Weekend Box Office (October 6 - 8, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Martin Scorsese scored the best opening of his career, and his first number one film in fifteen years, with the star-studded gangster thriller The Departed which led the North American box office over the Columbus Day holiday frame. Moviegoers also showed interest in the horror prequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning which debuted in second place, as well as the new comedy Employee of the Month which bowed in fourth with respectable results. The new releases helped to boost attendance at multiplexes as the top ten set a new record for the holiday frame selling just under $100M worth of tickets.

Starpower ruled the box office this weekend as the ultraviolent pic The Departed starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson opened convincingly at number one grossing $26.9M in its first outing, according to final studio figures. The Warner Bros. release averaged a vicious $8,912 from 3,017 theaters and set a new opening weekend record for acclaimed director Scorsese beating the $10.3M bow of his 1991 Robert De Niro thriller Cape Fear which also happened to be the filmmaker's last top spot opener. The 63-year-old director usually sees more narrow releases for his films. His last picture The Aviator took off in limited release before expanding nationally over Christmas weekend in 2004 with 1,796 theaters while his previous pic Gangs of New York bowed in 1,504 locations. Both were set in the past, starred DiCaprio, and released by Miramax. The Departed marked Scorsese's first film ever to debut in more than 2,000 theaters.

A remake of 2002's award-winning Hong Kong blockbuster Infernal Affairs, The Departed finds Nicholson as a crime boss who sends a mole (Damon) into the Boston police force. DiCaprio plays an undercover cop infiltrating the crime syndicate. Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Mark Wahlberg co-star in the R-rated feast. Critics drenched the pic with praise giving it some of the best reviews of the year. Starpower combined with strong reviews and a solid marketing push from Warner Bros. contributed to a powerful turnout from movie fans. Departed brought badly-needed good news to the distributor which is struggling through a year full of costly misfires. It ranks dead last among Hollywood's big six studios in 2006 market share and has only generated two other number one debuts this year - V for Vendetta and Superman Returns.

Produced for a hefty $90M, The Departed seems to have a promising road ahead of it. Not only have critics been giving it high marks, but so have ticket buyers. The gangster film has earned an encouraging A- grade from over 3,000 users on Yahoo Movies. It has also given DiCaprio only the third number one opener of his career and his first since Titanic set sail on its record-shattering voyage in 1997. Damon has enjoyed several top spots debuts in recent years most notably with his Bourne and Ocean's flicks. Meanwhile, Nicholson proved once again why he remains the biggest box office draw of his generation.

Opening with strength in second place was another violent R-rated film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, which bowed to $18.5M. Scaring audiences in 2,820 theaters, the New Line franchise pic averaged a strong $6,563 per venue. The opening was below the $28.1M debut of the 2003 remake of Chainsaw Massacre which went on to gross a terrific $80.1M. However, Beginning was never expected to reach the same neighborhood and with its relatively low $16M production cost, it should easily be yet another profitable horror film.

The new film benefited from a lack of scary movies in the current marketplace, but the road ahead should be tough with a pair of horror sequels set to attack the box office in the coming weeks. The Grudge 2 launches this Friday the 13th while Saw III will be unleashed on the weekend before Halloween. The new Leatherface frightfest performed just like another of New Line's horror franchise pics from this year, Final Destination 3, which debuted to $19.2M in February on its way to a $54.1M final. The two scary movies have delivered the best openings for its distributor over the past year.

Sony's hit toon Open Season fell from first to third place but managed to show good legs easing only 34% to $15.6M in its second hunt. Enjoying a small decline, the PG-rated pic has upped its ten-day cume to a solid $43.8M and could continue to post impressive holds in the weeks ahead as there is little competition for its family audience until November. Look for Open Season to reach $80-85M from North America. Though impressive, Sony Pictures Animation's debut venture still does not seem like it will reach the heights of other non-sequel non-summer digital toons like Ice Age ($176.4M), Shark Tale ($160.8M), Robots ($128.2M), or even 1998's Antz ($90.7M).

The new Lionsgate comedy Employee of the Month opened in fourth place with $11.4M from 2,579 theaters. Averaging a respectable $4,423 per venue, the PG-13 film stars Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson, and Dax Shephard and tells of a love triangle among workers at a superstore. Reviews, not surprisingly, were mostly negative.

Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner dropped three spots with their Coast Guard actioner The Guardian which collected $9.6M in its second mission. Down 47%, the Buena Vista release has collected $32.3M in ten days and should find its way to $50-55M domestically.

The fall season's top-grossing hit Jackass: Number Two dropped 55% in its third weekend to $6.5M pushing its stellar total to $62.8M in 17 days. Later this week, the Paramount sequel will fly past the $64.3M of its 2002 predecessor. The MGM comedy School for Scoundrels tumbled 60% to $3.4M in its sophomore frame. With $14M in ten days, the Billy Bob Thornton-Jon Heder pic should wind up with around $20M.

Jet Li was close behind in eighth place with Fearless which fell 54% to $2.3M putting its sum at $21.8M for Focus. The Rock's football flick Gridiron Gang followed with $2.2M, down 51%, for a $36.6M total to date for Sony. Rounding out the top ten was the durable period mystery The Illusionist which slipped only 31% and took in $1.9M. Yari Film Group has taken in a respectable $34.1M after its eighth weekend, the last six of which were spent in the top ten.

In limited release, ThinkFilm launched its unrated sex romp Shortbus in only six arthouses but grossed $107,907 for a potent $17,985 average. Playing in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, and Vancouver, the John Cameron Mitchell-directed film will expand to ten more markets next weekend. Total from its Wednesday debut is $129,129.

New Line premiered its Kate Winslet-Jennifer Connelly pic Little Children in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles and grossed $97,953. The suburban drama averaged a sturdy $19,591 and will expand over the weeks ahead.

Among holdovers expanding in limited release, Miramax's The Queen reigned supreme taking in $401,978 from eleven theaters for a stunning $36,543 second weekend average. The acclaimed Helen Mirren drama widened from its three-theater debut in New York and has grossed $634,788 to date with a promising road ahead.

Fox Searchlight's Idi Amin tale The Last King of Scotland expanded from four theaters in two markets to 30 sites in 14 markets and grossed $292,730. With a solid $9,758 average this weekend, the Forest Whitaker pic will invade 20 new markets on Friday expanding its dictatorship into more of North America. Cume to date is $533,737 after 12 days.

The Michel Gondry flick The Science of Sleep held steady in 221 theaters but dropped 39% to $680,420 in its third dream. Warner Independent averaged a mild $3,079 and pushed the cume to just $2.7M.

Three films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. Fox Searchlight's word-of-mouth hit Little Miss Sunshine grossed $1.3M in its eleventh weekend, down 36%, and pushed its total to a stellar $55M. Acquired at the Sundance Film Festival in January for a hefty $10.5M, the dysfunctional family comedy has become the second biggest grosser ever for the distributor and looks to end its run close to the $60M mark. That would also make it the second highest grossing R-rated film of the summer after the $63.4M of Miami Vice which cost tons more to produce and market.

MGM's World War I adventure Flyboys crashed 56% in its third flight and took in $1M. With only $11.8M in 17 days, the James Franco flop should finish up with under $14M. The Black Dahlia, another of this fall's historical dramas to be rejected by moviegoers, has collected just $22M to date. Budgeted at $60M, the Universal release should close its case with a mere $23M.

The top ten films grossed $98.4M which was up 22% from last year when Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit debuted at number one with $16M; and up 3% from 2004 when Shark Tale remained in the top spot for a second time with $31.3M.

Compared to projections, both The Departed and Texas Chainsaw opened on target with my respective forecasts of $27M and $19M. Employee of the Month debuted a bit above my $10M prediction.

For a NEW review of The Departed visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Grudge 2, Man of the Year, The Marine, Alex Rider, and One Night With the King all open.

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

# Title Oct 6 - 8 Sep 29 - Oct 1 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Departed $ 26,887,467 3,017 1 $ 8,912 $ 26,887,467 Warner Bros.
2 Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Beginning 18,508,228 2,820 1 6,563 18,508,228 New Line
3 Open Season 15,625,324 23,624,548 -33.9 3,833 2 4,077 43,754,064 Sony
4 Employee of the Month 11,407,751 2,579 1 4,423 11,407,751 Lionsgate
5 The Guardian 9,568,092 18,006,064 -46.9 3,241 2 2,952 32,319,809 Buena Vista
6 Jackass: Number Two 6,516,968 14,605,343 -55.4 3,007 3 2,167 62,810,339 Paramount
7 School for Scoundrels 3,433,587 8,602,333 -60.1 3,007 2 1,142 13,988,365 MGM
8 Fearless 2,289,887 4,983,865 -54.1 1,617 3 1,416 21,751,327 Focus
9 Gridiron Gang 2,236,784 4,581,565 -51.2 2,228 4 1,004 36,557,430 Sony
10 The Illusionist 1,886,165 2,735,500 -31.0 1,149 8 1,642 34,128,177 Yari Film Group
11 Little Miss Sunshine 1,278,904 1,991,723 -35.8 824 11 1,552 55,010,203 Fox Searchlight
12 Flyboys 1,039,073 2,351,841 -55.8 1,471 3 706 11,833,647 MGM
13 Facing the Giants 1,006,207 1,343,537 -25.1 418 2 2,407 2,749,495 Goldwyn
14 The Science of Sleep 680,420 1,114,651 -39.0 221 3 3,079 2,704,212 Warner Ind.
15 The Black Dahlia 553,115 2,129,070 -74.0 930 4 595 22,028,485 Universal
16 The Covenant 417,436 1,326,387 -68.5 691 5 604 23,071,280 Sony
17 The Queen 401,978 122,014 229.5 11 2 36,543 634,788 Miramax
18 Monster House 395,758 229,411 72.5 331 12 1,196 73,034,593 Sony
19 Invincible 392,309 1,057,294 -62.9 551 7 712 57,011,536 Buena Vista
20 The Last Kiss 364,052 1,231,232 -70.4 403 4 903 11,209,469 Paramount
Top 5 $ 81,996,862 $ 69,822,153 17.4
Top 10 98,360,253 83,611,852 17.6
Top 20 104,889,505 93,895,330 11.7
Top 20 vs. 2005 104,889,505 98,154,420 6.9

Last Updated : October 9, 2006 at 9:30PM EDT

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