Weekend Box Office (December 15 - 17, 2006)

*** Golden Globe Nominees and Updated Grosses ***

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Box office heavyweight Will Smith scored his sixth consecutive number one opening with his new rags-to-riches drama The Pursuit of Happyness which raced past two new kid movies to claim the top spot. The mythical adventure Eragon opened well in second place while the family film Charlotte's Web debuted in third with a modest launch. The one-two punch of Pursuit and Eragon kicked in a combined $50M and for only the second time in box office history, two December films opened to over $20M each on the same weekend.

Proving once again how strong his pull is with moviegoing audiences, Smith conquered the charts with a $26.5M bow for The Pursuit of Happyness, according to final studio estimates, which on Thursday picked up two Golden Globe nominations including one for Best Actor in the drama category. Averaging a stunning $9,306 per theater in 2,852 locations, the PG-13 film tells the real-life story of a San Francisco man and his young son who become homeless and must try to get back on their feet. The former fresh prince's real son Jaden plays his on-screen son in the uplifting, feel-good story.

With mixed reviews and no famous director or co-stars, Pursuit succeeded solely on the starpower of Smith and followed his last five films Hitch, Shark Tale, I, Robot, Bad Boys II, and Men in Black II. Those five hits all opened at number one and went on to gross a jaw-dropping combined haul of $1.7 billion worldwide. With such a strong start, Will Smith should easily be able to score the tenth $100M domestic blockbuster of his career.

For Sony, Pursuit marked its record 13th number one opener of 2006 from a jam-packed slate of 27 releases. Sony also broke its own all-time studio box office record by crossing the $1.57 billion mark in domestic ticket sales with two full weeks still to go and three titles remaining in the top ten. The previous record was set by Sony in the Spider-Man-fueled year of 2002.

Opening in second place with some strength of its own was the dragon tale Eragon with $23.2M. Playing in 3,020 sites, the PG-rated film averaged a stellar $7,695 per theater. Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Djimon Hounsou, and Rachel Weisz star in the mythical adventure which was based on a teen author's story. Driven by special effects, Eragon carried a reported production cost of more than $100M. With no Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Narnia films this holiday season, fantasy audiences had nothing else to rally behind and so Fox took advantage of the opportunity by placing its actioner into the pre-Christmas slot. With school kids leaving for their holiday breaks in the days ahead, the dragon pic aims to soar towards the land of nine digits.

The only other time two December openers bowed to more than $20M each on the same frame was on this very weekend in 1997 when Titanic debuted at number one with $28.6M followed by the launch of the James Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies with $25.1M. This weekend's two new releases also helped to keep the overall box office within striking distance of last year's colossal frame when King Kong ruled with a $50.1M opening and Narnia in its second weekend contributed a stellar $31.8M. Despite not having any film of the same magnitude, the marketplace this weekend had great breadth and saw the Top 20 dip only 8% versus last year.

Paramount got off to a slow start with its big holiday season offering for families Charlotte's Web which bowed to $11.5M from 3,566 theaters for a mild $3,213 average. Based on the popular children's book, the G-rated film stars Dakota Fanning and features voices from Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, and John Cleese. Studios never want to see an opening weekend average lower than its theater count, but Paramount is hoping that the upcoming school holidays will allow the well-reviewed film to have legs. Recent kidpics that the studio opened in mid-December went on to make six to seven times their opening weekend grosses. These include 2002's The Wild Thornberrys with a $6M bow on its way to $39.9M and 2001's Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius whch debuted to $13.8M and reached $80.9M. Web, which cost over $80M to produce, hopes to follow and capture the attention of parents and their smaller children in the days and weeks ahead when they have more available time.

The penguin blockbuster Happy Feet followed with $8.4M, down just 35%, for a $149.2M sum. The Warner Bros. smash now ranks number eight among 2006 films and should climb into the top five after the holiday season. Sony's Cameron Diaz-Kate Winslet comedy The Holiday dropped only 37% in its second weekend to $8M pushing its ten-day cume to $25.1M. Overseas grosses for the films rose to $60M and $28.5M, respectively.

Last weekend's number one film Apocalypto tumbled down to sixth place with $8M. Dropping 47%, the Mayan adventure has grabbed $28.2M for Buena Vista in ten days but also suffered the largest decline of any film in the top ten. Fellow sophomore Blood Diamond fared better in its second weekend sliding only 25% to $6.5M. Earning its star Leonardo DiCaprio one of his two Golden Globe nominations this year for Best Actor - Drama, the Warner Bros. title has mined $18.6M in ten days. Blood Diamond got off to a slow start, but is now showing that it could have the legs to go the distance over the holiday season.

The James Bond actioner Casino Royale grossed $5.6M, off 37%, to put its total at $137.5M for Sony. New Line's Biblical drama The Nativity Story once again enjoyed the smallest drop in the top ten dipping a mere 19% to $4.7M for a $23M cume. The family comedy Unaccompanied Minors followed in the ten spot with $3.5M, off 39%, giving Warner Bros. a poor $10.1M to date.

Opening to spectacular results, thanks in part to its $25 ticket price, was the big-budget musical Dreamgirls from DreamWorks and Paramount with $378,950 from only three theaters for an unprecedented $126,317 average. Winner of five Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture in the comedy/musical category, the PG-13 pic was given a special exclusive release in solo houses in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. For the extra cash, ticket buyers were given a Broadway-style experience with reserved seating and a limited-edition program book. At a more standard adult ticket price of $10, that would translate to an average of about $50,000 which is still phenomenal. The studios reported that all 21 shows over the weekend were sold out. Starring Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls opens nationally on Christmas Day in over 800 theaters.

Also platforming this weekend was the George Clooney starrer The Good German which opened to $76,817 from just five locations for a solid $15,363 average. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the R-rated film co-stars Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire and follows an American war reporter's escapades in Germany.

Three films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. Denzel Washington's action thriller Deja Vu fell 51% to $3M in its fourth assignment putting the total at $57.7M. Buena Vista should find its way to the neighborhood of $65M. Opening just five days after rival action pic Casino Royale has proven to be a major obstacle for Deja Vu which will end up with less than half the gross of the better-received Bond flick.

Fox's holiday comedy Deck the Halls has also faced stiff competition for its target audience. The Danny DeVito pic took in $1.9M this weekend, down 52%, for a $32.8M cume. A $40M final seems likely. Disney's The Santa Clause 3 dropped 42% to $1.9M giving the studio $79.9M thus far. Tim Allen and pals should reach the $85M mark, or about 40% below the $139.2M of Clause 2 from four years ago.

Elsewhere below the top ten, Golden Globe nominees for Best Picture posted good numbers. Fox's Borat, nominated for both Picture and Best Actor in the comedy/musical category, slipped 40% to $1.5M for a $122.8M total to date. The raunchy comedy had fallen by more than 45% in each of the last two weekends. Miramax's The Queen slipped only 24% to $666,687 for a $25.6M cume in its eleventh consecutive weekend in the Top 20. Fellow Best Picture nominee in the drama category Babel, which led all films with seven total Globe nominations, saw its weekend gross inch up 9% to $495,750 despite losing over one-third of its theaters. Paramount Vantage has taken in $18.3M so far and hopes that the nominations will allow the ensemble film to remain a relevant box office player through the holidays.

The top ten films grossed $106M which was down 11% from last year when King Kong opened at number one with $50.1M; but up 11% from 2004 when Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events debuted in the top spot with $30.1M.

Compared to projections, The Pursuit of Happyness powered ahead of my $19M forecast while Eragon opened on target with my $23M prediction. Charlotte's Web debuted well below my $21M projection.

Check the NEW chart of Golden Globe nominees and their grosses throughout awards season. For NEW reviews of The Pursuit of Happyness and The Good German visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Night at the Museum, The Good Shepherd, We Are Marshall, and Rocky Balboa all open for the Christmas holiday weekend.

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

# Title Dec 15 - 17 Dec 8 - 10 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Pursuit of Happyness $ 26,541,709 2,852 1 $ 9,306 $ 26,541,709 Sony
2 Eragon 23,239,907 3,020 1 7,695 23,239,907 Fox
3 Charlotte's Web 11,457,353 3,566 1 3,213 11,457,353 Paramount
4 Happy Feet 8,358,421 12,904,413 -35.2 3,335 5 2,506 149,244,791 Warner Bros.
5 The Holiday 8,014,713 12,778,913 -37.3 2,614 2 3,066 25,125,052 Sony
6 Apocalypto 8,008,126 15,005,604 -46.6 2,465 2 3,249 28,209,532 Buena Vista
7 Blood Diamond 6,517,471 8,648,324 -24.6 1,910 2 3,412 18,637,257 Warner Bros.
8 Casino Royale 5,627,644 8,926,207 -37.0 2,437 5 2,309 137,501,384 Sony
9 The Nativity Story 4,656,376 5,713,854 -18.5 2,574 3 1,809 23,012,695 New Line
10 Unaccompanied Minors 3,545,352 5,815,474 -39.0 2,775 2 1,278 10,093,267 Warner Bros.
11 Deja Vu 2,975,356 6,019,672 -50.6 1,985 4 1,499 57,748,399 Buena Vista
12 Deck the Halls 1,921,123 3,993,188 -51.9 1,851 4 1,038 32,786,862 Fox
13 The Santa Clause 3 1,895,591 3,254,829 -41.8 1,535 7 1,235 79,882,347 Buena Vista
14 Borat 1,543,840 2,571,596 -40.0 951 7 1,623 122,813,553 Fox
15 The Queen 666,687 875,874 -23.9 483 12 1,380 25,646,953 Miramax
16 Stranger Than Fiction 517,622 1,425,717 -63.7 532 6 973 40,137,776 Sony
17 Babel 495,750 456,581 8.6 220 8 2,253 18,320,965 Par. Vantage
18 Dreamgirls (w/ $25 tickets) 378,950 3 1 126,317 378,950 Paramount
19 The Polar Express - Imax (RE) 375,896 326,342 15.2 37 5 10,159 1,638,645 Warner Bros.
20 The Departed 341,300 438,302 -22.1 254 11 1,344 119,273,628 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 77,612,103 $ 58,263,461 33.2
Top 10 102,421,720 83,060,478 23.3
Top 20 117,079,187 93,024,447 25.9
Top 20 vs. 2005 117,079,187 126,808,623 -7.7

Last Updated : December 18, 2006 at 10:45PM ET

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