Weekend Box Office (November 2 - 4, 2007)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND The North American box office exploded thanks to the scorching debuts of the Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe crime drama American Gangster and Jerry Seinfeld's animated comedy Bee Movie which combined for over $80M in ticket sales. Following weeks of sluggish business when the marketplace failed to match 2006 levels, this weekend's box office enjoyed a healthy bounce over last year and kicked off the holiday movie season with a bang.

Washington and Crowe both scored new career highs with the $43.6M opening weekend for the crime saga American Gangster, according to final studio figures, which dominated the multiplexes. Universal opened the R-rated tale in 3,054 theaters and generated a scorching $14,265 average per location. Directed by Ridley Scott, Gangster tells the true story of a drug kingpin who built up a heroin empire in Harlem in the early 1970s. The opening easily beat out the former all-time biggest debuts for the Oscar-winning actors: Washington's Inside Man with $29M and Crowe's Gladiator with $34.8M. Both of those also carried R ratings.

American Gangster enjoyed the second highest launch of the year for an R-rated film trailing only 300's $70.9M. Much of the success came from strong sales from young males and the urban audience which saw it as a Scarface for today's generation. The same audience also helped to power Eminem's R-rated hip hop drama 8 Mile to a surprising number one opening of $51.2M in November of 2002. Brian Grazer produced both Mile and Gangster. Reviews were mostly favorable and early Academy Award buzz could help the film in the weeks ahead. Despite the long running time of nearly two hours and forty minutes, moviegoers lined up and found their showtimes.

Paramount and DreamWorks settled for a second place debut for their latest animated film Bee Movie which grossed $38M in its opening weekend. The PG-rated toon averaged a sturdy $9,679 from 3,928 locations and performed just a bit below the levels of recent November animated titles. Last year, the penguin pic Happy Feet bowed to $41.5M while the previous year's Chicken Little launched with $40M. The two went on to gross $198M and $135.4M, respectively, from the North American market. Co-written by and starring Jerry Seinfeld, Bee Movie enjoyed virtually no competition in the current marketplace for family audiences. Critics were not too kind, but ticket buyers showed interest on the opening weekend. For 2007, the toon posted the fourth biggest debut for an animated film after Shrek the Third ($121.6M), The Simpsons Movie ($74M) and Ratatouille ($47M).

Suffering the largest sophomore drop in franchise history, Saw IV tumbled 67% from its top spot bow and grossed $10.3M. The Lionsgate title has still banked an impressive $50.4M in ten days and should finish with nearly $70M.

Buena Vista's Dan in Real Life fared much better in its second weekend dropping a slim 33% to $7.9M. With $22.7M in ten days, the romantic comedy might find its way to around $50M despite playing in less than 2,000 theaters.

Studio stablemate The Game Plan followed in fifth with $3.9M, off only 36%, for a cume to date of $82M. Sony's vampire thriller 30 Days of Night declined by 46% and took in $3.7M lifting the total to $34M.

Neglected and landing in seventh place was the new John Cusack drama Martian Child which opened with $3.4M. Playing in 2,020 locations, the PG-rated story of a man that adopts a boy who says he's from Mars averaged a pitiful $1,672 for New Line. Child was the seventh wide release in the past six weeks to debut with an average of less than $2,000.

Three adult-skewing fall pics followed. The George Clooney starrer Michael Clayton collected $2.8M, down 43%, for a sum of $33.1M for Warner Bros. Lionsgate's Why Did I Get Married? got hit hard by Denzel's arrival tumbling 54% to $2.6M. Cume is $51.1M. The Miramax mystery Gone Baby Gone captured $2.2M, off 41%, for a $14.8M total.

Warner Independent saw a solid platform bow for its documentary Darfur Now which saw $23,217 in ticket sales from only three theaters. Averaging $7,739 per venue, the Don Cheadle-narrated film will expand on Friday to more cities.

Three October titles fell sharply and left the top ten this weekend. Disney's latest re-release of The Nightmare Before Christmas saw its post-Halloween sales slump 56% to $1.5M for a cume of $12.8M. A $15M final seems likely. The Mark Wahlberg-Joaquin Phoenix drama We Own the Night fell 61% to $1.3M. The Sony release has taken in $27.6M and could make it to $30M. The spoof comedy The Comebacks grossed $1.4M, down 57%, and has collected a disappointing $11.9M for Fox. Look for a $13M final.

The top ten films grossed $118.5M which was up 9% from last year when Borat debuted in first place with $26.5M; and up 3% from 2005 when Chicken Little opened in the top spot with $40M.

Compared to projections, American Gangster powered ahead of my $34M forecast while Bee Movie opened a bit below my $42M prediction. Martian Child also debuted a couple of notches behind my $6M projection.

For a NEW review of Bee Movie and NEW DVD reviews of Ratatouille, Pixar Short Films, and Sicko, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Fred Claus, Lions For Lambs, and P2 all open.

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

# Title Nov 2 - 4 Oct 26 - 28 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 American Gangster $ 43,565,135 3,054 1 $ 14,265 $ 43,565,135 Universal
2 Bee Movie 38,021,044 3,928 1 9,679 38,021,044 Paramount
3 Saw IV 10,348,646 31,756,764 -67.4 3,183 2 3,251 50,398,835 Lionsgate
4 Dan in Real Life 7,870,196 11,809,445 -33.4 1,925 2 4,088 22,695,653 Buena Vista
5 The Game Plan 3,931,491 6,129,720 -35.9 2,844 6 1,382 82,035,100 Buena Vista
6 30 Days of Night 3,741,763 6,862,764 -45.5 2,627 3 1,424 33,970,509 Sony
7 Martian Child 3,376,669 2,020 1 1,672 3,376,669 New Line
8 Michael Clayton 2,785,133 4,924,374 -43.4 2,107 5 1,322 33,083,619 Warner Bros.
9 Why Did I Get Married? 2,604,119 5,643,899 -53.9 1,403 4 1,856 51,059,398 Lionsgate
10 Gone Baby Gone 2,237,915 3,817,451 -41.4 1,617 3 1,384 14,786,017 Miramax
11 The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D 1,525,403 3,446,012 -55.7 562 3 2,714 12,825,937 Buena Vista
12 The Comebacks 1,443,947 3,371,708 -57.2 1,632 3 885 11,909,413 Fox
13 We Own the Night 1,317,856 3,395,012 -61.2 1,634 4 807 27,648,264 Sony
14 Into the Wild 1,290,062 1,596,037 -19.2 660 7 1,955 10,906,359 Par. Vantage
15 The Darjeeling Limited 1,220,484 1,761,335 -30.7 615 6 1,985 8,030,877 Fox Searchlight
16 Across the Universe 1,207,449 1,687,341 -28.4 822 8 1,469 21,051,977 Sony
17 Bella 1,071,150 1,328,448 -19.4 187 2 5,728 2,658,782 Roadside Attractions
18 Lars and the Real Girl 765,971 926,675 -17.3 321 4 2,386 2,390,366 MGM
19 Elizabeth: The Golden Age 598,775 1,651,340 -63.7 557 4 1,075 15,339,475 Universal
20 Rendition 560,945 2,372,487 -76.4 609 3 921 9,283,593 New Line
Top 5 $ 103,736,512 $ 62,202,592 66.8
Top 10 118,482,111 81,157,149 46.0
Top 20 129,484,153 96,213,718 34.6
Top 20 vs. 2006 129,484,153 123,471,867 4.9

Last Updated: November 5, 2007 at 8:00PM ET

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