Weekend Box Office (October 20 - 22, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Three well-reviewed dramas fought over the weekend box office crown, but it was a pair of dueling magicians that North American moviegoers chose first as The Prestige opened at the top of the charts. Close behind was the mob thriller The Departed which remained strong in its third weekend while Clint Eastwood's new war saga Flags of Our Fathers settled for a third place debut. The weekend's two other new releases targeted young females and found their way into the top ten as well. The family drama Flicka stumbled in wide release while the period pic Marie Antoinette did respectable business in moderate release. Overall ticket sales fell from last weekend, but were still up sharply versus a year ago.

Leaving behind their super hero tights, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale topped the box office with The Prestige which opened to $14.8M, according to final studio figures. Averaging a strong $6,489 from 2,281 theaters, the PG-13 pic about two turn-of-the-century magicians who compete for tricks and the heart of a young woman was directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins). Bale reteamed with Nolan after playing the Caped Crusader while Jackman took three turns playing Wolverine in the X-Men films. The Prestige scored good marks from critics and co-starred Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, and David Bowie. With ample starpower, the period drama beat out its rivals to win the weekend and won a decisive victory over fellow freshman Flags which was expected to make a more competitive play for the number one spot. The Prestige also grossed an estimated $1M from international bows this weekend in Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

Remaining in second place for the second straight weekend was Martin Scorsese's smash hit The Departed which dipped only 29% to $13.5M. After 17 days, the Leonardo DiCaprio-Matt Damon crime saga has taken in a potent $76.9M and is on a course to reach $110-120M or more depending on how long its sturdy legs last. The Warner Bros. release averaged an impressive $4,480 from 3,005 theaters in its third mission and is already the fall season's top-grossing film. Overseas, Departed grossed an estimated $5M from 13 markets boosting its international cume to $25M. It ranks number one in the United Kingdom and Australia. The global gross for the Jack Nicholson mob pic has broken through the $100M mark with many more countries still to open. The undercover saga infiltrates Italy and Spain on Friday, and rolls into Brazil, France, and Germany in the weeks ahead followed by Japan in January.

Clint Eastwood, who beat Scorsese at the Oscars in 2005, saw his newest directorial effort Flags of Our Fathers lose out in its box office battle against his old rival. The World War II pic debuted to $10.2M from 1,876 theaters to claim third place. Averaging a good, but not spectacular, $5,461 per location, the Paramount release played to a much older male crowd. Studio research showed that a whopping 80% of the audience was over the age of 30 while men made up 55%. Reviews were good, but critics were not as supportive as they were for Eastwood's last two films Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River.

Budgeted at $90M, Flags was easily the filmmaker's most ambitious project to date and told of the American soldiers who were photographed in Iwo Jima during the final years of the war. Eastwood pics are not known for their powerful openings as his fans typically take their time coming to theaters to see his films. It would be pointless to compare the box office of Flags to Baby since the latter was rolled out over time during Oscar season and didn't open nationally until its seventh weekend right after it scored seven Academy Award nominations. However, it would be fair to compare Flags to Mystic which debuted nationally in its second frame to the tune of $10.4M from 1,467 theaters for a more potent $7,120 average. With less starpower and somewhat weaker reviews, the war tale generated an opening weekend average that was 24% smaller than River's. Still, the road ahead for Flags could be durable as an encouraging 90% of those polled found it to be "excellent" or "very good".

Warner Bros. found itself with a piece of all three of the weekend's top films serving as a co-producer on each film. The studio is handling both The Prestige and Flags overseas. The latter pic was co-financed with DreamWorks which is handling it domestically through its new parent Paramount.

The fall season's only kids hit Open Season remained a strong contender grossing $8.2M for fourth place. Down only 27%, the animated Sony title has boosted its cume to $69.8M and now looks like it has a chance to flirt with the $100M mark and become the second biggest film in the September-October corridor after The Departed.

Opening in fifth place with not-so-impressive results was the girl-and-her-horse drama Flicka which bowed to $7.7M from a very wide 2,877 theaters for a weak $2,678 average. Fox's PG-rated family film performed a bit below the $9.2M opening of last year's Dreamer, another story of a young girl and her steed, which galloped into theaters this very weekend playing to the same audience. The budget for Flicka was only $14M.

Close behind was last weekend's number one film The Grudge 2 which also scared up $7.7M, but tumbled a steep 63% in its sophomore frame. Sony's horror sequel has taken in $31.3M in ten days which is less than half of the $70.7M that its 2004 predecessor grossed over the same period. The first Grudge held up much better dropping 44% in its second weekend despite facing the powerful launch of the first Saw pic. Budgeted at $20M, The Grudge 2 looks to reach $40-45M domestically.

Faring better in his second term was Robin Williams with his political comedy Man of the Year which declined a moderate 44% to $6.9M. Universal has collected a ten-day cume of $22.4M and is heading for $35-40M by the end of its campaign.

Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette got off to a solid start in moderate national release opening to an estimated $5.4M from 859 locations for a sturdy per-theater average of $6,241. The Kirsten Dunst starrer about the former Queen of France played to a young female audience and scored the second best average in the top ten after chart-topper The Prestige. Critics were not too kind to the PG-13 pic.

Dropping to ninth was Fox's action pic The Marine with $3.8M, down 47%, giving the John Cena flick just $12.6M after ten days. A $20M final seems likely. The horror prequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning rounded out the top ten with $3.8M as well, off 50%, for a $35.9M take.

Disney released its modern classic The Nightmare Before Christmas in special 3D engagements this weekend and posted strong numbers from limited release. The Tim Burton concoction grossed $3.3M from only 168 theaters for a sizzling $19,506 per venue. The film originally opened in October of 1993 and grossed a solid $50M.

The R-rated dysfunctional family pic Running with Scissors got off to a potent start opening in only eight theaters but grossing $226,108. The Sony release averaged a muscular $28,263 and expands nationally on Friday. Reviews were mixed for the Annette Bening pic.

Miramax's The Queen kept growing and jumped 48% to $1.5M thanks to an expansion from 46 to 99 playdates. With a stellar average of $15,253 in its fourth frame, the successful widening continued and boosted the total for the acclaimed Helen Mirren film to $3.8M.

Four more fall films fell from the top ten this weekend. Buena Vista's Coast Guard actioner The Guardian took in $3.6M in its fourth mission, down 38%, for a $46.6M total. The Ashton Kutcher-Kevin Costner pic should conclude with a decent $50-55M. The Jessica Simpson comedy Employee of the Month dropped 46% to $2.9M giving Lionsgate $23.9M to date. Look for a final tally of around $30M.

The historical epic One Night with the King took in $2.4M in its sophomore frame, down 42%, pushing the ten-day total to just $7.7M. The 8X release may reach about $12M. Paramount's $12M comedy Jackass: Number Two has grossed a sensational $71.1M thus far after dropping 54% to $1.5M this weekend. The bold stunts sequel should end up with $74M and lots of profits for its studio.

The top ten films grossed $81.9M which was up a healthy 25% from last year when Doom debuted at number one with $15.5M; but down 14% from 2004 when The Grudge opened in the top spot with $39.1M.

Compared to projections, The Prestige powered ahead of my $10M forecast while Flags of our Fathers opened below my $13M prediction. Flicka came in under my $10M projection while Marie Antoinette was on target with my $5M forecast.

For a NEW review of Jaan-E-Mann, plus NEW DVD reviews of The Little Mermaid, Hard Candy, and The Tick, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Saw III and Catch a Fire both open.

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# Title Oct 20 - 22 Oct 13 - 15 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Prestige $ 14,801,808 2,281 1 $ 6,489 $ 14,801,808 Buena Vista
2 The Departed 13,462,256 19,034,294 -29.3 3,005 3 4,480 76,935,185 Warner Bros.
3 Flags of Our Fathers 10,245,190 1,876 1 5,461 10,245,190 Paramount
4 Open Season 8,162,729 11,112,795 -26.5 3,379 4 2,416 69,765,034 Sony
5 Flicka 7,703,551 2,877 1 2,678 7,703,551 Fox
6 The Grudge 2 7,652,791 20,825,300 -63.3 3,214 2 2,381 31,332,993 Sony
7 Man of the Year 6,935,515 12,299,380 -43.6 2,522 2 2,750 22,416,395 Universal
8 Marie Antoinette 5,361,050 859 1 6,241 5,361,050 Sony
9 The Marine 3,795,160 7,138,774 -46.8 2,545 2 1,491 12,617,834 Fox
10 Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Beginning 3,779,829 7,485,290 -49.5 2,569 3 1,471 35,888,968 New Line
11 The Guardian 3,649,384 5,866,998 -37.8 2,558 4 1,427 46,557,099 Buena Vista
12 The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D 3,277,004 168 1 19,506 3,277,004 Buena Vista
13 Employee of the Month 2,865,745 5,271,088 -45.6 2,141 3 1,339 23,904,472 Lionsgate
14 One Night with the King 2,377,203 4,106,862 -42.1 908 2 2,618 7,684,854 8X
15 Jackass: Number Two 1,536,935 3,329,091 -53.8 1,401 5 1,097 71,065,813 Paramount
16 The Queen 1,510,081 1,022,475 47.7 99 4 15,253 3,768,588 Miramax
17 Don 804,388 113 1 7,118 804,388 UTV
18 Facing the Giants 762,851 840,768 -9.3 325 4 2,347 5,201,931 Goldwyn
19 The Illusionist 744,221 1,374,959 -45.9 592 10 1,257 37,456,405 Yari Film Group
20 Little Miss Sunshine 541,716 872,422 -37.9 367 13 1,476 57,209,137 Fox Searchlight
Top 5 $ 54,375,534 $ 70,757,059 -23.2
Top 10 81,899,879 96,469,872 -15.1
Top 20 99,969,407 105,185,590 -5.0
Top 20 vs. 2005 99,969,407 80,640,981 24.0

Last Updated : October 23, 2006 at 6:00PM EDT

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