Weekend Box Office (October 17 - 19, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND News Corp. scored a well-needed knockout at the North American box office with the one-two punch of Fox's actioner Max Payne which debuted in the top spot and Fox Searchlight's The Secret Life of Bees which bowed in third with the best average of any film in wide release. Lionsgate also performed well with its new presidential flick W. which landed in fourth allowing three new releases to post averages north of $5,000 each. The frame's fourth new player was a dud - Summit's teen comedy Sex Drive found few takers. Overall, the marketplace remained ahead of last year's pace but was about even with 2006's solid October session.

Enjoying its first number one hit in seven months, Fox brought in solid sales for its stylish video game-inspired action pic Max Payne which grossed $17.6M to lead the weekend race, according to final studio figures. The PG-13 film attacked 3,376 theaters and averaged a commendable $5,225 per site. Males made up 64% of the audience for the $35M-budgeted testosterone pic which surprised nobody. Only three films this fall have opened better - Beverly Hills Chihuahua ($29.3M), Eagle Eye ($29.2M), and Burn After Reading ($19.1M). The bow was a bit ahead of the $15.5M debut for another video game actioner from mid-October, Doom starring The Rock from 2005.

For Fox, Payne came as a badly needed hit following a string of seven films that all opened to under $12M, with many debuting poorly with less than $8M. It was the best opening for the studio since June's The Happening ($30.5M) and its first top spot debut since March's Horton Hears a Who ($45M) which remains 2008's biggest non-summer opener. The rest of the year's slate for Fox includes the risky Nicole Kidman-Hugh Jackman epic Australia on Thanksgiving weekend, the Keanu Reeves sci-fi actioner The Day the Earth Stood Still in mid-December, and the Jennifer Aniston-Owen Wilson romantic comedy Marley and Me on Christmas Day.

In a close race for the runnerup spot, Disney's two-time champ Beverly Hills Chihuahua took the lead with $11.4M for a moderate 35% decline in its third weekend. With a potent $69.3M after 17 days, the G-rated comedy is aiming for a place in the century club. Compared to other live-action hits from the Disney factory, Chihuahua is running 18% ahead of The Game Plan from this time last year but 4% behind the pace of The Pacifier from the spring of 2005. Those films went on to gross $90.6M and $113.1M, respectively. Look for the studio's newest kidpic darling to conclude its run right near the $100M mark.

Opening in third place was the 1960s-set drama The Secret Life of Bees which exceeded expectations to score $10.5M in its first weekend of play. With the fewest theaters of any new wide pic, the PG-13 film averaged a muscular $6,617 from only 1,591 sites. African American women made up a large segment of the audience for the film which stars Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keys. Reviews were mixed but thanks to a buiilt-in audience of fans of the original novel, moviegoers still showed up in impressive numbers. Bees delivered the third biggest opening in company history for Fox Searchlight trailing only the 2006 horror remake The Hills Have Eyes ($15.7M from 2,620 sites) and last April's actioner Street Kings ($12.5M from 2,467).

Multiplex voters put Oliver Stone's new presidential drama W. a hair behind in fourth place with $10.5M in ticket sales as well on opening weekend. The Lionsgate release averaged a sturdy $5,175 from 2,030 locations. Starring Josh Brolin as President George W. Bush, the PG-13 film played to a much older crowd than other films. Studio research showed that 47% of the electorate was over 40 years old while males made up 52%. Produced for $30M, W. attracted mixed reviews from critics who generally felt that the film did not have the bold controversial slant that many of the director's past films had. Stone's previous effort World Trade Center starring Nicolas Cage bowed to $18.7M and a $6,334 average in August 2006.

Paramount's action hit Eagle Eye dipped only 36% to $7M for fifth place and boosted its cume to a robust $81M. Close behind was Ridley Scott's star-driven disappointment Body of Lies which tumbled 47% to $6.8M in its second weekend. The Warner Bros. release, which is estimated to have cost north of $100M to produce, has grossed just $24.4M in ten days and looks likely to finish its domestic run with roughly $40M. Overseas audiences will have to respond to the DiCaprio and Crowe names in a big way in order for the terrorism flick to approach breakeven. So far Lies has grossed $6.1M overseas from eight markets with openings set for South Korea this coming weekend, much of Europe and Latin America in November, and Japan in December.

The horror hit Quarantine took an understandably large drop from second to seventh place with $6.1M. Down 57%, the R-rated fright film has banked a solid $24.5M for Sony and looks set to reach $35M. Studio stablemate Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist followed with $3.7M, down 43%, for a $26.5M sum.

Striking out in ninth place was the new teen comedy Sex Drive with $3.6M from 2,421 theaters. Averaging a limp $1,490 per site, the R-rated pic was distributed unusually wide for a no-star laugher of its kind. A much better life on video awaits the Summit title. Rounding out the top ten was the Richard Gere-Diane Lane reunion pic Nights at Rodanthe with $2.7M, off 42%, for a $36.9M total for Warner Bros.

Four films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. The faith-based drama Fireproof eased a mere 18% to $2.6M bumping the cume to a healthy $20.6M. Budgeted at a mere $500,000, the Samuel Goldwyn release has displayed great staying power and could end up with $30M making the Kirk Cameron starrer one of the surprise hits of the year in terms of profitability. The football drama The Express got sacked in its second weekend falling 52% to $2.2M after what was a less-than-stellar debut. With only $8.2M in ten days, the PG-rated Universal release will end with a very poor $12-14M. Most inspirational sports dramas perform better.

The arthouse pic The Duchess dropped 36% to $2.1M giving Paramount Vantage $9.1M to date while playing wide in 1,207 playdates. Yet another period drama Appaloosa grossed $2M, off 39%, for a $14.3M cume for Warner Bros. Final tallies should reach about $15M and $19M, respectively.

The top ten films grossed $80M which was up 10% from last year when 30 Days of Night opened in the top spot with $16M; but off a scant 2% from 2006 when The Prestige debuted at number one with $14.8M.

Compared to projections, Max Payne opened a bit lower than my $20M forecast while The Secret Life of Bees debuted stronger than my $7M prediction. Both W and Sex Drive opened on target with my respective projections of $10M and $4M.

For reviews of Body of Lies and The Express plus DVD reviews of Sleeping Beauty and Schoolhouse Rock: The Election Collection visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Saw V, and Pride and Glory all open.

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

# Title Oct 17 - 19 Oct 10 - 12 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Max Payne $ 17,639,849 3,376 1 $ 5,225 $ 17,639,849 Fox
2 Beverly Hills Chihuahua 11,422,425 17,502,077 -34.7 3,239 3 3,527 69,282,560 Buena Vista
3 The Secret Life of Bees 10,527,799 1,591 1 6,617 10,527,799 Fox Searchlight
4 W. 10,505,668 2,030 1 5,175 10,505,668 Lionsgate
5 Eagle Eye 7,029,718 10,913,762 -35.6 3,326 4 2,114 81,021,825 Paramount
6 Body of Lies 6,824,259 12,884,416 -47.0 2,714 2 2,514 24,424,928 Warner Bros.
7 Quarantine 6,084,580 14,211,321 -57.2 2,463 2 2,470 24,471,512 Sony
8 Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist 3,693,384 6,420,474 -42.5 2,241 3 1,648 26,500,875 Sony
9 Sex Drive 3,607,164 2,421 1 1,490 3,607,164 Summit
10 Nights in Rodanthe 2,657,440 4,541,201 -41.5 2,115 4 1,256 36,869,470 Warner Bros.
11 Fireproof 2,578,271 3,140,997 -17.9 905 4 2,849 20,628,110 Samuel Goldwyn
12 The Express 2,191,810 4,562,675 -52.0 2,810 2 780 8,214,570 Universal
13 The Duchess 2,121,588 3,304,841 -35.8 1,207 5 1,758 9,128,899 Paramount Vantage
14 Appaloosa 2,029,200 3,321,389 -38.9 1,265 5 1,604 14,326,286 Warner Bros.
15 City of Ember 1,730,755 3,129,473 -44.7 2,023 1 856 5,926,753 Fox
16 Religulous 1,446,221 2,230,898 -35.2 540 2 2,678 9,068,325 Lionsgate
17 Lakeview Terrace 1,153,588 2,654,644 -56.5 1,157 4 997 38,228,466 Sony
18 Burn After Reading 1,097,546 2,095,647 -47.6 708 5 1,550 57,118,919 Focus
19 Rachel Getting Married 657,646 445,628 47.6 69 3 9,531 1,693,047 Sony Classics
20 The Dark Knight 412,148 528,328 -22.0 290 14 1,421 527,356,352 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 57,125,459 $ 61,932,050 -7.8
Top 10 79,992,286 80,803,153 -1.0
Top 20 95,411,059 95,608,502 -0.2
Top 20 vs. 2007 95,411,059 88,707,511 7.6

Last Updated: October 21, 2008 at 11:00AM ET