Weekend Box Office (October 22 - 24, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Sarah Michelle Gellar led the North American box office with the opening of the new horror film The Grudge which sprinted past industry expectations to deliver a spectacular bow at number one. After three weeks at the top, the animated comedy Shark Tale slipped to second place while the new Ben Affleck holiday tale Surviving Christmas was dead on arrival in seventh place with a miserable opening.

Scaring up a horrifyingly potent $39.1M in its opening weekend, according to final studio figures, Sony's The Grudge took control of the box office grossing more than the next four films combined as young moviegoers looking for a fright flick a week before Halloween lined up in huge numbers. The PG-13 remake of the hit Japanese thriller Ju-On: The Grudge boasted the same director, Takashi Shimizu, and found the former vampire slayer playing an American student in Japan working in a house haunted by a curse. Playing extremely wide in 3,245 theaters, The Grudge averaged a bone chilling $12,058 per venue.

Many elements contributed to the powerful performance. With I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2, and the hit WB series Buffy the Vampire Slayer to her credit, Gellar brought plenty of starpower to her fifth career top spot debut which featured her in exactly the type of film that fans wanted to see her in. Sony picked a terrific launch date as late October is typically when moviegoers demand scary movies the most. Plus with no other major fright pics in the marketplace, The Grudge monopolized the horror crowd. Add to that a PG-13 rating that allows younger teens to all be able to buy tickets and enjoy a good scare, and it's easy to see that the studio will make a killing from the inexpensive $10M film.

The Grudge played to young women as expected. Studio research showed that 55% of the audience was female and 52% was under the age of 21. Reviews were mixed for the latest remake of a Japanese horror hit to make a big splash in the U.S. Two years ago in October, DreamWorks opened The Ring (a remake of Hideo Nakata's Ringu) to $15M on its way to an eye-popping $129.1M and has The Ring 2 (to be directed by Nakata) slated for release in March 2005. The Grudge should continue to encourage Hollywood studios to buy up remake rights for hit Asian films from Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong which can be transformed into American blockbusters with western stars.

The three-week reign of Shark Tale at the number one spot came to an end, but the DreamWorks blockbuster still held on well in its fourth frame. The CGI toon dipped 35% and grossed $14.3M for second place and boosted its total to an amazing $137M. After 24 days of release, Shark Tale is running only 2.6% behind the pace of Fox's Ice Age (another non-sequel computer-animated comedy released during the school year) which stood at $140.7M at the same point on its way to $176.4M. Shark looks capable of swimming to roughly $170M at its current pace as the November 5 launch of the Disney/Pixar film The Incredibles could spark larger declines for the DreamWorks hit.

Miramax's all-star drama Shall We Dance? was the second Hollywood remake of a hit Japanese film in the top three and grossed $8.6M in its sophomore frame. The distributor added 647 runs boosting the playdate count to 2,419 and averaged $3,551 per theater. That represented a 27% dip in weekend sales and a 47% drop in average from last weekend. Starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, and Susan Sarandon, the PG-13 film has grooved to $24.4M in ten days and could be headed for $45-50M.

Universal's high school football tale Friday Night Lights dropped 43% to $6.9M in its third weekend to raise its 17-day score to $47.3M. In fifth place, the Paramount comedy Team America: World Police fell an understandable 47% to $6.4M in its second weekend. The R-rated puppet pic has collected $22.1M in ten days and looks to capture $35-40M by the end of its mission. The firefighter drama Ladder 49 declined 37% to $5.3M in its fourth outing and pushed the cume for the Buena Vista title to $61.4M.

Ben Affleck was slammed by critics and ignored by moviegoers as his latest effort, the holiday comedy Surviving Christmas, suffered an embarrassing opening with just $4.4M. Averaging a pitiful $1,615 from 2,750 locations, the PG-13 film limped into seventh place and performed similar to the notorious Affleck-Lopez project Gigli which opened to $3.8M and a $1,695 average last year.

The Fox comedy Taxi dropped 48% to $4.1M putting its fare at $29.7M to date. Sony's Julianne Moore thriller The Forgotten followed with $3.3M, off 45%, and a total of $62M.

Expanding into national release and popping into the top ten in the number ten spot was the ensemble comedy I Heart Huckabees with $2.9M from 785 theaters. The Fox Searchlight release averaged a decent $3,697 after widening from 65 locations last weekend. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, and Mark Wahlberg, Huckabees lifted its cume to $5.8M and will expand to nearly 1,000 locations this Friday.

The weekend witnessed two sparkling debuts in the arthouse world. Fox Searchlight opened Sideways, a story of two men on a wine tasting expedition in California, in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles and sipped $207,042 for a sensational $51,760 average. The well-reviewed picture expands to about 15 theaters this weekend and will keep widening until Thanksgiving when the Alexander Payne-directed film goes national.

Paramount Classics scored a strong bow for its Christian Bale film The Machinist which opened with $64,661 from three theaters for a solid $21,553 average. Playing in New York and Los Angeles, the R-rated entry will slowly expand to more markets over the weeks ahead adding only a handful of new locations each week.

Three very different films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. The hit Che Guevara film The Motorcycle Diaries eased just 19% to $1.4M and pushed its total gross to $7.8M from less than 300 theaters. With its legs, the Spanish-language film could still see lots more mileage on the road ahead for Focus Features. On the other hand, the Hilary Duff drama Raise Your Voice fell a disastrous 59% to $1.1M in its third date. The New Line flop has grossed just $9.5M and should finish with only little more. Paramount's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow took a 53% nosedive to $578,496 lifting its cume to $36.8M. Budgeted at $70M, the Jude Law actioner is on course to land with a disappointing $38M which does not bode well for the studio's next film Alfie which the actor anchors solo.

The top ten films grossed $95.4M which was down 18% from last year when Scary Movie 3 opened at number one with $48.1M; but up 17% from 2002 when Jackass: The Movie debuted in the top spot with $22.8M.

Compared to projections, The Grudge doubled my $20M forecast while Surviving Christmas halved my $9M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on whether Ray or Saw will open bigger next weekend. For NEW reviews of The Grudge and Sideways, visit The Chief Report.

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

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# Title Oct 22 - 24 Oct 15 - 17 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Grudge $ 39,128,715 3,245 1 $ 12,058 $ 39,128,715 Sony
2 Shark Tale 14,308,271 22,005,952 -35.0 3,656 4 3,914 136,982,460 DreamWorks
3 Shall We Dance? 8,589,988 11,783,467 -27.1 2,419 2 3,551 24,418,113 Miramax
4 Friday Night Lights 6,947,460 12,216,880 -43.1 2,969 3 2,340 47,269,480 Universal
5 Team America: World Police 6,388,442 12,120,358 -47.3 2,620 2 2,438 22,115,806 Paramount
6 Ladder 49 5,324,148 8,503,420 -37.4 2,802 4 1,900 61,365,196 Buena Vista
7 Surviving Christmas 4,441,356 2,750 1 1,615 4,441,356 DreamWorks
8 Taxi 4,123,642 7,891,169 -47.7 2,357 3 1,750 29,729,699 Fox
9 The Forgotten 3,278,603 6,007,726 -45.4 2,253 5 1,455 61,988,961 Sony
10 I Heart Huckabees 2,902,468 914,880 217.3 785 4 3,697 5,807,764 Fox Searchlight
11 The Motorcycle Diaries 1,430,875 1,756,157 -18.5 260 5 5,503 7,810,333 Focus
12 Raise Your Voice 1,126,003 2,757,809 -59.2 1,509 3 746 9,496,963 New Line
13 Woman Thou Art Loosed 781,943 691,448 13.1 521 4 1,501 6,077,495 Magnolia
14 Napoleon Dynamite 619,569 883,817 -29.9 479 20 1,293 41,272,184 Fox Searchlight
15 Shaun of the Dead 610,567 1,109,997 -45.0 571 5 1,069 12,276,669 Focus
16 Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow 578,496 1,218,417 -52.5 872 6 663 36,832,192 Paramount
17 What the #$*! Do We Know? 385,359 368,134 4.7 146 23 2,639 6,685,825 Goldwyn
18 Garden State 306,447 452,519 -32.3 216 13 1,419 25,711,568 Fox Searchlight
19 Vera Drake 286,710 40,870 601.5 46 3 6,233 380,432 Fine Line
20 The Bourne Supremacy 282,710 353,005 -19.9 304 14 930 174,768,985 Universal
Top 5 $ 75,362,876 $ 66,630,077 13.1
Top 10 95,433,093 86,261,355 10.6
Top 20 101,841,772 92,635,796 9.9
Top 20 vs. 2003 101,841,772 125,221,949 -18.7

Last Updated : October 25, 2004 at 11:00PM 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.