Weekend Box Office (December 12 - 14, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Fearing extinction, humans across North America lined up to see the new sci-fi thriller The Day the Earth Stood Still which debuted at number one more than doubling the gross of its nearest competitor. With only one new wide release making any impact, most holdovers remained sturdy with relatively low declines. Meanwhile with awards season getting more active, an assortment of acclaimed films debuted in limited release with all showing muscular numbers. But overall, the marketplace fell sharply from year-ago levels and given the upcoming slate of releases, there may be nothing but down weekends for the remainder of the year.

Keanu Reeves scored the fourth best opening of his career with Earth which bowed to $30.5M, according to final studio figures, from 3,560 theaters for a solid $8,562 average. The remake of the classic 1951 film of the same name finds the actor playing Klaatu, an alien sent to this planet to drop the bad news to mankind that they'll soon be given the boot. The PG-13 film is an effects-driven disaster movie and delivered a well-needed hit to Fox which has been struggling at the box office since last spring. Earth marks only the second number one opening for the studio over the last six months and is tied for the company's second best bow of the year after the $45M for March's Horton Hears a Who.

The $80M-budgeted alien film skewed male but played to a broad age range. According to studio research, 55% of the audience was male while 51% was over the age of 25. Friday got off to a solid start with $11.6M in ticket sales, Saturday inched up 3% to $11.9M, and Sunday dropped 42% to $6.9M. The grosses include the 120 Imax locations that are also playing Earth with higher-priced tickets. Reviews were mostly negative and early audience feedback is not looking good either so the long-term outlook is iffy.

Compared to other non-sequel non-summer action films from this year, Earth's debut came in below the $40.1M of Cloverfield and the $35.9M of 10,000 B.C. Neither of those had any stars. The performance was on par with the debut of the 2005 Reeves vehicle Constantine which grossed $29.8M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of its holiday opening, or $33M at today's ticket prices. That R-rated sci-fi thriller went on to finish with $75.5M, or $84M at 2008 prices. The former Neo has been absent from the number one spot for five long years. His last top slot debut came thanks to a supporting role in Jack Nicholson's Something's Gotta Give which opened this very weekend in 2003.

Fox unleashed The Day the Earth Stood Still in 90 international markets this weekend and grossed a solid but not astounding $39M putting the global opening at nearly $70M.

Following its two-week stint at number one, the holiday comedy Four Christmases slipped to second place but posted the smallest decline of any film in the top ten. The Vince Vaughn-Reese Witherspoon hit slipped a remarkably low 22% to $13.1M as moviegoers continue to ignore what critics have said and instead have been responding to the humor, concept, and starpower. The Warner Bros. release has now tallied $87.8M in 19 days and with Christmas Day next week, the film now looks to reach $140M or more domestically. Four has also grossed $15.7M from 18 territories overseas early in its run with the United Kingdom accounting for two-thirds of that take.

Summit's vampire smash Twilight witnessed another good hold dropping only 39% in its fourth weekend to $8M allowing the cume to rise to $150M. Add in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Quantum of Solace and this November saw three different releases go on to top $150M in domestic sales for only the second time in box office history. The only other time this happened for this particular month was in 2004 when the November titles The Incredibles, The Polar Express, and National Treasure all soared above that mark.

Disney tacked a new 3D Pixar short onto its animated feature Bolt and used the gimmick to generate a strong hold. The canine comedy grossed $7.5M in its fourth frame for a slender 24% decline. With $88.8M to date, the 3D toon should have no problem busting through the $100M mark by Christmas weekend.

Fox's big-budget epic Australia, which was shut out of any Golden Globe nominations, followed with $4.2M, down 41%, for a disappointing $37.8M cume. The James Bond actioner Quantum of Solace dropped 45% to $3.7M pushing the domestic total up to $157.6M. Daniel Craig's second turn as Agent 007 is the third biggest grosser in the series (when not accounting for ticket price increases over the decades) behind his franchise debut Casino Royale ($167M) and Pierce Brosnan's final flick Die Another Day ($160.9M).

The family reunion saga Nothing Like the Holidays saw little cheer from ticket buyers debuting poorly to $3.5M. The PG-13 film features a mostly Latino cast and averaged a weak $2,114 from 1,671 locations. Despite a marketplace lacking any films specifically targeting Spanish-speaking audiences, a release date during the holiday season, and decent reviews, Nothing failed to spark interest with moviegoers for its distributor Overture.

The animated sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa remains the top-grossing film in the post-Dark Knight era. Paramount and DreamWorks took in $3.2M, off 37%, and upped the North American cume to $169.9M. Overseas, the zoo animals were in second place after Keanu grossing an estimated $33.6M this weekend from 46 territories upping the robust tally to $172.7M. The worldwide haul now stands at $343M with global school holidays still to come.

Focus more than tripled the run of its Sean Penn starrer Milk from 99 to 328 locations and collected $2.6M boosting the total to $7.6M. The per-theater average was a commendable $7,923. Rounding out the top ten was the Jason Statham action sequel Transporter 3 with $2.4M, down 50%, for a cume of $29.4M for Lionsgate.

A handful of awards contenders debuted impressively in limited release this weekend. Miramax went into 15 theaters with its Meryl Streep drama Doubt and made off with $507,226 for a stellar $33,815 average. Clint Eastwood's acting and directing duties were at the heart of Gran Torino which averaged a sensational $45,287 for Warner Bros. thanks to its $271,720 gross from just six sites. Kate Winslet's Nazi war trial pic The Reader opened to $168,051 from eight playdates for a strong $21,006 average for The Weinstein Co. All three films earned generally good reviews and will add more runs in additional cities over the coming weeks.

IFC Films platformed Steven Soderbergh's biopic Che starring Benicio del Toro in solo houses in New York and Los Angeles and took in $61,070 for a superb $30,535 average. The performance was especially potent since the film clocks in at over four hours leaving the theaters to offer just two showings per day. The distributor is only running Che for one week so it can qualify for Oscar consideration. In January it will return to theaters for its official release in numerous markets.

Among holdovers in limited release, Fox Searchlight's awards contender Slumdog Millionaire expanded from 78 to 169 theaters and grossed $2.2M for a $8M sum. Averaging a sturdy $12,873, the Danny Boyle-directed pic widens to about 500 runs on Friday. The political drama Frost/Nixon went from three to 39 sites this weekend and collected $626,377 for Universal for a solid $16,061 average. The Ron Howard-directed film has grossed $873,836 to date and expands into 350 locations on Christmas Day before going fully wide in January.

The top ten films over this Will Smith-less weekend grossed $78.5M which was down 47% from last year when I Am Legend opened in the top spot with $77.2M; and down 23% from 2006 when The Pursuit of Happyness debuted at number one with $26.5M.

Compared to projections, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Nothing Like the Holidays both opened below my respective forecasts of $48M and $7M.

Be sure to check the UPDATED box office chart of Golden Globe nominees and their grosses.

For a DVD review of the Golden Globe-nominated hit WALL•E visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Yes Man, Seven Pounds, and The Tale of Despereaux all debut.

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

# Title Dec 12 - 14 Dec 5 - 7 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Day the Earth Stood Still $ 30,480,153 3,560 1 $ 8,562 $ 30,480,153 Fox
2 Four Christmases 13,074,470 16,755,478 -22.0 3,540 3 3,693 87,775,974 Warner Bros.
3 Twilight 7,951,131 13,046,722 -39.1 3,649 4 2,179 150,045,826 Summit
4 Bolt 7,464,282 9,796,149 -23.8 3,133 4 2,382 88,849,005 Buena Vista
5 Australia 4,169,277 7,050,261 -40.9 2,703 3 1,542 37,767,253 Fox
6 Quantum of Solace 3,715,522 6,752,390 -45.0 2,635 5 1,410 157,583,232 Sony
7 Nothing Like the Holidays 3,531,664 1,671 1 2,114 3,531,664 Overture
8 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa 3,181,231 5,079,120 -37.4 2,768 6 1,149 169,937,394 Paramount
9 Milk 2,598,638 1,835,004 41.6 328 3 7,923 7,590,976 Focus
10 Transporter 3 2,351,229 4,668,898 -49.6 2,541 3 925 29,377,088 Lionsgate
11 Slumdog Millionaire 2,175,518 1,402,176 55.2 169 5 12,873 8,048,764 Fox Searchlight
12 Cadillac Records 1,585,407 3,445,559 -54.0 688 2 2,304 5,909,492 Sony
13 Role Models 1,543,625 2,574,460 -40.0 1,325 6 1,165 64,133,465 Universal
14 Punisher: War Zone 1,383,898 4,271,451 -67.6 2,508 2 552 7,011,427 Lionsgate
15 Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi 911,771 83 1 10,985 911,771 Yash Raj
16 The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 685,465 1,031,036 -33.5 679 6 1,010 7,763,062 Miramax
17 Frost/Nixon 626,377 180,708 246.6 39 2 16,061 873,836 Universal
18 Delgo 511,920 2,160 1 237 511,920 Freestyle
19 Doubt 507,226 15 1 33,815 507,226 Miramax
20 Gran Torino 271,720 6 1 45,287 271,720 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 63,139,313 $ 53,401,000 18.2
Top 10 78,517,597 73,440,488 6.9
Top 20 88,720,524 79,768,765 11.2
Top 20 vs. 2007 88,720,524 157,905,215 -43.8

Last Updated: December 15, 2008 at 10:45PM ET