Weekend Box Office (December 1 - 3, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Three new releases failed to make much of an impression on North American moviegoers as the top films at the box office remained the same. The dynamic duo of the penguin toon Happy Feet and the James Bond actioner Casino Royale ranked one and two for the third straight time while Denzel Washington's action thriller Deja Vu found itself in the familiar third spot once again. Overall, the post-turkey blues set in with total ticket sales dropping significantly from last weekend.

The animated blockbuster Happy Feet became only the second film of 2006 to spend three consecutive weekends at number one. Warner Bros. held steady at the top with $17.5M over the weekend, according to final studio figures, dropping an understandable 53% from the Thanksgiving holiday frame. After 17 days of release, the penguin hit has grossed a stellar $121.5M and seems on course to reach the $180-190M domestic range depending on how it holds up over the holidays. The year's only other film to stay in first place for three weekends was Johnny Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest which also happens to be the top-grossing blockbuster of 2006.

In its usual runnerup spot was Agent 007 in Casino Royale which took in $15.1M in its third mission to boost the total to $115.9M. Off 51%, the Sony hit averaged $4,463 per theater which was virtually the same as Feet's $4,612 average. Casino has been holding up better than the last James Bond flick Die Another Day which grossed less in its third weekend. The new Daniel Craig actioner opened with $40.8M and dropped 25% to $30.8M on Thanksgiving weekend. During the same weeks in 2002, Die bowed to a stronger $47.1M, but fell a larger 34% to $31M over the turkey frame, and then another 59% to $12.8M on the third session. Casino was running 7.2% behind Die after the first ten days but has now cut the margin down to only 3.6%. The new smash looks likely to edge out the previous installment's $160.9M domestic tally. Worldwide, Casino Royale surged to $312M in global ticket sales and continues to dominate the international box office.

The Happy-Casino combo has now grossed a stunning $237M putting it slightly ahead of the $229M that moviegoers spent a year ago on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire over the same time period. Factor in the usual 3% for annual ticket price increases and the dollar amount is almost identical. So far, the two hits have tag-teamed to help keep this year's holiday box office relatively even with last year's. However, December may struggle to keep up with its 2005 counterpart when movie fans spent a towering $400M on The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong. This month's upcoming releases will all have to pitch in solid numbers for the marketplace in the final month of the year to keep up with last year.

Also not shifting its chart position this weekend was the Denzel Washington actioner Deja Vu which remained in third place with $10.9M. Dropping only 47%, the Buena Vista release watched its cume climb to $44M after 12 days. The time-shifting thriller may go on to capture $75-80M.

New Line's Biblical drama The Nativity Story debuted in fourth place with $7.8M from a wide release in 3,183 theaters. Averaging only $2,466 per venue, the PG-rated film was expected to reach double digit millions given its 3,000-plus theater launch just weeks before Christmas. The flashier family blockbuster Happy Feet may have proven to be too strong of a competitor despite doing $104M in business before Nativity even opened.

The Christmas comedy Deck the Halls followed with $6.7M dropping 44% in its second weekend. Fox has stuffed $25M into its stocking after 12 days and could be headed for a mediocre $40-45M final. Another holiday comedy, The Santa Clause 3, was right behind with $4.9M, off 51%, pushing the total for Disney to $73M. In seventh was the raunchy pic Borat which fell 54% to $4.7M giving Fox a stellar cume of $116.2M.

The horror pic Turistas bowed in eighth place with $3.6M from 1,570 locations for an average of just $2,282 per site. Fox's R-rated thriller about American tourists attacked while on vacation in Brazil played to the expected audience of older teens and young adults.

Sony's comedy Stranger Than Fiction followed with $3.4M, down 41%, for a cume to date of $36.9M. The Will Ferrell pic's weekend take included grosses from the studio's Saturday evening sneak previews of its upcoming Cameron Diaz-Kate Winslet pic The Holiday which ran at 75% capacity nationwide. The romantic comedy officially opens on Friday against three other new wide openers.

Rounding out the top ten was the new college comedy Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj which opened with $2.3M from 1,979 theaters for an average of only $1,169. The MGM sequel performed much like a pair of recent R-rated comedies aimed at young males - Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny and Let's Go to Prison - which debuted with just $3.2M and $2.2M respectively.

Three films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. The DreamWorks animated film Flushed Away released by Paramount tumbled 62% to $2.2M in its fifth weekend and raised its total to $60M. Look for a $65M final.

MGM's political drama Bobby fell a steep 59% in its second weekend of national play. The Emilio Estevez pic grossed $2M lifting the sum to only $9.2M and should end with a weak $12-14M. The Warner Bros. sci-fi romance The Fountain dropped 53% in its sophomore frame to $1.8M giving the studio a puny $8.2M in 12 days. A $11-12M final seems likely.

The top ten films grossed $77M which was up 5% from last year when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire remained at number one with $19.9M; and up 2% from 2004 when National Treasure stayed in the top spot with $17M.

Compared to projections, The Nativity Story opened below my $13M forecast while Turistas was on target with my $4M prediction. Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj debuted below my $5M projection.

For NEW reviews of Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj and DVDs of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Superman Returns, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Blood Diamond, The Holiday, Apocalypto, and Unaccompanied Minors all open.

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

# Title Dec 1 - 3 Nov 24 - 26 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Happy Feet $ 17,545,418 $ 37,038,046 -52.6 3,804 3 $ 4,612 $ 121,501,018 Warner Bros.
2 Casino Royale 15,112,870 30,785,874 -50.9 3,386 3 4,463 115,876,024 Sony
3 Deja Vu 10,947,752 20,574,802 -46.8 3,108 2 3,522 44,007,448 Buena Vista
4 The Nativity Story 7,849,304 3,183 1 2,466 7,849,304 New Line
5 Deck the Halls 6,676,139 12,001,256 -44.4 3,205 2 2,083 25,017,188 Fox
6 The Santa Clause 3 4,893,966 9,929,029 -50.7 2,617 5 1,870 73,039,485 Buena Vista
7 Borat 4,746,746 10,304,802 -53.9 2,237 5 2,122 116,241,347 Fox
8 Turistas 3,582,554 1,570 1 2,282 3,582,554 Fox
9 Stranger Than Fiction 3,356,324 5,726,536 -41.4 1,804 4 1,860 36,911,009 Sony
10 Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj 2,313,372 1,979 1 1,169 2,313,372 MGM
11 Flushed Away 2,205,862 5,756,455 -61.7 2,053 5 1,074 60,042,437 Paramount
12 Bobby 2,002,792 4,857,736 -58.8 1,670 3 1,199 9,207,037 MGM
13 The Fountain 1,785,334 3,768,702 -52.6 1,472 2 1,213 8,241,535 Warner Bros.
14 The Queen 1,366,222 2,587,471 -47.2 712 10 1,919 23,087,069 Miramax
15 Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny 1,303,678 3,234,879 -59.7 1,919 2 679 7,411,132 New Line
16 Babel 1,001,595 1,968,883 -49.1 609 6 1,645 16,774,393 Par. Vantage
17 For Your Consideration 846,953 1,924,071 -56.0 625 3 1,355 4,275,796 Warner Ind.
18 The Departed 825,361 1,709,135 -51.7 572 9 1,443 118,002,823 Warner Bros.
19 Saw III 812,459 1,574,838 -48.4 553 6 1,469 79,544,001 Lionsgate
20 Dhoom 2 510,524 979,001 -47.9 63 2 8,104 2,085,707 Yash Raj
Top 5 $ 58,131,483 $ 110,704,780 -47.5
Top 10 77,024,445 140,743,238 -45.3
Top 20 89,685,225 157,067,077 -42.9
Top 20 vs. 2005 89,685,225 82,872,405 8.2

Last Updated : December 4, 2006 at 8:00PM ET

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