Weekend Box Office (December 14 - 16, 2007)

*** 2008 Golden Globe Nominee Grosses ***

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Will Smith cemented his standing as the number one box office draw in Hollywood with his latest action thriller I Am Legend which soared past lofty expectations to open on top and drive the overall marketplace to an explosive weekend ending the recent slump. Also debuting much bigger than expected and playing to a different audience was the family comedy Alvin and the Chipmunks which scored a red hot bow. Together the dynamic duo generated a jaw-dropping $121M in ticket sales and accounted for a whopping 75% of the entire box office. Audiences starving for entertainment returned to the multiplexes in droves thanks to two high-profile films that delivered exactly what moviegoers were looking for driving the box office to its highest level ever for a non-holiday weekend in December.

Scoring his eleventh career number one opening and seventh in a row, Will Smith ruled the box office with ease with the new sci-fi smash I Am Legend which commanded a staggering $77.2M on its first weekend, according to final studio figures, to rank as the superstar's biggest debut ever by a wide margin. Averaging a sensational $21,412 from 3,606 theaters, the PG-13 film also broke the record for the biggest December bow in history edging past the $72.6M of 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Also impressive was the fact that Legend delivered the fifth best non-summer debut ever behind a trio of Harry Potter films which all were November launches and The Passion of the Christ which was a February release. At this time of year, movie openings don't get much bigger than this.

I Am Legend was backed by a massive marketing campaign from Warner Bros. which excited the core audience of sci-fi and action fans, but a broader showing of ticket buyers also hit the cinemas. The big-budget film was also released in 77 Imax theaters where patrons were given the additional treat of seeing the six-minute Imax prologue for next summer's much-anticipated Batman film The Dark Knight. That helped to make Legend a hot ticket for hard core comic book fans and assisted in fueling the grosses as tickets on the large format screen ran as high as $16 each.

In just three days, Legend grossed as much as last weekend's top fifteen films combined and helped to power this weekend's top ten to its best performance since early August. With no co-stars, no well-known director, and no other bells and whistles, I Am Legend's success relied completely on Will Smith's shoulders and the superstar proved how bankable he really is by blasting past even the highest industry expectations this weekend. The former Fresh Prince is well on his way to enjoying his seventh consecutive $250M+ global grosser. No other star comes close to this achievement right now.

Warner Bros. launched I Am Legend in eight Asian territories over the weekend and grabbed an additional $20M in business from key markets like Japan and South Korea which kicked in more than $6M each. The sci-fi pic bowed at number one in all markets except Hong Kong where it was the runnerup behind the local film Warlords. Numerous European markets will open Legend this coming weekend.

Setting off its own fireworks in second place was Fox's family comedy Alvin and the Chipmunks with a stunning $44.3M in its first weekend. That was good enough to be the second largest December opening in history for a PG-rated film behind only The Chronicles of Narnia which debuted to $65.6M two years ago. The gross doubled the studio's expectations going into the frame and is now well-positioned to be a monster hit with families once children begin their winter breaks in the coming week. The Chipmunks also scored the third largest opening of the year for a G or PG film trailing just Shrek the Third's $121.6M and Ratatouille's $47M.

Alvin also took advantage of a marketplace that was lacking options for young kids. Studios typically have an abundance of titles for children in December but this year's menu is surprisingly light. Competition in the weeks ahead will come primarily from National Treasure: Book of Secrets opening on Friday and The Water Horse bowing next Tuesday, Christmas Day. Both carry PG ratings. Alvin's solid A grade from CinemaScore also hints at a prolonged run ahead.

With big Will pulling in all ticket buyers looking for an action extravaganza, last weekend's top film The Golden Compass saw its sales sink a troubling 66% to $8.8M. The New Line release has grossed only $40.8M in its first ten days and looks headed for a final domestic tally in the neighborhood of $60M. Compass carries a production budget of more than $180M.

Two-time chart-topper Enchanted fell 48% to $5.5M in its fourth round boosting Disney's total to a solid $91.8M. Inching up one spot to fifth was the Coen brothers hit No Country For Old Men which took in $2.8M, down 31%, for a $33.4M cume. The Miramax release earned four major Golden Globe nominations on Thursday including Best Picture - Drama and enjoyed the smallest decline of any wide release.

Opening poorly in sixth was the romantic comedy The Perfect Holiday which grossed $2.3M from 1,307 locations. Averaging a dismal $1,747, the PG-rated film starring Queen Latifah, Terrence Howard, Gabrielle Union, and Morris Chestnut appealed mostly to the African American audience which was unavailable thanks to the drawing power of Will Smith. Holiday's total since its Wednesday bow is $2.9M.

A pair of Christmas comedies followed. Vince Vaughn's Fred Claus dropped 52% to $2.2M and boosted its total to $68.9M for Warner Bros. Sony's This Christmas fell 54% to $2.3M and has banked an impressive $46M thus far which is more than triple its production cost.

The historical romance Atonement led all films with seven Golden Globe nominations and expanded into more theaters allowing it to pop into the top ten at number nine. Focus collected $1.8M for the Keira Knightley pic from just 117 sites for a potent $15,443 per theater. Cume sits at $2.9M and more markets will be added each week throughout the holiday season. Rounding out the top ten was August Rush with $1.8M, off 50%, for a $28M sum for Warner Bros.

Getting off to a solid start in limited release was the DreamWorks production The Kite Runner which Paramount Classics opened to $471,713 from 35 theaters for a strong $13,478 average. The controversial film was based on the best-selling novel of the same name and garnered two Golden Globe nominations including one for Best Foreign Language Film. Reviews were good but not spectacular, however audience reactions were very positive with 90% of those polled calling the film "excellent" or "very good." That could bode well for the expansion this Friday when The Kite Runner widens to 350 runs.

Fox Searchlight continued to see healthy results from its two arthouse offerings. The teen pregnancy comedy Juno expanded from seven to 40 sites and grossed $1.4M putting the quirky pic at number eleven nationwide despite its very limited play. The PG-13 film scored a trio of Globe nods for picture, actress, and screenplay and posted a sensational $35,686 average. The performance was similar to that of the distributor's dysfunctional family comedy Little Miss Sunshine which in its second weekend of limited release grossed $1.5M from 58 sites for a $25,521 average. A year ago, that film also earned Globe nods in the Comedy category for picture and actress before going on to become a major Oscar contender. Juno will expand to more than 200 theaters on Friday, then to over 850 runs on Christmas Day, and will reach 1,500+ playdates on January 4.

Three one-word-titled films tumbled out of the top ten over the weekend. Paramount's animated adventure Beowulf lost 70% of its audience and grossed $1.4M. With an impressive $79.3M from North America, the $150M production should go on to finish its domestic run with $80-82M. Overseas where Warner Bros. is releasing the epic tale, Beowulf smashed through the $100M mark boosting the global tally to $180M and counting.

Fox's stylish assassin pic Hitman also crumbled by 69% and took in $1.1M for a total to date of $38.2M. A decent final of about $40M seems likely. MGM's suspense thriller Awake grossed $1.2M, down 64%, leaving the pic with a dismal $13.1M cume. Look for a final of $14-15M.

The top ten films surged to $149M which was up a stunning 46% from last year when The Pursuit of Happyness opened at number one with $26.5M; and up a solid 25% from 2005 when King Kong debuted on top with $50.1M.

Compared to projections, I Am Legend and Alvin and the Chipmunks both powered well ahead of my respective forecasts of $50M and $15M. The Perfect Holiday debuted below my $8M prediction.

View the chart of 2008 Golden Globe nominations and box office grosses. For a review of I Am Legend and NEW DVD reviews of Halloween, National Treasure, and Underdog visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Sweeney Todd, Walk Hard, Charlie Wilson's War, and P.S. I Love You all cram into the multiplexes over the pre-Christmas frame.

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# Title Dec 14 - 16 Dec 7 - 9 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 I Am Legend $ 77,211,321 3,606 1 $ 21,412 $ 77,211,321 Warner Bros.
2 Alvin and the Chipmunks 44,307,417 3,475 1 12,750 44,307,417 Fox
3 The Golden Compass 8,825,549 25,783,232 -65.8 3,528 2 2,502 40,768,661 New Line
4 Enchanted 5,533,884 10,709,515 -48.3 3,066 4 1,805 91,801,187 Buena Vista
5 No Country For Old Men 2,827,530 4,116,888 -31.3 1,348 6 2,098 33,390,003 Miramax
6 The Perfect Holiday 2,283,360 1,307 1 1,747 2,930,188 Yari Film Group
7 This Christmas 2,260,812 4,961,083 -54.4 1,921 4 1,177 46,004,292 Sony
8 Fred Claus 2,221,438 4,608,314 -51.8 2,750 6 808 68,880,722 Warner Bros.
9 Atonement 1,806,862 796,836 126.8 117 2 15,443 2,918,154 Focus
10 August Rush 1,765,319 3,510,446 -49.7 2,007 4 880 28,045,110 Warner Bros.
11 Juno 1,427,454 413,869 244.9 40 2 35,686 2,153,400 Fox Searchlight
12 Beowulf 1,380,513 4,536,667 -69.6 1,659 5 832 79,259,394 Paramount
13 Awake 1,201,216 3,327,369 -63.9 1,442 3 833 13,070,063 MGM
14 American Gangster 1,081,350 2,538,485 -57.4 1,215 7 890 127,582,340 Universal
15 Hitman 1,070,190 3,488,135 -69.3 1,687 4 634 38,192,591 Fox
16 Bee Movie 760,196 2,606,153 -70.8 1,609 7 472 122,355,577 Paramount
17 Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium 591,242 1,973,713 -70.0 1,371 5 431 30,067,420 Fox
18 The Mist 539,602 2,629,290 -79.5 1,362 4 396 24,905,212 MGM
19 The Kite Runner 471,713 35 1 13,478 471,713 Par. Classics
20 Before the Devil Knows You're Dead 338,247 578,492 -41.5 295 8 1,147 5,889,374 ThinkFilm
Top 5 $ 138,705,701 $ 50,598,811 174.1
Top 10 149,043,492 67,670,939 120.2
Top 20 157,905,215 78,595,764 100.9
Top 20 vs. 2006 157,905,215 117,079,187 34.9

Last Updated: December 17, 2007 at 10:30PM ET

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