Weekend Box Office (October 1 - 3, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Mr. July became Mr. October as Will Smith energized the North American box office with the computer-animated hit Shark Tale which helped to put some bite back into moviegoing. Also opening well was the firefighter drama Ladder 49 which placed second for the weekend. For the first time in five weeks the marketplace powered ahead of last year. It was the weekend that exhibitors have desperately been waiting for.

Devouring the competition in its opening weekend was the DreamWorks fish flick Shark Tale which gobbled up $47.6M in ticket sales, according to final studio figures, from an amazingly wide 4,016 theaters. The PG-rated film averaged a potent $11,854 per venue and nearly matched last year's $48.1M bow of Scary Movie 3 to become the second best October debut ever. Featuring the voices of Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Jack Black, Renee Zellweger, and Angelina Jolie, Shark Tale packed in the starpower with an underwater mob comedy and posted the second largest debut in studio history after Shrek 2's mammoth $108M last May. The company also had the chance to trailer Madagascar, next year's big computer-animated summer entry set to roar over Memorial Day weekend. Shark Tale was trailered with the ogre sequel all summer which of course has become the year's top grossing film.

Among animated films, Shark Tale generated the fifth biggest opening of all-time after Shrek 2, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story 2. Appeal was broad for the below-the-sea toon with 40% of the audience being non-family, according to DreamWorks exit polls. Among those over the age of 12, 60% were female while kids 12 and under were split evenly gender-wise. The film played equally well in suburban and urban markets and 82% of those polled called the pic "excellent" or "very good".

Will Smith's popularity undoubtedly contributed to the success of the opening. Shark Tale represented his sixth debut in the $50M range and will become his eighth movie to score more than $100M at the domestic box office. Add in a weak marketplace hungry for something new and exciting, plus a massive marketing and distribution campaign, and it's no wonder that the Shark was the king of the sea this weekend. Reviews were mixed while word-of-mouth has been decent, but not at Shrek or Nemo levels.

Debuting in second place with an impressive performance of its own was the firefighter pic Ladder 49 with $22.1M. Directed by Jay Russell (Tuck Everlasting, My Dog Skip), the PG-13 film averaged a fiery $6,776 from 3,260 theaters and ranks as the ninth best October opening ever. Ladder stars Joaquin Phoenix as a trapped fireman who relives his days through flashbacks while John Travolta plays his captain. The Buena Vista film marked yet another comeback for Travolta who has struggled at the box office in recent years as Ladder delivered his best opening since 1999's The General's Daughter which bowed to $22.3M.

Despite facing tough competition in its second weekend, Sony's supernatural thriller The Forgotten held up well dropping 44% to $11.8M. The Julianne Moore chiller has scared up $38.1M in ten days and seems headed for a solid $70M.

Another former chart-topper, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, followed in fourth with $3.3M in its third flight. The Paramount actioner has taken in just $30.6M to date. Buena Vista's baseball comedy Mr. 3000 tumbled 50% to $2.5M raising its 17-day cume to $19.1M.

The lowest decline in the top ten helped the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead rise one notch to sixth with $2.5M. Off only 26%, the Focus Features release has chomped up $6.9M in ten days from less than 650 theaters and could reach $15-20M. The Sony horror-action pic Resident Evil: Apocalypse fell 43% to $2.3M for a $47M total.

With the backing of Oprah, the empowerment drama Woman Thou Art Loosed debuted in limited release but powered its way into the number seven slot nationwide with $2.3M from only 408 theaters. Averaging a solid $5,700 per location, the R-rated film was directed by Michael Schultz (Krush Groove, Car Wash) and starred Kimberly Elise as a woman who struggles to overcome abuse and incarceration. Based on the best-selling novel, Woman was the first top ten hit for indie distrib Magnolia Pictures.

Falling 46% in its second term, the Fox pic First Daughter grossed $2.2M pushing the ten-day sum to a pitiful $7.1M. Look for the Katie Holmes flop to end its campaign with $10-12M. The New Line crime thriller Cellular took in $2M, down 45%, and placed tenth with a $28.2M cume.

Opening with a bang in limited release was Fox Searchlight's ensemble comedy I Heart Huckabees which debuted in only four theaters in New York and Los Angeles but grossed $292,177. Averaging a sensational $73,044 per theater, the R-rated film was directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, Flirting With Disaster) and stars Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, and Mark Wahlberg. Huckabees will expand on Friday into the top ten markets with 45-50 theaters and go wide into over 1,000 theaters on October 22.

Among holdovers in limited release, Focus Features expanded its acclaimed tale The Motorcycle Diaries from three to 67 theaters and grossed $1.1M for a sizzling average of $16,200 and a cume of $1.3M. RBC Radio held steady with its exclusive run of the historical drama Guiana 1838 collecting $37,280, off 47% from last weekend. The total from just one theater is now $108,190 after two weekends.

A September flop and two unlikely August hits fell from the top ten over the weekend. Universal's Wimbledon dropped 48% to $1.7M and lifted its 17-day tally to a disappointing $14.8M. The $31M film should reach $17-19M from North America. The Kirsten Dunst-Paul Bettany pic bowed at number three in Australia this weekend and is still number one in the U.K. for the second straight set, off only 9%.

Paramount's outdoor comedy Without a Paddle declined 45% to $1.3M giving the teen pic $55.4M. The $17M production seems likely to end its journey with a remarkable $58M. The Jet Li martial arts epic Hero dropped 45% to $1.2M in its sixth frame to boost its cume to $51.1M. Miramax should find its way to about $54M domestically which adds to the film's $105M international tally.

The top ten films grossed $98.6M which was up 29% from last year when School of Rock opened at number one with $19.6M; and even with 2002 when Red Dragon set an October record opening in the top spot with $36.5M.

Compared to projections, Shark Tale opened on target with my $48M forecast while Ladder 49 was hotter than my $16M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on which of next weekend's new films will have the biggest opening. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether Shark Tale would debut to more or less than $35M. Of 3,224 responses, 61% correctly guessed More while 39% thought Less.

For a review of The Motorcycle Diaries, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Taxi, Friday Night Lights, and Raise Your Voice all open.

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

# Title Oct 1 - 3 Sep 24 - 26 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Shark Tale $ 47,604,606 4,016 1 $ 11,854 $ 47,604,606 DreamWorks
2 Ladder 49 22,088,204 3,260 1 6,776 22,088,204 Buena Vista
3 The Forgotten 11,820,733 21,022,111 -43.8 3,144 2 3,760 38,085,523 Sony
4 Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow 3,278,417 6,658,035 -50.8 2,721 3 1,205 30,590,216 Paramount
5 Mr. 3000 2,526,420 5,094,867 -50.4 2,239 3 1,128 19,101,298 Buena Vista
6 Shaun of the Dead 2,481,020 3,330,781 -25.5 645 2 3,847 6,933,441 Focus
7 Woman Thou Art Loosed 2,325,474 408 1 5,700 2,325,474 Magnolia
8 Resident Evil: Apocalypse 2,310,267 4,035,512 -42.8 1,986 4 1,163 47,027,651 Sony
9 First Daughter 2,158,637 4,002,067 -46.1 2,280 2 947 7,125,371 Fox
10 Cellular 2,014,074 3,660,608 -45.0 2,020 4 997 28,157,508 New Line
11 Wimbledon 1,739,075 3,323,570 -47.7 1,705 3 1,020 14,837,630 Universal
12 Napoleon Dynamite 1,391,097 1,808,393 -23.1 855 17 1,627 37,614,092 Fox Searchlight
13 Without A Paddle 1,288,613 2,353,609 -45.2 1,439 7 895 55,421,867 Paramount
14 Hero 1,235,134 2,244,628 -45.0 1,140 6 1,083 51,149,752 Miramax
15 The Motorcycles Diaries 1,085,460 159,819 579.2 67 2 16,201 1,341,265 Focus
16 Garden State 802,063 1,085,390 -26.1 428 10 1,874 23,717,421 Fox Searchlight
17 Collateral 703,378 1,452,516 -51.6 802 9 877 99,341,934 DreamWorks
18 The Bourne Supremacy 628,045 1,232,395 -49.0 604 11 1,040 173,252,190 Universal
19 Anacondas 326,392 765,207 -57.3 412 6 792 31,363,565 Sony
20 Vanity Fair 317,088 795,466 -60.1 331 5 958 15,547,161 Focus
Top 5 $ 87,318,380 $ 40,812,592 113.9
Top 10 98,607,852 55,725,788 77.0
Top 20 108,124,197 65,258,351 65.7
Top 20 vs. 2003 108,124,197 87,435,244 23.7

Last Updated : October 4, 2004 at 5:00PM EDT

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing live at 12:30pm ET on CNNfn with a replay at 4:30pm.