Weekend Box Office (November 12 - 14, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Flexing its mighty muscles, the Disney/Pixar blockbuster The Incredibles easily retained its hold on the number one spot at the North American box office despite competition from four new movies entering the marketplace. Tom Hanks rode his new holiday film The Polar Express into second place followed by the caper film After the Sunset. Debuting sequels Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Seed of Chucky played to different audience groups but generated nearly identical grosses to round out the top five.

Beating the Tom Hanks Christmas film by a more than two-to-one margin, The Incredibles witnessed a stupendous hold in its second weekend of release dipping a mere 29% to $50.3M to remain atop the box office charts, according to final studio figures. That makes it the smallest sophomore decline among the top 20 openers of all-time. After ten days of release, the PG-rated super hero flick has grossed a towering $143.3M nearly matching the $144M ten-day pace of Pixar's last megahit Finding Nemo. Compared to Monsters, Inc., which also launched on the first weekend of November and eased 27% in its second frame, The Incredibles is running 17% ahead after the same amount of days. Despite facing Polar trying to lure families away, the $92M production remained a juggernaut and with the Thanksgiving holiday still ahead, a domestic haul of more than $300M should result.

After putting Pixar on the map nearly a decade ago, superstar Tom Hanks was left in the company's shadow with The Polar Express which opened in second place with $23.3M from an ultrawide 3,650 theaters, including over 70 Imax venues. The G-rated story of a boy's journey to the North Pole averaged a good, but not magical, $6,390 per theater. Since its Wednesday debut, Express has collected $30.6M. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the Warner Bros. release is one of the priciest entries in the holiday box office sweepstakes carrying a production budget of $170M and a marketing tab of more than $100M. Playing to a family audience, the studio is hoping that Polar has Incredible-like legs and coasts through Thanksgiving and into December with modest declines. But the journey to profitability could be a long one with such a start.

The Polar Express lacked the valuable cargo carried by all other top-grossing animated films - comedy. Moviegoers have routinely showed up in larger numbers when a toon is packed with laughs. Though Polar offers up some funny elements, it is packaged as a serious holiday drama which displays less commercial pull. But Christmas-themed family films opening in November typically have good legs. Recent live-action hits like Elf, The Santa Clause 2, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas all bowed in November and reached final totals that were five times their openings. Of course there have also been expensive kid-oriented duds like The Cat in the Hat which went on to gross less than three times its opening.

Performing best among films with old fashioned human beings on screen was the New Line heist pic After the Sunset which bowed to $11.1M from 2,819 theaters. Averaging a decent $3,938 per venue, the PG-13 film starred Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, and Don Cheadle and was directed by Brett Ratner. Sunset delivered the worst opening for the filmmaker in seven years coming nowhere near the bows of hits like Red Dragon and the Rush Hour films.

Focus Features opened the horror pic Seed of Chucky in fourth with $8.8M from 2,059 theaters for a moderate $4,262 average. The R-rated killer doll pic was the fifth installment of the franchise following six years after 1998's Bride of Chucky which debuted to $11.8M on its way to $32.4M.

Opening close behind with a stunning performance was the new comedy Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason which played in only 530 theaters but sold $8.7M worth of tickets for a chubby $16,385 average. The plump per-theater average was tops among all films in wide release and capitalized on the starpower of Renee Zellweger and Hugh Grant as well as the large built-in fan base of 2001's Bridget Jones's Diary. Miramax launched that film to the tune of $10.7M from 1,611 theaters for a $6,663 average before expanding to 2,221 sites on the second weekend and reaching number one. Just a few weeks ago, Universal moved Reason up from a November 19 wide bow to a November 12 semi-national launch hoping to spread a positive buzz before widening the film out. This Friday, the R-rated picture will expand to about 2,300 locations. Meanwhile, Bridget also charmed British audiences opening at number one in the U.K. with $19.1M (including previews) from a very wide 496 theaters averaging better than $38,000. The comedy also enjoyed number one bows in Australia, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Poland grossing a total of $26.7M from international markets this weekend.

With a flood of new releases opening in the top five, holdovers were brushed aside falling many spots on the charts. Two-time runnerup Ray dropped 38% in its third weekend to $8.4M pushing the 17-day cume for the Universal biopic to a solid $52.5M. Sony's spooky sensation The Grudge declined 45% to $7M putting its total a whisker away from the century mark at $99.2M.

Horror pal Saw followed in eighth place with $6.4M, off 42%, giving Lions Gate $45.8M after 17 days. The Richard Gere hit Shall We Dance? continued to show legs dropping only 29% to $4M and put the Miramax title at $48.7M in one month of release. Paramount's Jude Law flop Alfie plunged 56% to $2.7M in its second date and watched its ten-day cume rise to just $11.1M. Produced for $60M, the R-rated film should end with a poor gross of about $16M.

A couple of new biopics made a big splash in their limited release bows this weekend. Johnny Depp began his Oscar campaign for back-to-back Best Actor nods with the launch of Finding Neverland which grossed $220,524 from only eight theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Averaging a high-flying $27,565, the PG-rated story of the writer behind Peter Pan garnered great reviews from critics for both the film and for Depp's performance. Fox Searchlight unleashed the sex researcher story Kinsey in just five playdates but took in $169,038 for a lustful $33,807 average. Received well by critics, the R-rated pic will expand on Friday to about 35 theaters and widen to roughly 150 sites over Thanksgiving weekend. The distributor's comedy Sideways enjoyed a successful expansion grossing $1.4M from 144 theaters for a solid $9,824 average. With $3.8M to date, the Paul Giamatti film widens to about 350 theaters this Friday and goes national into about 500 locations over the turkey frame.

Four October releases dropped out of the top ten this weekend. The fall season's top-grossing film to date, Shark Tale, dropped 54% in its seventh frame to $2.1M. With $157.5M in the bank, the DreamWorks hit suffered its worst decline ever thanks to the loss of screens and the box office dominance of the newer animated films. Shark Tale should find its way to around $163M. Universal's football tale Friday Night Lights has grossed $59.3M thus far and looks to reach $62M.

Buena Vista's firefighter drama Ladder 49 fell 55% to $1.2M and pushed its cume to $72M making it John Travolta's highest-grossing film in more than five years. Paramount's puppet pic Team America: World Police tumbled 67% to $613,567 and a cume of $31.8M. The R-rated comedy is set to end with around $33M.

The top ten films grossed $130.8M which was up 12% from last year when Elf rose to number one with $26.3M; but down 18% from 2002 when Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets debuted in the top spot with $88.4M.

Compared to projections, The Polar Express opened weaker than my $30M forecast while After the Sunset was very close to my $12M prediction. Bridget Jones and Seed of Chucky were also close to my respective projections of $7M and $9M.

For NEW reviews of Kinsey, Veer-Zaara, and The Incredibles, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and National Treasure both open.

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

# Title Nov 12 - 14 Nov 5 - 7 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Incredibles $ 50,251,359 $ 70,467,623 -28.7 3,933 2 $ 12,777 $ 143,255,844 Buena Vista
2 The Polar Express 23,323,463 3,650 1 6,390 30,629,146 Warner Bros.
3 After the Sunset 11,100,392 2,819 1 3,938 11,100,392 New Line
4 Seed of Chucky 8,774,520 2,059 1 4,262 8,774,520 Focus
5 Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason 8,684,055 530 1 16,385 8,684,055 Universal
6 Ray 8,411,355 13,644,990 -38.4 2,474 3 3,400 52,523,595 Universal
7 The Grudge 7,010,551 12,675,393 -44.7 2,816 4 2,490 99,248,187 Sony
8 Saw 6,437,990 11,093,169 -42.0 2,467 3 2,610 45,753,595 Lions Gate
9 Shall We Dance? 4,024,327 5,663,514 -28.9 2,065 5 1,949 48,670,607 Miramax
10 Alfie 2,738,931 6,218,335 -56.0 2,215 2 1,237 11,101,243 Paramount
11 Shark Tale 2,097,544 4,555,382 -54.0 1,622 7 1,293 157,530,386 DreamWorks
12 Sideways 1,414,773 1,047,607 35.0 144 4 9,825 3,751,301 Fox Searchlight
13 Friday Night Lights 1,259,520 2,975,065 -57.7 984 6 1,280 59,293,125 Universal
14 Ladder 49 1,202,533 2,670,778 -55.0 830 7 1,449 72,039,039 Buena Vista
15 Veer-Zaara 843,010 88 1 9,580 903,010 Yash Raj Films
16 The Motorcycle Diaries 745,110 948,895 -21.5 238 8 3,131 11,829,464 Focus
17 Team America: World Police 613,567 1,863,371 -67.1 875 5 701 31,782,456 Paramount
18 I Heart Huckabees 541,784 1,113,777 -51.4 278 7 1,949 11,195,428 Fox Searchlight
19 Taxi 413,787 1,269,652 -67.4 431 6 960 35,409,035 Fox
20 Surviving Christmas 340,417 1,280,134 -73.4 431 4 790 11,009,868 DreamWorks
Top 5 $ 102,133,789 $ 114,099,510 -10.5
Top 10 130,756,943 131,827,620 -0.8
Top 20 140,228,988 140,870,780 -0.5
Top 20 vs. 2003 140,228,988 128,568,051 9.1

Last Updated : November 15, 2004 at 5:30PM 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.