Weekend Box Office (October 2 - 4, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Sony ruled the North American box office with an unlikely pair of hit comedies that led the way over a crowded frame that saw five films, each offering its share of laughs, shove their way into wide release. The violent horror-comedy Zombieland enjoyed a strong debut in first place bumping the studio's animated 3D pic Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs into second after two weeks on top. But some other studios collected a bit of cash too. Disney's double feature Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (3D) drew impressive numbers in third while Warner Bros. saw lackluster results for its Ricky Gervais comedy The Invention of Lying in fourth. Debuting less impressively were Drew Barrymore's roller derby flick Whip It and Michael Moore's documentary Capitalism: A Love Story which both tied for sixth.

Audiences didn't skip their latest chance to see characters find new ways to rid the world of the undead as Zombieland powered its way to $24.7M this weekend from 3,036 theaters for a muscular $8,147 average, according to final studio figures. The R-rated film starring Woody Harrelson ended a month-long streak of horror films failing miserably at the box office. In fact, Zombieland fared better than the openings of September's Pandorum, Jennifer's Body, White Out, and Sorority Row - combined.

The comical story of human survivors outsmarting an endless string of zombies appealed to moviegoers as did a quirky marketing campaign. Reviews were extraordinarily positive with many critics calling it the American answer to the British cult hit Shaun of the Dead. Studio research showed that the audience was 56% male and 58% under 25 which was not surprising for this type of pic. With a $24M budget, and early word-of-mouth being positive, Zombieland looks to become a moneymaker. In a business dominated by sequels and tentpoles, Sony has been on fire lately with a series of relatively low-cost hits including District 9, Julie & Julia, and The Ugly Truth.

After two weeks on top of the box office menu, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs slipped to second but only lost 37% of its business to gross $15.8M in its third course. The Sony hit toon suffered a decline that was twice as big as last weekend's when it dipped by a mere 17%. However, with Disney stealing away 3D screens and audience attention with Toy Story, the Meatballs drop was commendable. With a stellar cume of $81.5M in 17 days, Cloudy could still go on to reach $130-140M.

Families flocked to the three-hour double feature Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (3D) spending $12.5M to see a pair of films that have been available on video for years. The Disney stunt generated a strong $7,159 average from 1,745 digital 3D locations as the studio successfully hyped up the event nature of the release. In addition to the 3D upgrade, moviegoers got two modern classics for the price of one and enjoyed a preview of next summer's Toy Story 3 in the middle. Disney promoted this as a two-week-only event so moviegoers responded to the limited time offer. The performance was impressive given the staying power of the new 3D hit Meatballs which is playing to the exact same audience.

Fourth place was claimed by Bruce Willis and android Bruce Willis who joined forces in the sci-fi pic Surrogates which fell 51% in its second weekend to $7.2M. After ten days, the Buena Vista release has grossed a disappointing $26.3M and seems headed for a $40-45M final. The action film cost $80M to produce.

Ricky Gervais saw good news and bad news this weekend with his latest comedy opening better than his last, but still not putting much of a dent into the overall box office. The well-reviewed The Invention of Lying bowed to $7M from 1,707 playdates for a mediocre $4,117 average. Compared to last fall's Ghost Town which debuted to only $5M, Lying's weekend was 45% better and its average was up 24%. But the tale of the first man in history who learns how to lie showed once again that Gervais, though highly respected, is still no bankable star at the multiplexes on this side of the Atlantic. Lying also launched in the United Kingdom and Ireland this weekend with preliminary estimates showing it in a two-way race for first place with Fame.

Drew Barrymore's directorial debut Whip It didn't whip up too much excitement bowing to $4.7M averaging a mild $2,702 from 1,721 sites. The roller derby pic was released by Fox Searchlight and garnered strong reviews. MGM's dance remake Fame stumbled 54% in its second weekend grossing $4.6M. The $18M-budgeted film has grossed $16.5M in ten days and should end its run with roughly $25M.

Faring well with critics but not paying moviegoers was Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story which expanded nationally after a sizzling limited bow last week. The filmmaker's latest doc grossed $4.4M and averaged $4,623 from 962 theaters seeing just moderate results that did not match up to Moore's previous hits. 2007's Sicko also expanded wide in the second weekend and grossed a similar $4.5M but from a more narrow release in 441 locations for a solid $10,208 average. Capitalism may have gone too wide, too fast. Cume is $4.8M.

Matt Damon followed with The Informant! which collected $3.7M, off 44%, for a $26.5M total for Warner Bros. Jennifer Aniston's Love Happens rounded out the top ten dipping 36% to $2.7M giving Universal a weak $18.9M to date.

In limited release, Paramount saw sensational results for its unorthodox release of the no-budget horror film Paranormal Activity which is only playing midnight shows in selected theaters. The Slamdance hit sold out every one of those showings grossing $532,242 from only 33 locations for an amazing $16,129 average. Paramount will expand on Friday to over 40 cities with theaters playing the film throughout the day with normal showtimes in hopes of a bigger breakout hit in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

The top ten films grossed $87.5M which was off 3% from last year when Beverly Hills Chihuahua opened in the top spot with $29.3M; but up a healthy 38% from 2007 when The Game Plan remained at number one with $16.6M.

Compared to projections, Zombieland and Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (3D) both opened ahead of my respective forecasts of $17M and $9M while The Invention of Lying was on target with my $7M prediction. Whip It did not reach my $9M projection but Capitalism: A Love Story came close to my $6M forecast.

Check the NEW chart of the top October openings. Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

For a review of The Invention of Lying visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Couples Retreat opens as the frame's only new wide release.

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

# Title Oct 2 - 4 Sep 25 - 27 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Zombieland $ 24,733,155 3,036 1 $ 8,147 $ 24,733,155 Sony
2 Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 15,809,039 25,038,803 -36.9 2,977 3 5,310 81,501,320 Sony
3 Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (3D) 12,491,789 1,745 1 7,159 12,491,789 Buena Vista
4 Surrogates 7,241,054 14,902,692 -51.4 2,951 2 2,454 26,284,134 Buena Vista
5 The Invention of Lying 7,027,472 1,707 1 4,117 7,027,472 Warner Bros.
6 Whip It 4,650,812 1,721 1 2,702 4,650,812 Fox Searchlight
7 Fame 4,626,952 10,011,682 -53.8 3,133 2 1,477 16,507,188 MGM
8 Capitalism: A Love Story 4,447,378 231,964 962 2 4,623 4,849,067 Overture
9 The Informant! 3,689,235 6,624,085 -44.3 2,425 3 1,521 26,469,331 Warner Bros.
10 Love Happens 2,749,025 4,307,980 -36.2 1,922 3 1,430 18,882,080 Universal
11 I Can Do Bad All By Myself 2,599,720 4,759,833 -45.4 1,569 4 1,657 48,284,523 Lionsgate
12 Pandorum 1,979,061 4,424,126 -55.3 2,506 2 790 7,874,841 Overture
13 Inglourious Basterds 1,419,256 2,683,198 -47.1 1,331 7 1,066 116,894,138 Weinstein Co.
14 9 1,398,401 2,959,231 -52.7 1,598 4 875 29,441,230 Focus
15 Jennifer's Body 1,251,643 3,664,559 -65.8 1,642 3 762 14,777,403 Fox
16 All About Steve 1,145,890 2,285,666 -49.9 1,427 5 803 31,747,303 Fox
17 Bright Star 716,096 671,895 6.6 317 3 2,259 1,936,829 Apparition
18 Julie & Julia 687,252 1,263,283 -45.6 782 9 879 91,845,115 Sony
19 The Hangover 552,565 423,193 30.6 517 18 1,069 275,156,197 Warner Bros.
20 Paranormal Activity (midnight only) 532,242 77,873 583.5 33 2 16,129 776,763 Paramount
Top 5 $ 67,302,509 $ 61,337,095 9.7
Top 10 87,465,911 79,376,189 10.2
Top 20 99,748,037 89,524,770 11.4
Top 20 vs. 2008 99,748,037 106,708,237 -6.5

Last Updated: October 5, 2009 at 5:25PM ET