Weekend Box Office (November 14 - 16, 2003)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND While Russell Crowe took on Keanu Reeves in a battle of big-budget behemoths, the resilient holiday comedy Elf snuck past the two epics to claim the number one spot at the North American box office in its second weekend. Fox's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World bowed in second with a sturdy debut while The Matrix Reloaded fell sharply to third. Warner Bros. also saw a disappointing opening for the kidpic Looney Tunes: Back in Action while Paramount witnessed a modest launch for the documentary Tupac: Resurrection. With the overall weekend box office not reaching the Harry Potter-feuled heights of the last two years, year-to-date grosses remained flat when compared to 2002.

Moviegoers were filled with holiday cheer and were clearly in the mood to laugh as audiences lined up for Will Ferrell's hit comedy Elf which hit number one in weekend number two with $26.3M, according to final studio figures, dipping just 15% from its festive bow. Averaging $7,786 from 3,381 theaters, the New Line release represents the former Saturday Night Live star's first chance to anchor a film by himself and fans are clearly pleased. With a production cost of about $35M, the Jon Favreau-directed pic boosted its ten-day cume to a jolly $70.4M and with such strong legs and the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays still to come, could find its way to $150-200M. Though too early to compare, Elf will try to follow the performances of other family-oriented comedies released in November like Mrs. Doubtfire and The Santa Clause by showing strong legs throughout the holiday season.

After the spring hit Old School, the runaway success of Elf could allow Ferrell to follow in the well-compensated footsteps of other comedy giants like Sandler, Carrey, and Myers. New Line is all smiles too as the PG-rated hit follows last month's winner Texas Chainsaw Massacre and precedes next month's anticipated megablockbuster The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King leading to the what could be the best fourth quarter in company history.

Settling for second place was the epic sea saga Master and Commander which launched well with $25.1M opening. The Peter Weir adventure set sail in 3,101 theaters and averaged a strong $8,096 to lead all averages among wide releases. Rated PG-13, the $150M-budgeted picture stars Russell Crowe as a British naval commander who leads his brave crew across the world to track down its enemy. According to Fox's exit polls, 52% of the audience was male and an incredibly high 83% was 25 or older. Critics handed Master universal praise and have been buzzing Oscar. Long-term strength will be determined by word-of-mouth which could allow the pricey pic to reach $100M waters.

The Matrix Revolutions collapsed a stunning 66% from its opening weekend haul and dropped two spots to third with $16.4M. The sci-fi trilogy ender has grossed $114.3M after 12 days and is expected to keep tumbling over the weeks ahead. A final domestic tally of $150-160M seems likely. That would give the Matrix pair of Reloaded and Revolutions about $440M in combined ticket sales from North America by the end of the run.

Dropping 35% in its second full weekend of national release, Disney's Brother Bear took fourth place with $12.1M. The animated comedy has grossed $63.1M to date.

With the family audience spending nearly $40M on Elf and Brother Bear this weekend, there was less on the plate left for the new Warner Bros. pic Looney Tunes: Back in Action which disappointed with a fifth place debut of only $9.3M. The PG-rated film bowed in 2,903 locations and averaged just $3,210 per theater. Carrying a pricetag of about $80M, Looney Tunes is a costly mix of live action stars like Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, and Steve Martin with classic cartoon favorites like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

After a solid opening weekend in limited play, Universal's ensemble romantic comedy Love Actually expanded nationally doubling its run to 1,177 theaters and grossed $8.7M. That marked a 26% spike while still averaging a strong $7,390 per venue. After ten days, the British tale has banked $18.9M and will see another 300 or so new locations added on Friday. Internationally, Love Actually debuted in Italy and Portugal with $2.6M this weekend and launches in 15 countries on Friday including Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Joining the century club in its fourth weekend of release was Miramax's spoof comedy sequel Scary Movie 3 which dropped 44% to $6.1M for a cume of $102.3M. Following in eighth place was the Cuba Gooding Jr. drama Radio with $4.8M, off only 32%, with a cume of $43.5M.

Opening in ninth place was the hip hop documentary Tupac: Resurrection with $4.6M from 801 theaters for a $5,784 average. The R-rated film chronicles the life of slain rapper Tupac Shakur in his own words. Paramount exit polls showed that 71% of the audience was under 25, 52% was female, and 55% was black. Reviews were generally good for the low-budget doc.

Rounding out the top ten was Clint Eastwood's crime thriller Mystic River which eased just 32% to $3.2M putting the total for the Warner Bros. release at $45.6M.

Three October titles fell out of the top ten over the weekend. Fox's legal thriller Runaway Jury fell 40% to $2.8M in its fifth frame for a cume of $44.5M. Budgeted at $60M, the John Cusack pic should reach $50-53M. The hit horror remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre dropped 47% to $2.6M boosting the killer tally to $77.6M. The $10M New Line smash should end its highly profitable run with a terrifying $81-84M encouraging Hollywood to redo other classic fright flicks. Jack Black's comedy hit School of Rock slipped 39% to $1.8M putting its cume at $76.4M. Budgeted in the low $30M range, the former number one looks to end class with $80-82M making it one of the few success stories for Paramount this year.

The top ten films grossed $116.7M which was down 27% from last year when Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets opened at number one with $88.4M; and down 22% from 2001 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone debuted in the top spot with a record $90.3M.

Compared to projections, Master and Commander opened a few notches higher than my $22M forecast while Looney Tunes: Back in Action debuted weaker than my $14M prediction. Tupac: Resurrection was on target with my $5M projection.

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# Title Nov. 14 - 16 Nov. 7 - 9 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Elf $ 26,325,613 $ 31,113,501 -15.4 3,381 2 $ 7,786 $ 70,354,526 New Line
2 Master and Commander 25,105,990 3,101 1 8,096 25,105,990 Fox
3 The Matrix Revolutions 16,415,384 48,475,154 -66.1 3,502 2 4,687 114,268,949 Warner Bros.
4 Brother Bear 12,056,067 18,526,927 -34.9 3,030 4 3,979 63,057,769 Buena Vista
5 Looney Tunes: Back in Action 9,317,371 2,903 1 3,210 9,317,371 Warner Bros.
6 Love Actually 8,698,030 6,886,080 26.3 1,177 2 7,390 18,861,700 Universal
7 Scary Movie 3 6,105,246 10,812,152 -43.5 2,960 4 2,063 102,339,254 Miramax
8 Radio 4,808,366 7,215,307 -33.4 2,416 4 1,990 43,516,338 Sony
9 Tupac: Resurrection 4,632,847 801 1 5,784 4,632,847 Paramount
10 Mystic River 3,244,465 4,787,247 -32.2 1,550 6 2,093 45,568,765 Warner Bros.
11 Runaway Jury 2,784,130 4,671,818 -40.4 1,582 5 1,760 44,523,427 Fox
12 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,614,908 4,939,582 -47.1 1,607 5 1,627 77,646,933 New Line
13 School of Rock 1,841,665 3,026,851 -39.2 1,208 7 1,525 76,416,839 Paramount
14 Kill Bill Vol. 1 1,427,946 2,322,779 -38.5 903 6 1,581 67,406,938 Miramax
15 Lost in Translation 706,284 942,992 -25.1 301 10 2,346 27,310,686 Focus
16 Pirates of the Caribbean 604,338 664,433 -9.0 425 19 1,422 303,581,609 Buena Vista
17 The Human Stain 562,423 762,379 -26.2 213 3 2,640 3,050,763 Miramax
18 Intolerable Cruelty 503,010 913,915 -45.0 393 6 1,280 34,360,855 Universal
19 Under the Tuscan Sun 446,130 820,909 -45.7 383 8 1,165 42,086,848 Buena Vista
20 The Gospel of John 367,838 347,745 5.8 113 8 3,255 1,914,986 ThinkFilm
Top 5 $ 89,220,425 $ 116,143,041 -23.2
Top 10 116,709,379 140,454,619 -16.9
Top 20 128,568,051 149,415,672 -14.0
Top 20 vs. 2002 128,568,051 167,486,727 -23.2

Last Updated : November 17, 2003 at 4:15PM EST

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing at 12:30pm and 9:30pm ET on CNNfn.