Weekend Box Office (October 30 - November 1, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Four months after his death, Michael Jackson was the king of the box office as his concert documentary This Is It thrilled fans opening at number one. But with no other new films opening in wide release, and with Halloween dampening ticket sales on Saturday, the Top 20 slumped to its lowest point of 2009 with just $86M.

Sony scored its seventh top spot debut of the year with This Is It, a look at preparations the music superstar was making for his sold-out London concerts, which grossed $23.2M over the weekend and $34.4M over five days since its Wednesday launch, according to final studio figures, jumping $2M ahead of original estimates. Worldwide, the Kenny Ortega-directed pic grossed an estimated $103M with 68% of the total coming from overseas markets where Jackson's popularity has remained stronger over the years despite his many legal troubles. Domestically, This Is It averaged a solid $6,675 from 3,481 theaters over the Friday-to-Sunday span.

The studio has reported that the Jackson pic has broken the all-time record for top-grossing concert film worldwide beating the $71.3M of last year's Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus 3D concert flick. But that's not much of an achievement since very few concert films get wide releases in the first place and even fewer are given massive global launches like This Is It which unspooled on over 15,000 screens worldwide simultaneously. Montana bowed in North America on a Friday in just 683 3D locations (albeit with higher $15 tickets) and grossed $31.1M for a scorching $45,561 average on its way to a $65.3M domestic final representing a whopping 92% of its final global take. Its international release was much more limited.

Still, for a documentary of any kind to open at number one is quite remarkable. This Is It was in a unique position as it entered the marketplace and was one of the most unpredictable films of the year at the box office. The weekend grosses did not measure up to pre-release forecasts that were published in media reports though. Some suggested the film could gross as much as $600M worldwide in its two-week run. But these numbers that were tossed around in news stories were utterly ridiculous and not plausible.

Causing further confusion for a film that could not truly be compared to any past box office hit were reports from online ticketing sites of the amount of showtimes that had sold out well before the opening day of the film. Fandango reported that over 1,000 shows were sold out on its site a full two weeks before the film opened and that its advance ticket sales were twice as strong as the Hannah concert's, although no admissions or gross figures were revealed. Stats like these fueled media hype creating false expectations that were beyond realistic.

Over 100 hours of rehearsal footage was bought by Sony for a hefty $60M with the studio also kicking in the cost of prints and advertising. From the worldwide income, it will recoup its costs first and then take a fee for its distribution services. Any remaining amount will be split 90/10 between the Jackson estate and concert promoter AEG.

Outside of North America, This Is It grossed a stellar $68.5M from 97 overseas markets. Leading the way were Japan ($10.4M), the United Kingdom ($7.6M), Germany ($6.3M), France ($5.8M), Australia ($3.6M), and China ($3.2M) which together represented more than half of the overseas box office for the pic.

As seen with other two-week runs, This Is It will now play beyond the initial limited period and will remain in theaters through Thanksgiving in the U.S. Other countries will also extend their runs soon. Disney used the 'two-weeks-only' stunt to promote the Hannah Montana concert film and this fall's Toy Story double feature, only to extend both of those runs after they opened. The gimmick helps to create must-see-right-now buzz.

Being a fan-driven film, This Is It is likely to see the bulk of its grosses upfront meaning it may not have very good legs in the weeks ahead. But with the global box office likely to surpass $200M and with additional revenue to come pouring in from DVD, TV, and other streams, Jackson's big screen extravaganza looks to become a profitable venture for all involved.

Paramount expanded its horror sensation Paranormal Activity for the fifth time going from 1,945 to 2,404 locations and ranked second for the weekend with $16.4M. Off only 22% on Halloween weekend, the R-rated overachiever raised its total to an incredible $84.6M and became the top-grossing horror film of 2009 - a stunning feat for a film that cost a mere $15,000 to produce. On Halloween Day it trailed This Is It by only $600,000 as it increased its gross from Friday by 10% while the Jackson doc fell 8%. Paranormal now looks certain to smash the $100M mark.

Halloween falling on a Saturday made that day perform more like a Friday. The top ten films grossed $26.7M on Friday and inched up only 1% to $27M on Saturday. Usually the increase would be over 20% depending on the types of films that were out, but trick-or-treating and parties give people other options on the pumpkin day making it especially harmful to the multiplexes when it falls on Saturday, the busiest day of the week.

Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler continued to be popular choices at the box office as their revenge thriller Law Abiding Citizen performed well for the third straight weekend. The Overture release took in $7.4M, falling 40%, and put its 17-day cume at a solid $51.5M. A $70M final could result.

The lack of adult comedies helped Couples Retreat again as the Vince Vaughn vehicle declined by 39% and took fourth place with $6.5M. Universal has banked $87M to date and is heading for a $100M finish. Tumbling 58% in its third weekend was Where the Wild Things Are with $5.9M for a $62.7M total in 17 days. The Warner Bros. kidpic was especially hurt by trick-or-treating on Halloween as Saturday sales slumped 13% from Friday.

Saw VI tumbled in its sophomore frame, but the drop was the smallest that the franchise has seen since Saw III. The latest torturefest plunged 63% to $5.3M giving Lionsgate $22.5M in ten days. Saw movies gross about 75-80% of their totals in the first ten days so Saw VI looks to end its run with roughly $30M which is less than what the last four installments all grossed in their opening weekends.

Summit's animated actioner Astro Boy fell 48% in its sophomore frame to $3.5M and has collected a dismal $11.3M in its first ten days. Sony's The Stepfather followed with $3.2M, down 49%, for a cume of $24.6M.

In ninth was the fright flop Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant which dropped a sharp 51% to $3.1M. Universal has taken in only $10.8M to date. Fox Searchlight expanded its Hillary Swank starrer Amelia from 818 to 1,070 theaters and saw sales dip only 22% to $3M putting the ten-day tally at $8.3M. The per-theater average of $2,836 was third best among all films in wide release.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $77.5M which was up 12% from last year when High School Musical 3 stayed in the top spot with $15.3M; but down a hefty 35% from 2007 when American Gangster debuted at number one with $43.6M during the typically strong first weekend of November.

Compared to projections, This Is It opened below my three-day forecast of $30M.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter. For a review of Where the Wild Things Are visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when A Christmas Carol, The Box, The Fourth Kind, and The Men Who Stare At Goats all open wide.

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

# Title Oct 30 - Nov 1 Oct 23 - 25 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 This Is It $ 23,234,394 3,481 1 $ 6,675 $ 34,442,926 Sony
2 Paranormal Activity 16,387,327 21,104,070 -22.3 2,404 6 6,817 84,627,372 Paramount
3 Law Abiding Citizen 7,403,630 12,403,888 -40.3 2,764 3 2,679 51,485,280 Overture
4 Couples Retreat 6,460,525 10,620,685 -39.2 3,026 4 2,135 87,026,280 Universal
5 Where the Wild Things Are 5,931,417 14,019,406 -57.7 3,645 3 1,627 62,650,379 Warner Bros.
6 Saw VI 5,270,794 14,118,444 -62.7 3,036 2 1,736 22,534,749 Lionsgate
7 Astro Boy 3,460,651 6,702,923 -48.4 3,020 2 1,146 11,316,418 Summit
8 The Stepfather 3,207,792 6,230,969 -48.5 2,346 3 1,367 24,555,801 Sony
9 Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant 3,098,185 6,293,205 -50.8 2,754 2 1,125 10,809,975 Universal
10 Amelia 3,034,667 3,904,047 -22.3 1,070 2 2,836 8,340,499 Fox Searchlight
11 Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2,747,476 5,250,541 -47.7 2,322 7 1,183 118,604,078 Sony
12 Zombieland 2,620,655 4,205,812 -37.7 2,056 5 1,275 71,181,556 Sony
13 A Serious Man 1,036,396 1,093,217 -5.2 238 5 4,355 4,595,629 Focus
14 Boondock Saints II 546,687 68 1 8,040 546,687 Apparition
15 An Education 467,376 367,371 27.2 48 4 9,737 1,537,993 Sony Classics
16 Halloween II 445,344 30,129 1,083 10 411 33,096,757 Weinstein Co.
17 Good Hair 422,472 945,958 -55.3 418 4 1,011 3,453,044 Roadside Attr.
18 The Invention of Lying 393,270 839,209 -53.1 452 5 870 17,589,249 Warner Bros.
19 Capitalism: A Love Story 373,992 726,453 -48.5 492 6 760 13,664,911 Overture
20 Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (3D) 262,347 1,009,900 -74.0 343 5 765 30,593,152 Buena Vista
Top 5 $ 59,417,293 $ 72,266,493 -17.8
Top 10 77,489,382 100,949,943 -23.2
Top 20 86,805,397 110,892,556 -21.7
Top 20 vs. 2008 86,805,397 82,152,640 5.7

Last Updated: November 2, 2009 at 4:30PM ET