Weekend Box Office (November 21 - 23, 2003)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND A pair of critically-panned new releases topped the box office with Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat taking the number one spot during the weekend before Thanksgiving, while the supernatural thriller Gothika debuted impressively in second place. Overall, the North American box office continued to trail the corresponding weekends from each of the last three years.

Mike Myers scored the sixth number one opening of his career with the big-budget family comedy The Cat in the Hat which led all films over the weekend with an opening of $38.3M, according to final studio figures. The Universal/DreamWorks co-production launched ultrawide in 3,464 locations and averaged a sturdy $11,065 per venue. Rated PG, Cat did not, however, reach the heights of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas which launched with $55.1M on the weekend before Thanksgiving in 2000 on its way to $260M. Cat's bow marks a 30% drop from Grinch's launch.

According to studio exit data, the heavily-promoted Cat in the Hat registered mostly with parents and children with 29% of the audience being parents and nearly half the crowd being under the age of 15. Females made up 60% of the audience as the $109M-budgeted film played mostly as a moms-and-kids film rather than attracting decent amounts of teens and young adults as Jim Carrey's Grinch did. The Cat in the Hat will only have a short time to defend its crown as Disney will aim directly at the family audience on Wednesday with the saturation release of the effects-driven Eddie Murphy comedy The Haunted Mansion.

Halle Berry flexed her box office muscle with a strong second place bow for her fright flick Gothika which grossed $19.3M. Proving she could open a picture on her own, the Oscar winner averaged a terrifying $8,098 from just 2,382 playdates. The R-rated thriller finds the former Bond Girl playing a psychologist haunted by spirits and accused of murdering her husband. Reviews offered little support but with the slate of pre-Halloween horror films now played out, Gothika took advantage of a lack of direct competition. With such a successful opening, Berry's agents are now sure to negotiate higher levels of compensation for their client's services.

Last weekend's favorite stocking stuffer, the holiday comedy Elf, dropped two spots to third place but only dipped 29% collecting $18.7M. After 17 days of Christmas cheer, the New Line hit has grossed $94.7M and should cross the $100M mark by the time movie fans sit down for turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

Russell Crowe's epic naval saga Master and Commander dropped a moderate 39% in its second weekend to $15.2M giving the Fox adventure $47.3M in ten days. With a reported budget of $135M, the Peter Weir film looks certain to sail past $90M and still stands a chance of reaching nine digits with a big holiday frame still to come.

Universal's Love Actually remained the season's adult date film of choice by climbing one notch to fifth place with $8.6M. The British comedy expanded again by 513 theaters to 1,690 locations and watched its weekend gross remain flat. Love's per-theater average of $5,115 dipped by a commendable 31% from last weekend and the cume to date stands at $30.4M with the $60-70M domestic range certainly in sight. Overseas, Love opened in 15 territories this weekend and grossed an estimated $19.6M from 2,260 theaters pushing the international total to $23M. The film's bow at home in the U.K. was a Universal record $10.3M including previews. Top spots were also nabbed in Spain, Italy, Finland, Israel, the Netherlands, and South Africa.

Who knew at the beginning of the month that the mighty sci-fi sequel The Matrix Revolutions would be outgunned at the box office by Elf? The Wachowski Brothers epic once again suffered the worst decline in the top ten stumbling 57% to $7M in its third battle for Zion. The Keanu pic has raised its 19-day total to $125.4M and looks to end its domestic run in the neighborhood of $140M.

With the Cat entering the marketplace, competing kidpics Brother Bear and Looney Tunes: Back in Action each lost more than half their biz. The Disney toon fell 56% to $5.3M lifting its total to $70.3M while the Warner Bros. flop tumbled 55% to $4.2M in its sophomore session for a ten-day sum of only $14.9M. With a hefty $80M budget, the animation-live action hybrid comedy should finish its domestic run with an embarrassing $23-26M.

Rounding out the top ten were Miramax's Scary Movie 3 with $3.1M, off 49%, for a $106.5M cume and Sony's Radio with $2.6M, down 46%, for a $47.1M tally.

Opening powerfully in limited release was the Sean Penn-Benecio Del Toro crime drama 21 Grams which grossed $274,454 from only eight theaters for a potent $34,307 average. The R-rated pic comes fresh from the Venice and Toronto film festivals and has attracted rave reviews. Focus Features will widen to about 56 theaters on Wednesday and then gradually expand over the coming weeks. In director Alejandro González Iñárritu's home country of Mexico, 21 Grams launched this weekend with an estimated $1.4M (including previews) from 247 sites.

A pair of films fell out of the top ten over the weekend. The Warner Bros. crime thriller Mystic River dropped 38% to $2M in its seventh frame to boost its cume to $48.6M. The Clint Eastwood drama looks to end its run with about $55M. Paramount's hip hop doc Tupac: Resurrection plunged an alarming 76% in its second weekend and grossed $1.1M. The low-budget pic has grossed $6.6M in ten days and should leave theaters soon with just about $8M.

The top ten films grossed $122.5M which was down 14% from last year when Die Another Day opened at number one with $47.1M; and down 12% from 2001 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone remained in the top spot over Thanksgiving with $57.5M.

Compared to projections, The Cat in the Hat opened below my $47M forecast while Gothika surged ahead of my $12M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the Academy Award prospects for the epic films Master and Commander and The Last Samurai. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether The Cat in the Hat would open bigger than The Grinch's $55.1M bow. Of 2,750 responses, 45% said Yes while 55% correctly guessed No.

For NEW reviews of The Cat in the Hat and Timeline, and a book review of Roger Ebert's The Great Movies, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Monday night for final figures and again on Wednesday for a complete summary, including projections, for the Thanksgiving weekend box office when The Haunted Mansion, Timeline, The Missing, and Bad Santa all open.

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

# Title Nov. 21 - 23 Nov. 14 - 16 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Cat in the Hat $ 38,329,160 3,464 1 $ 11,065 $ 38,329,160 Universal
2 Gothika 19,288,438 2,382 1 8,098 19,288,438 Warner Bros.
3 Elf 18,715,992 26,325,613 -28.9 3,381 3 5,536 94,732,626 New Line
4 Master and Commander 15,213,896 25,105,990 -39.4 3,101 2 4,906 47,279,725 Fox
5 Love Actually 8,644,555 8,698,030 -0.6 1,690 3 5,115 30,436,985 Universal
6 The Matrix Revolutions 7,032,216 16,415,384 -57.2 3,024 3 2,325 125,382,792 Warner Bros.
7 Brother Bear 5,346,869 12,056,067 -55.6 2,885 5 1,853 70,322,073 Buena Vista
8 Looney Tunes: Back in Action 4,215,236 9,317,371 -54.8 2,903 2 1,452 14,891,610 Warner Bros.
9 Scary Movie 3 3,135,252 6,105,246 -48.6 2,359 5 1,329 106,469,358 Miramax
10 Radio 2,618,254 4,808,366 -45.5 1,925 5 1,360 47,079,714 Sony
11 Mystic River 2,017,394 3,244,465 -37.8 1,250 7 1,614 48,556,414 Warner Bros.
12 Runaway Jury 1,485,169 2,784,130 -46.7 1,061 6 1,400 46,802,900 Fox
13 Tupac: Resurrection 1,116,099 4,632,847 -75.9 804 2 1,388 6,647,524 Paramount
14 School of Rock 1,004,640 1,841,665 -45.4 780 8 1,288 77,727,217 Paramount
15 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 919,197 2,614,908 -64.8 945 6 973 79,196,630 New Line
16 The Human Stain 701,709 562,423 24.8 388 4 1,809 3,944,212 Miramax
17 Kill Bill Vol. 1 565,486 1,427,946 -60.4 398 7 1,421 68,417,240 Miramax
18 Lost in Translation 531,787 706,284 -24.7 228 11 2,332 28,061,165 Focus
19 Pirates of the Caribbean 421,857 604,338 -30.2 375 20 1,125 304,175,582 Buena Vista
20 The Station Agent 421,473 354,065 19.0 149 8 2,829 2,596,195 Miramax
Top 5 $ 100,192,041 $ 89,220,425 12.3
Top 10 122,539,868 116,709,379 5.0
Top 20 131,724,679 128,568,051 2.5
Top 20 vs. 2002 131,724,679 150,566,786 -12.5

Last Updated : November 24, 2003 at 5:00PM EST

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