Weekend Box Office (December 8 - 10, 2006)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Mel Gibson ruled the box office once again as his latest directorial effort Apocalypto beat out a string of newcomers and strong holdovers to become an unlikely number one hit. The romantic comedy The Holiday had to settle for a third place showing while Leonardo DiCaprio's new actioner Blood Diamond finished the frame a couple of more notches back in fifth with a not-so-sparkling bow. Overall, the marketplace was sluggish as total ticket sales fell significantly from the corresponding weekends from each of the last two years.

The ancient Mayan adventure Apocalypto shot to the top of the box office charts with $15M over the weekend, according to final studio figures, giving Gibson a major industry victory just months after a scandalous summer. Playing in 2,465 theaters, the R-rated action film averaged a solid $6,087 per location. Apocalypto entered the marketplace as a tough sell given its unknown cast, subtitles, and extreme brutality. However, good reviews helped the film and the free publicity Gibson received since being arrested in July certainly boosted the overall awareness of the picture.

The Oscar-winning filmmaker's last movie, 2004's The Passion of the Christ, generated tons more controversy and found itself with a colossal $125.2M opening over five days on its way to a domestic haul of $370.3M. Apocalypto stood as a very different film and was never expected to come close to that level. Studio research showed that 60% of the audience was male which was expected given its action story and extreme levels of torture and violence. Buena Vista has been on a roll in the second half of 2006 and Apocalypto should become the studio's ninth consecutive wide release to reach past $50M domestically.

Following its three-week stint at number one, the penguin hit Happy Feet dropped down to second place but still witnessed a strong hold. The Warner Bros. toon enjoyed the smallest decline in the top ten dipping only 27% to $12.9M and raised its cume to $137.9M. With solid word-of-mouth and the upcoming school holidays approaching, Happy Feet stands a good chance of reaching the $200M domestic mark. Internationally, the animated film grossed an estimated $25.4M from 37 markets this weekend boosting the overseas cume to $40.8M

Movie patrons looking for lighter fare lined up for the new romantic comedy The Holiday which debuted close behind in third with $12.8M. The PG-13 film stars Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet as two women who switch homes for the Christmas season and find love with a pair of new chaps played by Jude Law and Jack Black. Spreading cheer in 2,610 locations, The Holiday averaged a good $4,896 per site. Not surprisingly, adult women made up the largest part of the audience. According to studio research, 65% of the crowd was female and 57% was 25 and older. Reviews were not very kind. The film was helmed by Nancy Meyers who directed Mel Gibson in the smash hit What Women Want in 2000. The two went head-to-head this weekend with their new projects but it was Gibson who managed to race ahead and claim the box office crown.

The debut of The Holiday was on the lower end of the range reached by similar films opening in mid-December like last year's The Family Stone ($12.5M), 2003's Something's Gotta Give ($16.1M), and 2002's Two Weeks Notice ($14.3M). Unlike the other eleven months of the year, December usually sees movies enjoy better legs thanks to the extra time people have off from work and school. Those who miss a film on opening weekend often have time to see it later on and movies routinely reach a final gross that is five to seven times their debuts. Stone's bow accounted for only 21% of its overall tally while Something and Notice enjoyed shares of 13% and 15%, respectively.

Casino Royale followed and fell 41% to $8.9M putting the domestic total at $129M. The James Bond actioner is now running only 2% behind the pace of the last Agent 007 flick Die Another Day which had banked $131.9M after its fourth weekend. Overseas, Daniel Craig continued to shine lifting Casino's international tally to $247.2M putting the global gross at a stunning $376.1M and counting. By the end of the week, the Sony smash will zoom past the worldwide tallies of Superman Returns ($390M) and Mission: Impossible III ($395M).

Opening in fifth place with mediocre results was Leonardo DiCaprio's Blood Diamond with $8.6M from 1,910 sites for a decent $4,528 average. Directed by Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Glory), the R-rated film finds the Titanic star playing a white African diamond smuggler hunting down a rare pink diamond found by an enslaved fisherman. Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly co-star and reviews were generally positive. Blood attracted media attention for its story which examines how conflict diamonds are used by rebel groups to finance their wars in parts of Africa. The opening weekend average did not reach the levels of the debuts of last year's R-rated political thrillers set near that part of the world. The Constant Gardener bowed to $8.7M and a $6,444 average while Syriana opened nationally this weekend in 2005 to $11.7M with a $6,699 average.

Warner Bros. also opened its new family comedy Unaccompanied Minors but was met with weak results thanks in part to a crowded market for kidpics. The PG-rated film grossed $5.8M from 2,775 theaters for a poor $2,096 average. Minors finds a group of kids stranded in an airport during the holiday season.

Denzel Washington's action thriller Deja Vu dropped 45% to $6M in its third weekend and upped its cume to $53M for Buena Vista. In eighth place was the Biblical drama The Nativity Story with $5.7M declining only 27%. With $15.9M in ten days, the New Line release may find its way to $35-40M.

More Christmas pics rounded out the top ten. Fox's Deck the Halls grossed $4M, off 40%, to push its total to $30.1M. Disney's The Santa Clause 3 dipped 34% to $3.3M giving the studio $77.2M to date. The holiday comedy is running 36% behind the pace of the last Tim Allen installment which had taken in $120.1M at this same point in its run. Factor in ticket price increases since 2002 and Clause 3 is trailing by 43%.

Four films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. Fox's smash hit Borat fell 46% to $2.6M giving the blockbuster comedy $120.3M to date. Budgeted at only $18M, look for the Sacha Baron Cohen concoction to finish with $125-130M domestically. Cohen's Talladega Nights foe Will Ferrell has not met with the same kind of success with his latest comedy Stranger Than Fiction. The Sony release fell 58% to $1.4M to put its cume at $39.1M. Budgeted at just under $30M, Fiction should end up with $40-45M.

The horror thriller Turistas from Fox's new teen genre division Fox Atomic tumbled 60% in its second weekend to $1.4M. With only $6M in ten days, look for the R-rated film to harvest just $8-10M from its theatrical run. Fellow sophomore Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj has grossed only $3.8M to date and seems headed for a finish of just $5-7M for MGM.

The top ten films grossed $83.1M which was down 27% from last year when The Chronicles of Narnia opened at number one with $65.6M; and down 16% from 2004 when Ocean's Twelve debuted in the top spot with $39.2M.

Compared to projections, Apocalypto opened on target with my $15M forecast while The Holiday launched a few notches below my prediction of $15M. Blood Diamond and Unaccompanied Minors debuted below my projections of $12M and $9M, respectively.

For NEW reviews of Apocalypto and Blood Diamond visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Pursuit of Happyness, Eragon, and Charlotte's Web all open.

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

# Title Dec 8 - 10 Dec 1 - 3 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Apocalypto $ 15,005,604 2,465 1 $ 6,087 $ 15,005,604 Buena Vista
2 Happy Feet 12,904,413 17,545,418 -26.5 3,650 4 3,535 137,932,841 Warner Bros.
3 The Holiday 12,778,913 2,610 1 4,896 12,778,913 Sony
4 Casino Royale 8,926,207 15,112,870 -40.9 3,161 4 2,824 129,020,082 Sony
5 Blood Diamond 8,648,324 1,910 1 4,528 8,648,324 Warner Bros.
6 Deja Vu 6,019,672 10,947,752 -45.0 2,742 3 2,195 52,995,929 Buena Vista
7 Unaccompanied Minors 5,815,474 2,775 1 2,096 5,815,474 Warner Bros.
8 The Nativity Story 5,713,854 7,849,304 -27.2 3,083 2 1,853 15,907,450 New Line
9 Deck the Halls 3,993,188 6,676,139 -40.2 2,766 3 1,444 30,144,903 Fox
10 The Santa Clause 3 3,254,829 4,893,966 -33.5 2,226 6 1,462 77,184,019 Buena Vista
11 Borat 2,571,596 4,746,746 -45.8 1,594 6 1,613 120,266,165 Fox
12 Stranger Than Fiction 1,425,717 3,356,324 -57.5 1,266 5 1,126 39,130,729 Sony
13 Turistas 1,418,457 3,582,554 -60.4 1,572 2 902 5,958,487 Fox
14 The Queen 875,874 1,366,222 -35.9 628 11 1,395 24,547,384 Miramax
15 Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj 871,780 2,313,372 -62.3 1,979 2 441 3,833,762 MGM
16 Flushed Away 835,368 2,205,862 -62.1 1,048 6 797 61,214,583 Paramount
17 Bobby 568,805 2,002,792 -71.6 804 4 707 10,453,287 MGM
18 The Fountain 501,489 1,785,334 -71.9 636 3 789 9,390,119 Warner Bros.
19 Babel 456,581 1,001,595 -54.4 373 7 1,224 17,605,771 Par. Vantage
20 The Departed 438,302 825,361 -46.9 355 10 1,235 118,740,373 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 58,263,461 $ 58,131,483 0.2
Top 10 83,060,478 77,024,445 7.8
Top 20 93,024,447 89,685,225 3.7
Top 20 vs. 2005 93,024,447 120,059,233 -22.5

Last Updated : December 11, 2006 at 6:15PM ET

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