Weekend Box Office (December 7 - 9, 2007)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND New Line's mega-budgeted fantasy adventure The Golden Compass opened below industry expectations but still managed to find its way into the number one spot at the North American box office. No other wide release debuted over the frame so the rest of the top ten was filled with holdover pics. For the second consecutive weekend, the top ten failed to break the $70M mark further extending the end-of-year slump that Hollywood has been suffering from as audiences have displayed little excitement for the offerings that the studios have rolled out. Overall, the box office slumped to the worst performance in five years for the first weekend of December.

Despite a built-in audience of literary fans and a massive production budget estimated to be between $180-200M, The Golden Compass generated a relatively mild $25.8M opening this weekend while playing ultrawide in 3,528 theaters, according to final studio figures. Averaging $7,308 per site, the PG-13 film starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig saw a bow that was in the same vicinity as those of recent historical effects-driven adventures released during the holiday season like Beowulf ($27.5M last month) and Eragon ($23.2M last December). With no other competing new releases, and with most current films aging rapidly, Compass was expected to have smooth sailing to a higher gross at the multiplexes this weekend.

The opening was nowhere near the $65.6M debut of The Chronicles of Narnia from two years ago this very same weekend. Both were epic fantasy adventures based on popular kids books, targeted the family audience in early December, and were driven by special effects. Narnia carried the potent Disney brand name, secured a more commercially-friendly PG rating, and took advantage of a better-known literary source. Compass on the other hand attracted plenty of resistance from Catholic groups who encouraged people not to buy tickets for the film. The New Line release also attracted mixed reviews from critics who were mostly not enthusiastic about the pic.

Among this year's 18 event films launching in over 3,500 theaters, The Golden Compass attracted the third worst opening weekend. The only ones to premiere that wide and with less muscle were the far less expensive pics Surf's Up and Fred Claus which bowed to $17.6M and $18.5M, respectively. December releases typically last longer at the box office so The Golden Compass still has a chance of joining the century club domestically. But the road to profitability will be a long one.

The picture was very different internationally where big-budget fantasy films with non-American actors typically fare very well. Compass found a potent $55M in ticket sales from over 5,000 theaters in 25 markets in what was one of the most aggressive global launches of any film since the summer tentpoles attacked. The United Kingdom led the way with a powerful $18M bow. New Line pre-sold most international territories to a assortment of distributors.

Disney's feel-good princess hit Enchanted fell from the top spot after two weeks of rule and grossed $10.7M putting it in second place. The PG-rated comedy dropped only 35% and boosted its stellar cume to $83.9M in 19 days. With good word-of-mouth and school holidays right around the corner, Enchanted should continue to hold up well throughout the holiday season. A final tally of $115-125M could result capping off a year of mostly winners for Disney. Overseas, the girlpower flick has already racked up $35.8M in business from a handful of European launches with several key markets still to open over the holiday season.

The next seven films all fell into a narrow range of $3-5M. The holiday comedy This Christmas remained in third with $5M in ticket sales in its third weekend. Sony has taken in a robust $42.7M over 19 days for this modest $13M production and should end up with $55-60M from the domestic box office.

Another yuletide pic followed. Vince Vaughn's comedy Fred Claus dipped only 16% to $4.6M for Warner Bros. raising the sum to $65.5M. With Christmas coming up soon, moviegoers were in the mood for the brother of Santa and helped give the comedy an exceptional hold. The road could lead to the vicinity of $80M.

Suffering the largest drop in the top ten was the 3D adventure Beowulf which fell 45% to $4.5M for a cume to date of $76.1M. With a production budget of $150M, the Paramount/Warner Bros. co-production should reach $85-90M from North America. Overseas this weekend, Beowulf grossed an estimated $9.2M from over 5,000 screens in 60 markets. The international cume now stands at $91.6M with the global tally at $167.7M.

The acclaimed indie hit No Country For Old Men expanded to more theaters and climbed from tenth to sixth with $4.1M. Widening from 995 to 1,324 playdates, the Miramax release averaged a decent $3,109 in its fifth weekend and bumped its total up to $28.7M. The average dipped by 29% from last weekend. Country, which was recently named the best film of 2007 by the National Board of Review, is on its way to becoming the highest-grossing film for the Coen brothers since 2000's O Brother Where Art Thou which collected $45.5M. It even has the chance of breaking that mark if it can remain a solid performer against the next wave of adult-skewing pictures.

The family film August Rush placed seventh with $3.5M, off only 30%, giving Warner Bros. $25.1M to date. Fox's stylish assassin pic Hitman dropped 42% grossing $3.5M as well and has bagged $35.8M thus far. Final grosses should reach the neighborhoods of $35M and $45M, respectively.

Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba followed in ninth with their suspense thriller Awake which fell 43% in its second weekend to $3.3M for a ten-day tally of only $10.7M. Look for a weak final of just under $20M for the MGM release. The studio's horror flick The Mist fell 42% to $2.6M and a $23.5M total.

Two other films debuted to encouraging results in limited release this weekend. Fox Searchlight enjoyed the best per-theater average of the weekend with its teen pregnancy comedy Juno which bowed in just seven theaters in New York and Los Angeles to the tune of $413,869 for a scorching $59,124 average. Since its Wednesday launch the cume stands at $525,155. Juno expands to thirteen cities and 40 theaters on Friday, then widens to about 200 runs on Dec 21 before going nationwide on Christmas Day into 800-1000 sites. Critics showered the Jason Reitman-directed film with praise.

Focus went wider with its costume drama Atonement which bowed in 32 sites with $796,836 for a superb $24,901 average. After 2005's Pride & Prejudice, director Joe Wright and actress Keira Knightley reunited for Atonement. Reviews were mostly strong.

Other arthouse favorites expanding into more cities continued to do well. Miramax's French drama The Diving Bell and the Butterfly took in $57,600 from just three sites for a potent $19,200 average. Cume is $170,321. The Philip Seymour Hoffman-Laura Linney hit The Savages widened to nine houses from four and grossed $142,449. Averaging a sturdy $15,827, the Fox Searchlight release has upped its sum to $383,147 and will see its next major expansion on Dec 21 before going into 100 locations on Christmas Day. Savages will wait until January when more awards and nominations get announced before going wider.

The top ten films grossed a disappointing $67.7M over the weekend which was down a troubling 19% from last year when Apocalypto opened at number one with $15M; and down a disturbing 40% from 2005 when The Chronicles of Narnia debuted on top with $65.6M.

Compared to projections, The Golden Compass opened below my $33M forecast.

For a NEW review of The Golden Compass visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when I Am Legend, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and The Perfect Holiday all open.

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

# Title Dec 7 - 9 Nov 30 - Dec 2 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Golden Compass $ 25,783,232 3,528 1 $ 7,308 $ 25,783,232 New Line
2 Enchanted 10,709,515 16,403,316 -34.7 3,520 3 3,042 83,868,421 Buena Vista
3 This Christmas 4,961,083 7,941,068 -37.5 1,879 3 2,640 42,721,264 Sony
4 Fred Claus 4,608,314 5,501,437 -16.2 3,185 5 1,447 65,536,922 Warner Bros.
5 Beowulf 4,536,667 8,208,565 -44.7 2,976 4 1,524 76,119,822 Paramount
6 No Country For Old Men 4,116,888 4,385,290 -6.1 1,324 5 3,109 28,744,592 Miramax
7 August Rush 3,510,446 5,021,435 -30.1 2,310 3 1,520 25,133,572 Warner Bros.
8 Hitman 3,488,135 6,021,927 -42.1 2,418 3 1,443 35,822,721 Fox
9 Awake 3,327,369 5,856,872 -43.2 2,023 2 1,645 10,743,207 MGM
10 The Mist 2,629,290 4,553,008 -42.3 2,336 3 1,126 23,477,175 MGM
11 Bee Movie 2,606,153 4,444,798 -41.4 2,707 6 963 121,021,546 Paramount
12 American Gangster 2,538,485 4,263,175 -40.5 2,132 6 1,191 125,553,670 Universal
13 Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium 1,973,713 3,261,068 -39.5 2,341 4 843 28,950,264 Fox
14 Dan in Real Life 1,062,271 1,667,110 -36.3 1,251 7 849 45,903,612 Buena Vista
15 Atonement 796,836 32 1 24,901 796,836 Focus
16 Before the Devil Knows You're Dead 578,492 767,087 -24.6 321 7 1,802 5,290,740 ThinkFilm
17 Juno 413,869 7 1 59,124 525,155 Fox Searchlight
18 I'm Not There 348,260 495,397 -29.7 148 3 2,353 2,230,210 Weinstein Co.
19 Into the Wild 331,194 450,918 -26.6 360 12 920 16,168,670 Par. Vantage
20 Bella 275,552 426,764 -35.4 402 7 685 7,232,208 Roadside Attr.
Top 5 $ 50,598,811 $ 44,431,748 13.9
Top 10 67,670,939 68,337,716 -1.0
Top 20 78,595,764 80,852,141 -2.8
Top 20 vs. 2006 78,595,764 93,024,447 -15.5

Last Updated: December 10, 2007 at 7:00PM ET

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