Weekend Box Office (November 3 - 5, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND America fell in love with Borat as the underdog movie-film about a TV journalist from Kazakhstan shocked the film industry by opening at number one despite playing in a fraction of the theaters as Hollywood's other new offerings. Shattering expectations, the Fox hit surged ahead of two debuting family films that had hoped to capture the box office title - Disney's Christmas story The Santa Clause 3 and Paramount's animated comedy Flushed Away.

In the year's biggest box office surprise, the much-talked-about film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan conquered North America grossing $26.5M, according to final studio figures, in its first weekend beating out all competitors. Playing in only 837 theaters, the R-rated road trip pic averaged a jaw-dropping $31,607 per theater with sell outs from coast to coast. Based on the character created by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat was expected to open with strength in the top five, but was never seen as being powerful enough to reach the number one spot.

Fox debuted the raunchy film in moderate national play hoping word-of-mouth would build and help to bolster the second weekend when it would go fully national. Instead, the red hot buzz and heavy doses of media publicity seemed to fuel demand on opening weekend. According to studio research conducted on Friday, the audience for Borat was 55% male and 53% under the age of 25. Fox expects the audience to broaden as women and older adults begin hearing from their friends about the crude laugher. Critics showered the $18M film with nearly universal praise calling it one of the funniest films of all time. This Friday, the studio will triple the number of theaters expanding to as many as 2,500 locations. A domestic gross well north of $100M is assured.

Borat began the weekend with a potent $9.2M gross on Friday. Unlike many R-rated cult hits aimed at young males, the Kazakh tale grew on Saturday increasing by 10% to $10.1M. Sunday saw a modest 29% drop to $7.2M. Brilliant out-of-the-box marketing on Fox's part helped to turn a cult character into a can't-miss blockbuster event thanks to outrageous publicity stunts carefully executed over the past few months which sparked intense curiousity from those unfamiliar with Cohen's creation. People had to just go and see it to believe it. The road ahead looks glorious thanks to positive word-of-mouth, a sophomore weekend expansion, and the additional wave of free publicity that its surprise top spot debut will generate this week.

The opening weekend performance was stunning, but not unique. It matched the results of two other low budget films that attracted widespread media attention from recent years - Michael Moore's political documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 and the suspense hoax The Blair Witch Project. In June 2004, Fahrenheit also shocked the film biz by debuting at number one with $23.9M from just 868 sites for a stellar $27,558 average. Blair Witch went nationwide after two weeks of very limited play in July 1999 and grossed $29.2M from just 1,101 sites for a colossal $26,528 average landing it in second place. Both films would average about $30,000 per theater at today's ticket prices. Each film expanded the following weekend and went on to reach a final gross that was five times its opening tally.

Overseas, Borat opened day-and-date in Cohen's native U.K. plus in other European markets with fantastic results. Cultural Learnings grossed an estimated $17.7M from 17 countries and captured the number one spot in Britain. With such great success, Borat will surely not be execute.

Be sure to check BoxOfficeGuru.com all week for daily Borat updates.

Settling for second place was The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause which grossed $19.5M from 3,458 theaters for an encouraging $5,640 average per venue. The Disney sequel debuted well below the $29M launch of the last installment of the franchise from this same frame in 2002. In Escape, Martin Short joins the cast playing the sinister Jack Frost who is out to ruin Christmas. Disney ruled the box office over the first weekend of November for four of the last five years with its family films. Tim Allen's latest G-rated turn as Kris Kringle was expected to be at the top of the charts this time too, but the phenomenon that is Borat was just too much. Competition from Flushed Away also split the family audence in two contributing to Santa's lower-than-expected weekend bow. Reviews were mostly negative.

Opening close behind in third place was the computer-animated toon Flushed Away with $18.8M from an ultrawide 3,707 theaters. Averaging a good $5,075 per site, the PG-rated pic follows the adventures of a domesticated pet mouse flushed into the underground world of a sewer rat. Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, and Kate Winslet provide the voices. The Paramount release was produced by DreamWorks and Aardman Animations who previously made Chicken Run and last fall's Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Flushed exceeded the respective openings of $17.5M and $16M for those two films and earned strong praise from critics. Despite competition from Santa, the sewer pic opened impressively and slightly above expectations.

The long-term race between the two kidpics will be an interesting one to watch given the similar openings. Flushed should benefit from better word-of-mouth, however Santa's Christmas theme could help it stay relevant as the holidays approach. Most yuletide pics debuting in early November have had very good legs with some rebounding over the Thanksgiving frame.

With three new films getting all the attention, last week's champ Saw III got shoved down to fourth place with $14.8M in its second weekend. The Lionsgate horror sequel tumbled an understandable 56% and raised its ten-day cume to a bloody $59.4M. The latest chapter in the highly successful torture series suffered a larger drop than its predessor Saw II which fell 47% in its sophomore session on its way to a slightly higher $60.1M ten-day gross before ending its run with $87M. Budgeted at $12M, Saw III looks to depreciate at a faster pace and could be headed for a finish of about $80-85M.

Two former number one hits holding up with great strength followed in the five and six slots with a slender weekend decline of 22% each. Martin Scorsese scored only the second $100M blockbuster of his career over the weekend with The Departed which in its fifth round took in $7.7M. The Warner Bros. hit lifted its total to $102M and joined the director's last film The Aviator ($102.6M) as his only pictures to reach nine digits in North America. The Leonardo DiCaprio-Matt Damon crime saga also became the 13th film of 2006 to cross the century mark matching the number of blockbusters at this same point last year. Buena Vista's The Prestige grossed $7.5M in its third weekend pushing its cume to $39.1M.

Clint Eastwood's war story Flags of Our Fathers expanded by another 185 theaters in its third mission and grossed $4.4M from 2,375 locations for a weak $1,861 average. The Paramount release saw its weekend take drop by 30% and its average decline by 36% putting the cume at a disappointing $26.6M. The Robin Williams comedy Man of the Year followed in eighth place with $3.7M, off only 23%, giving the Universal release $33.8M to date.

Sony's toon Open Season got hurt by the new family films and dropped 49% to $3M in its sixth hunt pushing the sum to $81.3M. Miramax's awards contender The Queen finally popped into the top ten at number ten with $2.9M. The Helen Mirren film expanded from 152 to 387 theaters and averaged a solid $7,519 per location. The Queen has seen its theater count and gross climb each week and has now lifted its cume to $10M with much more still to go.

Opening with sensational results in platform release was Pedro Almodovar's newest story Volver which bowed to $197,703 from only five sites for a scorching $39,541 average. Sony Classics released the Spanish-language drama in only three New York and two Los Angeles locations and will expand to other cities in the weeks to come. Penelope Cruz, who is already establishing herself as a serious candidate against frontrunner Helen Mirren in the Oscar race for Best Actress, plays a young woman connecting with the spirit of her deceased mother.

Paramount Vantage generated terrific numbers with the expansion of its cross-continent drama Babel which grossed $919,235 from 35 theaters for a potent $26,264 average. The Brad Pitt-Cate Blanchett film widened from 7 theaters in New York and Los Angeles last weekend to thirteen additional markets this weekend. Babel opens nationally on Friday in over 1,200 total theaters going head-to-head with four other new wide releases plus the further expansion of Borat. Cume sits at $1.5M.

The Dixie Chicks doc Shut Up and Sing widened from four to nine theaters in its second weekend and grossed $76,194. The Weinstein Co. release averaged a solid $8,466 and put its total at $144,828.

Four films, including a trio of Sony titles, dropped out of the top ten this weekend. Fox's family drama Flicka grossed $2.7M, down 43%, for a $17.6M total. The $14M girl-and-her-horse pic should conclude with a not-so-dazzling $22-24M. Sony's period pic Marie Antoinette slipped only 22% to $2.2M but its cume reached a mere $12.9M after 17 days. Look for a weak $20M final.

The studio's dysfunctional family flick Running with Scissors fell 37% and took in $1.6M after its second weekend of national play. With a puny $5.2M in the bank, the Annette Bening comedy should sputter to a dismal $9M. Sony's fright sequel The Grudge 2 has scared up a decent $38.3M to date. The $20M franchise film looks headed for a domestic finish of about $40M or so. Though profitable, the sequel will end up grossing only about one-third of the $110.2M of Sarah Michelle Gellar's first Grudge pic from two years ago.

The top ten films grossed $108.8M which was down 6% from last year when Chicken Little debuted at number one with $40M; and down 18% from 2004 when The Incredibles opened in the top spot with $70.5M.

Compared to projections, Borat more than doubled my $11M forecast. Both Santa Clause and Flushed Away were close to my respective predictions of $22M and $16M.

For DVD reviews of The Little Mermaid and The Tick visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Stranger Than Fiction, The Return, A Good Year, and Harsh Times all open.

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

# Title Nov 3 - 5 Oct 27 - 29 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Borat $ 26,455,463 837 1 $ 31,607 $ 26,455,463 Fox
2 The Santa Clause 3 19,504,038 3,458 1 5,640 19,504,038 Buena Vista
3 Flushed Away 18,814,323 3,707 1 5,075 18,814,323 Paramount
4 Saw III 14,805,871 33,610,391 -55.9 3,167 2 4,675 59,382,706 Lionsgate
5 The Departed 7,722,388 9,848,258 -21.6 2,785 5 2,773 102,004,054 Warner Bros.
6 The Prestige 7,505,268 9,573,215 -21.6 2,305 3 3,256 39,135,541 Buena Vista
7 Flags of Our Fathers 4,419,657 6,346,856 -30.4 2,375 3 1,861 26,550,769 Paramount
8 Man of the Year 3,665,580 4,727,960 -22.5 2,388 4 1,535 33,848,800 Universal
9 Open Season 2,968,832 5,862,674 -49.4 2,458 6 1,208 81,254,598 Sony
10 The Queen 2,909,966 1,909,139 52.4 387 6 7,519 9,986,970 Miramax
11 Flicka 2,702,185 4,728,261 -42.9 2,314 3 1,168 17,602,221 Fox
12 Marie Antoinette 2,212,839 2,845,815 -22.2 870 3 2,543 12,946,803 Sony
13 The Guardian 1,634,107 2,376,416 -31.2 1,274 6 1,283 52,281,919 Buena Vista
14 Running with Scissors 1,587,486 2,531,760 -37.3 586 3 2,709 5,248,114 Sony
15 The Grudge 2 1,551,641 3,264,336 -52.5 1,568 4 990 38,288,414 Sony
16 One Night with the King 1,075,334 1,556,293 -30.9 701 4 1,534 11,729,479 8X
17 Catch a Fire 1,041,028 2,026,997 -48.6 1,306 2 797 3,667,587 Focus
18 The Marine 1,037,924 1,885,388 -44.9 1,010 4 1,028 16,947,593 Fox
19 Employee of the Month 938,702 1,574,678 -40.4 801 5 1,172 27,515,725 Lionsgate
20 Babel 919,235 389,351 136.1 35 2 26,264 1,470,614 Par. Vantage
Top 5 $ 87,302,083 $ 65,241,394 33.8
Top 10 108,771,386 83,339,526 30.5
Top 20 123,471,867 99,090,045 24.6
Top 20 vs. 2005 123,471,867 129,059,270 -4.3

Last Updated : November 6, 2006 at 8:30PM ET

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