Weekend Box Office (October 29 - 31, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND For the first time in four years, a horror film ruled over Halloween weekend as Sarah Michelle Gellar's creepy thriller The Grudge remained at number one despite facing a pair of new releases that each debuted with powerful results. Leading the freshmen was the musical biopic Ray close behind in second place while the horror entry Saw placed third with meaty numbers. The top three movies all averaged more than $6,000 per theater for the first time in three months.

Sony spent another week on top with The Grudge which grossed $21.8M, according to final studio figures, in its second weekend of haunting theaters witnessing a decline of only 44%. Horror movies typically suffer declines of 50-60% in their sophomore frames so the hold for the Japan-set thriller comes as good news for the studio. After ten days, the $10M production has scared up a frightening $70.7M and seems headed for about $120M which is a lofty height for a horror movie. Playing in 3,348 locations, The Grudge averaged a solid $6,517 per site.

Making wonderful music in second place was Jamie Foxx in Ray which sang to the tune of $20M from only 2,006 theaters. The Universal release opened to a loud $9,990 average and was well-liked by critics, especially winning enormous praise for Foxx's performance as the blind piano man. Buzz had been building for several weeks around Ray and the acting of its leading man making it a must-see picture for adults. Public interest in the Grammy-winning singer also gained momentum since his passing in June as evidenced by the strong sales recently for his new platinum-selling album Genius Loves Company which peaked at number two on the Billboard charts and currently ranks fifth. Plus with studios holding most of their kudos films for later in the year, the Taylor Hackford-directed picture was the only major Oscar contender around for people to sample.

Adult women made up the largest segment of Ray's audience as 76% of the crowd was over the age of 30 and 62% was female, according Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco. 40% of the audience was African American which was not exceptionally high for a film with a mostly black cast so the PG-13 pic is appealing to a broad ethnic mix of ticket buyers. The studio was especially excited by the exit polls which saw a stunning 99% describe it as "excellent" or "very good." Universal, which was the only studio that showed any interest in picking up distribution rights for the Bristol Bay production, will expand the film on Friday by roughly 500 playdates.

The successful marketing and distribution of Ray closely resembles the campaign behind the studio's Seabiscuit from last year. Although the subject matter of each film differed greatly, both were inspiring underdog stories set in the mid twentieth century that carried a weight of Oscar buzz into their opening weekends. The horse racing drama was unleashed in a similar 1,989 theaters and delivered an opening of $20.9M and a sharp average of $10,485. Seabiscuit added 432 theaters on the second weekend, dipped only 15%, and found its way to $120.3M (six times its opening) plus seven Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture. Ray does not face a major live-action Oscar contender until the November 24 arrival of another biopic, Alexander, so the road ahead looks promising.

Opening in third place with a vicious $18.3M was the gritty horror film Saw from Lions Gate. The R-rated gorefest averaged a bloody $7,895 from 2,315 theaters and attracted a genre crowd in need of hard core thrills for Halloween. Reviews were better than normal for a fright flick. Despite having to face The Grudge, Saw still managed to carve out a sizable portion of the box office for itself.

Hollywood studios have done a good job in October spreading out their product evenly so all movies have breathing room in the marketplace. For the third consecutive weekend, multiplexes were only dealing with two new wide releases with each catering to a different audience. This has allowed moviegoers enough time to focus on each title, led several releases to strong opening performances, and helped keep declines relatively low with hardly any films in the top ten dropping by more than 50% on any given frame.

Former big fish Shark Tale dropped 48% to $7.5M in its fifth swim to raise its cume to an impressive $146.9M. After having the month of October all to itself, the DreamWorks blockbuster will begin facing stiff competition for the family crowd over the next three weekends from the high-profile animated titles The Incredibles, Polar Express, and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Still Shark Tale looks on course to finish in the neighborhood of $170M from North America alone.

Off only 27% was Miramax's Shall We Dance? with $6.3M pushing the total to $33.9M. The Universal title Friday Night Lights followed with $4.1M, down 41%, giving the Billy Bob Thornton football pic $52.9M to date. Look for final tallies of roughly $50M and $65M, respectively.

In its fifth weekend in the top ten, Buena Vista's Ladder 49 slipped 39% to $3.3M giving the firefighter film $66.1M thus far. The pic should find its way to around $75M. The R-rated puppet flick Team America: World Police tumbled 52% to $3.1M for a sum of $27.2M. The Paramount release is headed for a $30-35M finish.

The Ben Affleck dud Surviving Christmas dropped 45% to $2.4M giving DreamWorks a miserable $8M in ten days. The holiday comedy will have to struggle to make it past $15M. Fox's Taxi grossed $2.1M, down 49%, and parked its cume at $32.7M. A $35-38M total awaits.

Nicole Kidman's newest film Birth debuted poorly with $1.7M from 550 theaters for a mild $3,101 average. The R-rated drama about a widow who encounters a boy claiming to be her dead husband reincarnated was given only a small marketing and distribution push from New Line and faced intense competition for adult women by Ray and Shall We Dance?

A pair of titles dropped out of the top ten this weekend. Fox Searchlight's ensemble comedy I Heart Huckabees dipped 41% to $1.7M in its fifth session and raised its total to $8.4M. After a scorching start in limited release, the David O. Russell-directed film is not sustaining strength in wider play averaging just $1,893 this weekend from 901 sites. Huckabees could reach a respectable $14M. Sony's supernatural thriller The Forgotten dropped 48% to $1.7M as well for a sum of $64.5M. The Julianne Moore vehicle should end its run with a solid $68M.

The top ten films grossed $88.9M which was up 3% from last year when Scary Movie 3 remained at number one with $20M; but down 9% from 2002 when The Santa Clause 2 debuted in the top spot with $29M.

Compared to projections, both Ray and Saw opened four notches above my respective forecasts of $16M and $14M. Birth was on target with my $2M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the opening weekend gross of The Incredibles. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether Ray or Saw would have the bigger opening. Of 2,185 responses, 53% picked Saw while 47% correctly guessed Ray.

For reviews of Saw and The Grudge, visit The Chief Report.

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

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

# Title Oct 29 - 31 Oct 22 - 24 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Grudge $ 21,817,598 $ 39,128,715 -44.2 3,348 2 $ 6,517 $ 70,684,627 Sony
2 Ray 20,039,730 2,006 1 9,990 20,039,730 Universal
3 Saw 18,276,468 2,315 1 7,895 18,276,468 Lions Gate
4 Shark Tale 7,502,096 14,308,271 -47.6 3,381 5 2,219 146,859,079 DreamWorks
5 Shall We Dance? 6,285,963 8,589,988 -26.8 2,476 3 2,539 33,940,119 Miramax
6 Friday Night Lights 4,085,440 6,947,460 -41.2 3,004 4 1,360 52,944,730 Universal
7 Ladder 49 3,256,363 5,324,148 -38.8 2,382 5 1,367 66,118,796 Buena Vista
8 Team America: World Police 3,083,704 6,388,442 -51.7 2,335 3 1,321 27,245,193 Paramount
9 Surviving Christmas 2,435,652 4,441,356 -45.2 2,755 2 884 7,980,427 DreamWorks
10 Taxi 2,106,136 4,123,642 -48.9 1,884 4 1,118 32,700,351 Fox
11 I Heart Huckabees 1,705,923 2,902,468 -41.2 901 5 1,893 8,441,017 Fox Searchlight
12 Birth 1,705,577 550 1 3,101 1,705,577 New Line
13 The Forgotten 1,700,836 3,278,603 -48.1 1,735 6 980 64,541,093 Sony
14 The Motorcycle Diaries 991,229 1,430,875 -30.7 264 6 3,755 9,301,385 Focus
15 Napoleon Dynamite 410,800 619,569 -33.7 387 21 1,061 41,877,647 Fox Searchlight
16 Sideways 404,605 207,042 95.4 16 2 25,288 710,076 Fox Searchlight
17 Shaun of the Dead 380,607 610,567 -37.7 516 6 738 12,893,593 Focus
18 Raise Your Voice 335,876 1,126,003 -70.2 635 4 529 10,022,374 New Line
19 Being Julia 305,324 223,292 36.7 64 3 4,771 793,947 Sony Classics
20 Vera Drake 297,553 286,710 3.8 87 4 3,420 788,198 Fine Line
Top 5 $ 73,921,855 $ 75,362,876 -1.9
Top 10 88,889,150 95,433,093 -6.9
Top 20 97,127,480 101,841,772 -4.6
Top 20 vs. 2003 97,127,480 97,222,724 -0.1

Last Updated : November 1, 2004 at 6:45PM EST

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing live at 12:30pm ET on CNNfn with a replay at 4:30pm.