Weekend Box Office (December 5 - 7, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers tightened their belts on the weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday frame. Three new releases posted modest debuts with a mere $8M in combined sales, and early Oscar contenders made a splash on the limited-release scene, but overall the North American box office was ruled by leftovers as studios refrained from opening any high profile wide releases. The top seven films remained the same from last weekend, although a few swapped chart positions.

The yuletide spirit was still in the air as ticket buyers once again flocked to the holiday comedy Four Christmases which held up well in its second weekend dipping only 46% to $16.8M, according to final studio figures. Holdovers usually fall by 50% or more on the weekend after the turkey holiday frame so to post a lower decline on this particular weekend is rare. With a robust $69.4M in 12 days, the Vince Vaughn-Reese Witherspoon vehicle should have no problem breaking though the $100M mark before Christmas and if it continues to remain a popular offering with movie fans, it could reach $120-125M.

Four will become Vaughn's fifth $100M+ grosser in as many years joining 2004's sports comedy Dodgeball ($114.3M), 2005's buddy comedy Wedding Crashers ($209.2M), that same year's Brangelina actioner Mr. & Mrs. Smith ($186.3M), and 2006's anti-romantic comedy The Break-Up ($118.7M). For Witherspoon, it will be her third such smash in seven years joining 2002's comedy Sweet Home Alabama ($127.2M) and 2006's biopic Walk the Line ($119.5M).

The vampire romance Twilight climbed up one spot and finished the weekend in second place with $13M in its third session. The Summit release only dropped by 51% which is impressive considering this is a franchise film with a built-in audience that came out in full force in the first week. With a stellar $138.4M in 17 days, the Bella-Edward saga could go on to reach a sturdy $160-170M. Just a month ago, nobody thought Twilight would be able to gross as much as the new James Bond film but now both films look to end their domestic runs in the same neighborhood.

Disney's animated entry Bolt dropped hard falling 63% to $9.8M for third place. With $79.4M in the bank, the 3D toon should end up in the vicinity of the $100M mark.

Fox's big-budget epic Australia saw a sizable 52% decline on the second weekend grossing $7.1M. The studio's executives have repeatedly stated that they expect the Nicole Kidman-Hugh Jackman starrer to have legs like past films from director Baz Luhrmann, however this weekend's drop shows that word-of-mouth may not be as strong as had been hoped for. Among the top ten's eight holdover films, Australia's drop ranks fourth best and was even with the 52% fall that the top ten as a whole suffered during the frame. Given the expected larger-than-normal dropoff from the turkey holiday, the Down Under tale's decline is not horrible. But it also doesn't give an indication of a long life ahead. With $30.9M collected in the first 12 days, Australia could go on to finish with $45-50M from North America.

Three November sequels followed with drops of more than 60% each. Sony's latest James Bond actioner Quantum of Solace fell unusually hard by 64% to $6.8M. The domestic total has climbed to $151.6M with the final gross likely to end with $160-165M putting it just shy of the $167M of Casino Royale which is the top-grossing installment in the franchise, when not adjusting for ticket price increases over the last four decades. Worldwide, Quantum has now surpassed $500M.

The toon comedy Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa followed in sixth place with $5.1M, down 64%, for a $165.7M cume. The domestic tally for DreamWorks and Paramount should conclude close to the $175M mark. Overseas, the zoo animals made a mint opening in 11 new territories and capturing an estimated $50.2M from 35 total markets to boost the international tally to $125M. The hefty global count now stands at $291M and should continue to rise rapidly in the weeks ahead as more schools around the world start closing for the holidays. The first Madagascar grossed a stunning $531M worldwide so the awareness for the brand is extremely high.

To nobody's surprise, Lionsgate's Jason Statham actioner Transporter 3 crumbled by 61% to $4.7M boosting the 12-day cume to $25.5M. Look for a final take of $30-35M which would be behind the $43.1M of 2005's Transporter 2 which was released by Fox.

Lionsgate also took the number eight spot with its other action film aimed at young men - Punisher: War Zone. The R-rated franchise flick flopped in its debut collecting a mere $4.3M from a wide release in 2,508 sites for a weak per-theater average of just $1,703. Starring relative unknown Ray Stevenson, the vigilante pic looked on paper to be a direct-to-DVD film but the distributor instead gave it a theatrical launch with an aggressive amount of theaters. The bow was less than one-third of the size of the $13.8M bow for 2004's The Punisher which starred Thomas Jane and John Travolta on its way to a decent $33.7M take. Many in the industry were puzzled as to why Lionsgate would open two franchise action films aimed at young males over back-to-back weekends.

Sony scored a small but respectable opening for its music industry drama Cadillac Records which took in $3.4M from only 687 playdates. The R-rated film averaged a good $5,015 representing the second highest average in the top ten. Starring Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, and Beyonce Knowles, the period pic earned many positive reviews. According to studio research, adult women made up the dominant group with 58% of the audience being female and 58% being over the age of 30. Cadillac was produced for $12M.

Rounding out the top ten was the raunchy comedy Role Models with $2.6M, off 50%, for a new sum of $61.6M. The Universal hit looks to end with a solid $65-70M.

With the big studios mostly sitting on the bench, the weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday session is often used by specialty films and awards contenders to debut or expand and capitalize on a rare frame where not much attention is given to the big boys. Three Oscar hopefuls took advantage of the opportunity and delivered impressive results this weekend.

Ron Howard's newest directorial effort, the political drama Frost/Nixon, opened to sensational results in only three theaters - solo houses in New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto. The R-rated story of British talk show host David Frost's 1977 interview with former president Richard Nixon after his resignation debuted to $180,708 making for a muscular $60,236 average. Critics showered the pic with acclaim giving high marks to actors Frank Langella and Michael Sheen and Universal is looking at Frost/Nixon to take the studio into awards season. Exit polls showed that older men made up the biggest audience segment - 54% of the crowd was male and 69% was over 35. This Friday, Frost/Nixon will expand to 39 theaters and on Christmas Day the studio will widen to roughly 350 theaters.

Among holdovers, the Sean Penn starrer Milk performed well in its first expansion widening from 36 to 99 theaters for of $1.8M. Averaging a solid $18,535 per theater, the Focus release has now taken in $4.3M in 12 days of limited play with many more markets to come. Posting a slightly lower average was Danny Boyle's award-winning pic Slumdog Millionaire with $1.4M from 78 sites. Fox Searchlight expanded the Mumbai-set film from 49 theaters last weekend and has grossed $5.3M after its fourth weekend of limited play. Slumdog was recently named the best film of 2008 by the National Board of Review.

Suffering one of the worst openings of the year for a wide release was Freestyle's dysfunctional family drama Nobel Son which opened to $333,912 from 893 theaters for a pitiful $374 average. That meant on average, each showtime at each theater sold only three tickets. Like the new Punisher pic, this is one that also should have made its debut on Netflix.

The top ten films grossed $73.4M which was up 9% from last year when The Golden Compass opened in the top spot with $25.8M; but down 12% from 2006 when Apocalypto debuted at number one with $15M.

Compared to projections, Punisher: War Zone debuted below my $9M forecast while Cadillac Records bowed above my $2M prediction.

Be sure to check the NEW chart of the top openings on the post-Thanksgiving weekend (2000-2008).

For a DVD review of WALL•E visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Day the Earth Stood Still and Nothing Like the Holidays both open nationwide.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Dec 5 - 7 Nov 28 - 30 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Four Christmases $ 16,755,478 $ 31,069,826 -46.1 3,335 2 $ 5,024 $ 69,418,170 Warner Bros.
2 Twilight 13,046,722 26,344,032 -50.5 3,620 3 3,604 138,402,068 Summit
3 Bolt 9,796,149 26,581,002 -63.1 3,516 3 2,786 79,381,422 Buena Vista
4 Australia 7,050,261 14,800,723 -52.4 2,721 2 2,591 30,919,097 Fox
5 Quantum of Solace 6,752,390 18,833,552 -64.1 3,423 4 1,973 151,620,134 Sony
6 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa 5,079,120 14,207,329 -64.3 3,317 5 1,531 165,653,852 Paramount
7 Transporter 3 4,668,898 12,063,452 -61.3 2,626 2 1,778 25,549,454 Lionsgate
8 Punisher: War Zone 4,271,451 2,508 1 1,703 4,271,451 Lionsgate
9 Cadillac Records 3,445,559 687 1 5,015 3,445,559 Sony
10 Role Models 2,574,460 5,191,180 -50.4 1,907 5 1,350 61,617,805 Universal
11 Milk 1,835,004 1,453,844 26.2 99 2 18,535 4,284,555 Focus
12 Slumdog Millionaire 1,402,176 1,346,039 4.2 78 4 17,977 5,339,510 Fox Searchlight
13 The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 1,031,036 1,696,187 -39.2 678 5 1,521 6,657,280 Miramax
14 Changeling 501,070 1,207,240 -58.5 681 7 736 34,683,447 Universal
15 Nobel Son 333,912 893 1 374 333,912 Freestyle
16 Rachel Getting Married 285,331 530,210 -46.2 170 9 1,678 9,226,246 Sony Classics
17 Fireproof 251,459 431,787 -41.8 499 10 504 32,678,691 Samuel Goldwyn
18 High School Musical 3: Senior Year 244,722 1,061,628 -76.9 632 7 387 89,132,272 Buena Vista
19 Zack and Miri Make a Porno 226,098 524,425 -56.9 275 6 822 30,839,277 Weinstein Co.
20 The Secret Life of Bees 217,469 561,671 -61.3 432 8 503 36,994,417 Fox Searchlight
Top 5 $ 53,401,000 $ 117,629,135 -54.6
Top 10 73,440,488 152,241,127 -51.8
Top 20 79,768,765 158,992,036 -49.8
Top 20 vs. 2007 79,768,765 78,595,764 1.5

Last Updated: December 8, 2008 at 6:15PM ET