Weekend Box Office (December 12 - 14, 2003)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND In the calm before the Hobbit storm, Jack Nicholson captured the number one spot with his new comedy Something's Gotta Give during a relatively slow session at the North American box office. Two other new comedies, the Farrelly Brothers pic Stuck on You and the teen tale Love Don't Cost A Thing, both experienced mild bows but helped to shake up the top five during the weekend before the hugely anticipated launch of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which brings its weapons of mass destruction to the box office charts on Wednesday aiming to demolish some records in the process.

Jack Nicholson bumped his A Few Good Men co-star Tom Cruise from the top spot as Something's Gotta Give collected $16.1M over the Friday-to-Sunday span, according to final studio figures, to lead all films in the marketplace. Directed by Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, The Parent Trap), the PG-13 picture averaged a solid $6,001 from 2,677 theaters and gave Sony its ninth number one opener of the year - a new industry record. The romantic comedy, which earned mostly positive reviews, finds the evergreen star playing a music industry executive who finds himself falling for his girlfriend's mother. Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, and Amanda Peet also star. Adult women were the primary audience as studio research showed that 68% of the crowd was over the age of 35 and 59% were female.

In the three years between the Nancy Meyers bookend comedies What Women Want and this weekend's Something's Gotta Give, no female director has opened a film at number one on her own. Vicky Jenson co-directed Shrek which topped the charts in May 2001 and Sharon Maguire helmed Bridget Jones's Diary which bowed at number two, but climbed into the number one slot in its second weekend in April of the same year. Meanwhile, for Nicholson, Something marks the three-time Oscar winner's second trip to the top of the heap this year after April's huge $42.2M debut of Sony's Anger Management. Keanu Reeves, on the other hand, has hit number one three times this year with his current film and both Matrix sequels.

Last weekend's top film, the Tom Cruise epic The Last Samurai, dropped a moderate 42% to $14.1M in its second weekend of release. The $100M+ film has grossed $46.9M in its first ten days and looks on course to reach the century club.

Comedy experts Bobby and Peter Farrelly saw their latest entry Stuck On You open in third place with $9.4M generating one of the worst bows ever for the writer/director brothers. Averaging a weak $3,134 in an ultrawide 3,003 theaters, the Fox release failed to reach the debut heights of other hit comedies from the gross-out kings including $22.5M for 2001's Shallow Hal, $24.2M for 2000's Me, Myself, and Irene, $13.7M for 1998's There's Something About Mary, and $16.4M for 1994's Dumb and Dumber. The PG-13 Stuck stars Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins who move to Hollywood when one wants to pursue his acting dreams. Reviews were generally lackluster.

Premiering in fourth place was the teen film Love Don't Cost A Thing which grossed $6.3M from 1,844 theaters for a mild $3,425 average. Starring Nick Cannon and Christina Milian, the PG-13 film was a multicultural remake of the 1987 teen flick Can't Buy Me Love. The opening was about half of what Cannon's hit Drumline grossed when it opened this exact weekend a year ago to $12.6M and a $6,865 average. That Fox title went on to collect $56.4M. Love, which finds the actor playing a high school nerd who hires a popular gal to pose as his girlfriend, was released by Warner Bros.

This weekend's box office delivered the lowest gross for a number one film in over three months as ticket sales fell from the comparable frame from each of the last three years. Industry health will change quickly when New Line Cinema's The Return of the King invades over 3,600 theaters with more than 7,000 total screens this week with its Wednesday launch which begins with midnight screenings on Tuesday night. Next weekend's only other wide release will be the Julia Roberts-led femme pic Mona Lisa Smile which Sony opens on Friday.

Three solid holdovers were close behind. Disney's Eddie Murphy comedy The Haunted Mansion dipped just 35% to $6.1M in its third frame boosting the cume to $53.7M. Miramax added 449 theaters to the run of its Billy Bob Thornton hit Bad Santa and bagged $6M. Off only 14%, the R-rated adult comedy has reached $35.7M and is showing some of the best legs of any film this holiday season. Speaking of durability, New Line's Christmas-themed Elf slipped only 25% to $6M as well and lifted its total to $147.5M after its sixth weekend.

Universal's teen dance pic Honey tumbled 62% in its second weekend to $4.9M. The $14M production has grossed $19.8M in ten days and looks to reach $30-33M. Studio stablemate The Cat in the Hat followed with $4.2M, down 42%, for a $90.7M sum. Nine-digit territory awaits. Rounding out the top ten was Halle Berry's Gothika with $2.7M, off 48%, giving the Warner Bros. entry $53.9M to date.

Three films fell out of the top ten over the weekend. Fox's epic sea adventure Master and Commander dropped 36% to $2.4M in its fifth mission and raised its total to $76.2M. With a budget of over $135M, the Russell Crowe film looks to reach at least $85M domestically with higher levels possible depending on Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.

The British Christmas movie Love Actually dipped 41% to $2.1M in its sixth weekend and has embraced $52.2M to date. A domestic tally of at least $60M seems likely. Overseas, Love has already grossed $90M and remains at the top of the U.K. charts for the fourth consecutive weekend.

Ron Howard's Western thriller The Missing crumbled 62% to $1.5M and saw its cume inch up to a disappointing $24.7M. The Sony flop should end with just $27-29M.

Ahead of the mid-week launch of The Return of the King, New Line bowed the special release of the extended edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and banked $727,645 from 126 theaters. The gross and $5,775 average bested the $473,463 take and $3,758 average of the reissue of The Fellowship of the Ring just one weekend earlier in the same cinemas. Adding in the re-release sales, Fellowship now stands at $314.2M while Towers sits with $340.5M.

Opening impressively in limited release was Tim Burton's fantasy saga Big Fish which bowed in just six theaters but grossed $207,377 for a fantastic $34,562 average. The PG-rated tale expands on Christmas Day and goes nationwide on January 9. Total since its Wednesday launch is $281,795. Lions Gate opened the Colin Firth period drama Girl With A Pearl Earring in seven sites and grossed $89,472 resulting in a solid $12,781 average. Sony Classics released the Michael Caine pic The Statement in seven sites and grossed $37,220 for a not-too-promising $5,317 average.

Critically acclaimed films campaiging for end-of-year kudos also made their mark. Focus Features' 21 Grams dropped 36% to $322,069 for a $4,352 average from 74 theaters and a total of $2.9M. Fox Searchlight widened In America from 11 to 47 locations and saw sales double to $275,435. With $803,254 to date, the distributor will expand the film to about 150 theaters on Friday and to about 300 runs on Christmas Day.

The top ten films grossed $75.8M which was down 13% from last year when Maid in Manhattan opened at number one with $18.7M; and down 13% from 2001 when Vanilla Sky debuted on top with $25M.

Compared to projections, Something's Gotta Give opened a few notches below my $20M forecast. Both Stuck On You and Love Don't Cost A Thing debuted well below my respective predictions of $16M and $14M.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on the opening gross of The Return of the King. In last week's survey, readers were asked how much the screener ban would have helped to prevent piracy. Of 1,649 responses, 13% said Very Much, 32% thought Somewhat, and 55% felt Not At All.

For a review of Stuck On You, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Wednesday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Mona Lisa Smile battle it out for the top spot.

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

# Title Dec. 12 - 14 Dec. 5 - 7 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Something's Gotta Give $ 16,064,723 2,677 1 $ 6,001 $ 16,064,723 Sony
2 The Last Samurai 14,087,074 24,271,354 -42.0 2,908 2 4,844 46,874,330 Warner Bros.
3 Stuck on You 9,411,055 3,003 1 3,134 9,411,055 Fox
4 Love Don't Cost A Thing 6,315,311 1,844 1 3,425 6,315,311 Warner Bros.
5 The Haunted Mansion 6,139,023 9,394,185 -34.7 3,001 3 2,046 53,749,464 Buena Vista
6 Elf 6,017,341 8,026,797 -25.0 2,876 6 2,092 147,507,398 New Line
7 Bad Santa 6,012,550 7,014,010 -14.3 2,540 3 2,367 35,715,007 Miramax
8 Honey 4,860,975 12,856,040 -62.2 1,972 2 2,465 19,776,370 Universal
9 The Cat in the Hat 4,166,590 7,141,855 -41.7 2,955 4 1,410 90,728,185 Universal
10 Gothika 2,725,221 5,250,356 -48.1 1,806 4 1,509 53,933,915 Warner Bros.
11 Master and Commander 2,381,479 3,722,008 -36.0 1,623 5 1,467 76,192,090 Fox
12 Love Actually 2,114,095 3,561,360 -40.6 1,566 6 1,350 52,171,570 Universal
13 The Missing 1,516,818 4,034,563 -62.4 2,083 3 728 24,680,041 Sony
14 Timeline 869,644 2,729,568 -68.1 1,915 3 454 18,519,185 Paramount
15 LOTR: The Two Towers (RE) 727,645 126 1 5,775 340,517,526 New Line
16 The Matrix Revolutions 722,041 1,352,380 -46.6 633 6 1,141 136,924,212 Warner Bros.
17 Brother Bear 655,405 1,259,466 -48.0 1,031 8 636 80,460,136 Buena Vista
18 Mystic River 397,403 622,480 -36.2 410 10 969 52,526,351 Warner Bros.
19 21 Grams 322,069 502,327 -35.9 74 4 4,352 2,906,214 Focus
20 In America 275,435 143,380 92.1 47 3 5,860 803,254 Fox Searchlight
Top 5 $ 52,017,186 $ 61,690,231 -15.7
Top 10 75,799,863 85,272,528 -11.1
Top 20 85,781,897 93,732,516 -8.5
Top 20 vs. 2002 85,781,897 98,132,558 -12.6

Last Updated : December 15, 2003 at 6:30PM EST

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