Science of Sleep 1,114,651 347,925 220.4 221 2 5,044 1,616,252 Warner Ind.
17 Invincible 1,057,294 2,546,945 -58.5 1,357 6 779 56,322,748 Buena Vista
18 Hollywoodland 551,234 1,476,804 -62.7 529 4 1,042 13,939,745 Focus
19 Talladega Nights 468,235 1,182,868 -60.4 669 9 700 147,421,245 Sony
20 Pirates of the Caribbean: DMC 464,719 868,255 -46.5 485 13 958 420,331,126 Buena Vista
Top 5 $ 69,822,153 $ 59,743,548 16.9
Top 10 83,611,852 77,199,550 8.3
Top 20 93,895,330 91,325,003 2.8
Top 20 vs. 2005 93,895,330 82,746,487 13.5

Last Updated : October 2, 2006 at 7:15PM EDT

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Friday at 9:50am ET.