Weekend Box Office (November 17 - 19, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND In what was a very close race for box office supremacy, the dancing penguin cartoon Happy Feet narrowly edged out a strong debut for the new James Bond actioner Casino Royale for the number one spot in North America. Final numbers released on Monday showed a narrow gap of only $700,000 between the two big holiday releases as the frame marked only the second time in box office history that two films opened with over $40M each on the same weekend. The potent pair also helped to push the top ten to its highest level in four months.

The mighty penguins of Happy Feet flexed their muscles and took over the number one spot this weekend opening to $41.5M, according to final studio data. Warner Bros. launched the computer-animated film in an ultrawide 3,804 locations and averaged a stellar $10,918 per theater. The PG-rated pic finds a young penguin named Mumble trying to find his place in the world and features the voices of Robin Williams, Elijah Wood, Nicole Kidman, and Hugh Jackman.

Happy Feet was backed by a massive marketing campaign and beat out the openings of other recent computer-animated kids movies like DreamWorks' Over the Hedge ($38.5M), Disney's Chicken Little ($40M), and Fox's Robots ($36M). However, it did not reach the Pixar territory of Cars ($60.1M) and The Incredibles ($70.5M). But with competing kids movies The Santa Clause 3 and Flushed Away still in the top ten, Happy Feet performed as well as expected given the choices that the target audience has. With the Thanksgiving school holidays approaching, the $100M penguin pic should enjoy a robust sophomore frame.

After a four-year hiatus, Sony and MGM restarted the James Bond franchise with Casino Royale and generated an impressive $40.8M over the weekend settling in for a close second place finish. The Daniel Craig starrer generated the best per-theater average among all wide releases with a potent $11,891 from 3,434 sites. It was the second biggest opening ever for the franchise trailing the $47.1M bow of the last installment, 2002's Die Another Day. Casino was never expected to reach the heights of Die since it had a new and mostly unknown star in the lead and no famous co-star like Halle Berry to add more ammunition. Casino did attract rave reviews from critics which helped to sell the idea of a non-Pierce Brosnan Bond film to an American audience that was unfamiliar with Craig.

Brosnan's first Bond film Goldeneye, which opened on the same weekend in 1995 and was also directed by Martin Campbell, bowed to $26.2M from 2,667 theaters for a $9,826 average. At today's ticket prices, that would translate to an opening weekend average of roughly $13,000. Brosnan's future Agent 007 flicks would each post larger openings so Craig, who is contracted for at least two more films, could follow suit and see even bigger grosses in the years ahead as audiences become more comfortable with him. The next adventure is already slated for a November 7, 2008 launch.

Sony's research showed that Casino Royale's audience was 55% male and 57% 25 and older. Around the world, Bond dominated the box office with even greater results opening at number one in 27 markets with an estimated $42.2M overseas. The U.K. led the field with a spectacular $25.6M bow.

The only other weekend in box office history that saw two new films opening to more than $40M each was the Memorial Day frame of 2005 which was also a tight race. Over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of the long weekend, the Adam Sandler comedy The Longest Yard bowed to $47.6M narrowly edging out the computer-animated kidpic Madagascar which debuted to $47.2M. Neither film reached the top spot though as Star Wars Episode III held onto the number one position in its second session with $55.2M over three days.

Following its two-week reign over the U. S. and A., Borat dropped to third place collecting $14.6M in its third weekend of release. Down 48% from last weekend, the Fox comedy has lifted its cume to a stellar $90.8M in 17 days and could cross the century mark by Thanksgiving Day. Budgeted at only $18M (plus the cost of litigating its many current lawsuits), Borat looks to finish in the neighborhood of $125M domestically.

The two new films topping the charts helped to give most holdover films some hefty declines. Disney's The Santa Clause 3 dropped 51% to an estimated $8.3M in its third weekend for a cume to date of $51.7M. The Will Ferrell comedy Stranger Than Fiction had a tough sophomore frame grossing $6.6M, off 51%, to give Sony a ten-day total of $22.9M. Budgeted at under $30M, the Marc Forster-directed pic should find its way to $35-40M.

After two weeks in third place, the animated pic Flushed Away got hit hard by the dancing penguins and dropped to sixth with $6.6M. Down a steep 60%, the Paramount/DreamWorks venture raised its sum to $48.6M. The horror sequel Saw III followed with $2.9M, tumbling 58%, putting Lionsgate's cume at $75M.

The cross-continent drama Babel fell 48% in its second weekend of wide release and captured $2.9M as well putting the total at $12M for Paramount Vantage. After scorching results in limited release, the Brad Pitt-Cate Blanchett film is having a hard time competing on a nationwide scale. Warner Bros. grossed $2.6M for The Departed which declined by 50% in its seventh mission giving Martin Scorsese's top-grossing film $113.8M to date.

Creeping into tenth place was the experimental film festival called After Dark's Horror Fest - 8 Films to Die For with a weekend gross of $2.3M. The distributor offered eight different low-budget fright flicks throughout the weekend in 488 locations averaging a solid $4,735. With so many titles, many fans were encouraged to buy more than one ticket over the frame. Freestyle Releasing handled distribution.

Debuting poorly outside of the top ten was the jailhouse comedy Let's Go To Prison which locked up $2.2M in ticket sales from 1,495 locations for a dismal $1,495 average. According to its distributor Universal, the R-rated revenge comedy played mostly to young men with studio research showing that 67% of the audience was under the age of 25 and 59% was male.

Three high profile films premiered in limited release with varying results. MGM platformed The Weinstein Co. political drama Bobby in only two theaters and grossed $69,039 for a potent $34,519 average. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, the star-studded film about the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated boasts a cast featuring Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, Elijah Wood, Lindsay Lohan, Sharon Stone, Helen Hunt, Demi Moore, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Ashton Kutcher, and Martin Sheen. The R-rated film expands nationwide on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.

Also opening to strong results was Warner Independent's film industry comedy For Your Consideration which debuted in 23 theaters with $372,012 for a solid $16,174 average. The Christopher Guest-directed film launched in a dozen cities and will widen to over 600 runs nationwide on Wednesday. The filmmaker's last picture A Mighty Wind had wider distribution and opened to $2.1M from 133 theaters for a $15,881 average in April of 2003 on its way to a $17.8M overall take.

Arthouse moviegoers did not have an appetite for Fox Searchlight's junk food industry pic Fast Food Nation which debuted in 321 theaters with $410,804 for a poor $1,279 average. Starring Greg Kinnear, Wilmer Valderrama, Ethan Hawke, and Patricia Arquette, the R-rated film attracted mixed reviews from critics.

Three films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. The magician pic The Prestige took in $1.9M in its fifth frame, down 59%, boosting the cume to $49.4M. Look for a final tally of around $54M for the Buena Vista hit.

A pair of star-driven flops that opened last week crumbled in their sophomore frames losing more than half of their audience. Sarah Michelle Gellar's suspense thriller The Return grossed $1.7M, down 62%, for a measly total of $6.9M after ten days. Russell Crowe's stab at a romantic comedy, Fox's A Good Year, fell 57% to $1.6M putting its total at $6.4M. An embarrassing final total of about $9M should result for each pic.

The top ten films grossed $129.2M which was down a hefty 23% from last year when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire opened at number one with a jaw-dropping $102.3M; and down 7% from 2004 when National Treasure debuted in the top spot with $35.1M.

Compared to projections, both Casino Royale and Happy Feet opened close to my respective forecasts of $38M and $40M. Let's Go To Prison debuted below my $5M prediction.

For NEW DVD reviews of Cars and An Inconvenient Truth, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Wednesday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's Thanksgiving holiday frame when Deja Vu, Deck the Halls, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, and The Fountain all open.

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

# Title Nov 17 - 19 Nov 10 - 12 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Happy Feet $ 41,533,432 3,804 1 $ 10,918 $ 41,533,432 Warner Bros.
2 Casino Royale 40,833,156 3,434 1 11,891 40,833,156 Sony
3 Borat 14,602,874 28,269,900 -48.3 2,611 3 5,593 90,757,366 Fox
4 The Santa Clause 3 8,302,661 16,927,004 -51.0 3,359 3 2,472 51,704,119 Buena Vista
5 Stranger Than Fiction 6,605,197 13,411,093 -50.7 2,270 2 2,910 22,905,344 Sony
6 Flushed Away 6,596,962 16,606,526 -60.3 3,307 3 1,995 48,588,533 Paramount
7 Saw III 2,916,062 6,984,377 -58.2 1,942 4 1,502 74,968,353 Lionsgate
8 Babel 2,904,642 5,558,095 -47.7 1,251 4 2,322 12,016,104 Par. Vantage
9 The Departed 2,585,402 5,164,480 -49.9 1,611 7 1,605 113,841,430 Warner Bros.
10 After Dark's Horror Fest 2,310,680 488 1 4,735 2,310,680 Freestyle
11 Let's Go To Prison 2,220,050 1,495 1 1,485 2,220,050 Universal
12 The Queen 2,201,664 2,714,119 -18.9 606 8 3,633 17,192,619 Miramax
13 The Prestige 1,949,969 4,778,175 -59.2 1,470 5 1,327 49,363,657 Buena Vista
14 The Return 1,723,615 4,479,621 -61.5 1,953 2 883 6,870,637 Focus
15 A Good Year 1,602,385 3,721,526 -56.9 2,067 2 775 6,402,072 Fox
16 Flags of Our Fathers 819,575 2,811,575 -70.8 1,049 5 781 32,670,358 Paramount
17 Harsh Times 495,756 1,968,505 -74.8 956 2 519 3,112,154 MGM
18 Facing the Giants 427,877 674,945 -36.6 282 8 1,517 8,906,872 Goldwyn
19 Fast Food Nation 410,804 321 1 1,280 410,804 Fox Searchlight
20 For Your Consideration 372,012 23 1 16,174 372,012 Warner Ind.
Top 5 $ 111,877,320 $ 82,198,900 36.1
Top 10 129,191,068 105,900,797 22.0
Top 20 141,414,775 120,927,633 16.9
Top 20 vs. 2005 141,414,775 176,962,604 -20.1

Last Updated : November 20, 2006 at 6:00PM ET

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