Weekend Box Office (December 16 - 18, 2005)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Universal's big-budget tentpole film King Kong climbed to the top of the global box office chart in its opening weekend starting what the studio hopes will be a prolonged run in the multiplexes over the holiday season. Last week's box office king, The Chronicles of Narnia, was bumped down to second place while third went to the new romantic comedy The Family Stone. The critically-acclaimed Brokeback Mountain, meanwhile, continued its stellar run in limited release and popped into the top ten despite playing in fewer than 100 theaters. Overall, the marketplace expanded slightly from last weekend but was up significantly from a year ago.

Two years after concluding his trilogy of The Lord of the Rings films, Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson returned to his usual position atop the charts with his remake of King Kong which grossed $50.1M in ticket sales over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final studio figures, and $66.2M in the five days since premiering on Wednesday. The figures did not live up to most of the expectations that industry watchers had, but the PG-13 film did show signs that unlike many other heavily-hyped films in recent years, this one seems likely to hold up well in the weeks ahead.

Starring Jack Black, Naomi Watts, and Adrien Brody, the event film carried a Kong-size $207M production budget making it one of the most expensive pictures in history. Playing on more than 7,500 screens in 3,568 theaters, the eighth wonder of the world averaged a muscular $14,050 per theater over three days. The studio has invested heavily in marketing and has brought in numerous promotional partners like Burger King, Volkswagen, and Kellogg's to add to the advertising blitz.

Compared to the first Hobbit film The Fellowship of the Ring, Kong generated a stronger Friday-to-Sunday figure, but since its first two days were slower, its five-day tally ended up weaker. Fellowship bowed to $47.2M over three days and $75.1M over five days. Universal, and many others in the industry, expected the giant ape film to come close to the beginning chapter of the Middle Earth trilogy since, like Kong, it was a three-hour action extravaganza opening on a Wednesday in mid-December. However, Fellowship benefited from having millions of fans of the book that felt the need to see the movie right away whereas Kong, though a famous property, did not have the same level of upfront urgency. Factor in four years of ticket price increases and the three-day admissions for the two films were about the same.

King Kong has two main factors working in its favor as it moves into day six and beyond - strong word-of-mouth and the holidays. Studio research showed that a very high 92% of the audience found the film to be "excellent" or "very good," according to Marc Shmuger, Vice Chairman of Universal Pictures. Plus, Saturday sales jumped 40% from Friday indicating that those who are seeing the film are liking it and recommending it to others. The studio reported that the film's daily breakdown was $9.8M on Wednesday, $6.3M on Thursday, $14.5M on Friday, $20.3M on Saturday, and $15.3M on Sunday. Exit polls showed that 53% of the crowd was male and 55% was age 25 or older.

The upcoming holidays should also work in favor of Kong reaching its potential. With more students getting out of school each passing day, theaters will become more crowded and weekday grosses will become stronger. As with the Rings pics, Christmas is expected to keep things going on the sophomore weekend and New Years will ensure a solid third frame. With help from the holidays and good buzz, Fellowship went on to gross more than four times its five-day opening figure reaching $313.4M. Universal would be pleased if Kong also plays well in the long-term in a similar way.

Exciting women has been a marketing challenge from day one as the action-adventure tale lends itself to a more male following. The studio has focused much of its advertising on highlighting the love story between the beauty and the beast in hopes that women will come along for the ride too. Critics have given much praise to Peter Jackson's latest work allowing the studio to position the film as a prestige picture with all the bells and whistles of a summer action blockbuster.

Rival studios have steered clear of Kong for the most part and have not slotted any direct competitors in the coming weeks meaning the road ahead should give Universal the time it needs to reach those excited about the monster movie, but who still have not come out yet. For the most part, the movies entering the marketplace over the holidays are alternative options like comedies or awards contenders looking to get noticed.

Internationally, King Kong was a giant this weekend grabbing an estimated $80.1M over five days from 8,123 playdates. It bowed at number one in all but two of its 55 territories settling for second in Japan and Italy. Standouts include $11.9M from the United Kingdom, $7.3M from France, $6.1M from Germany, $5.1M in Russia, $4.6M in Australia, and $4.3M in Korea. Fellowship opened overseas with $60M from 15 international territories in December 2001. For Universal, King Kong represented its largest worldwide opening gross ever with $146.3M in five days.

After opening to the second largest December debut ever, Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia fell by 51% and collected $31.8M this weekend. After ten days, the PG-rated fantasy adventure has grossed $113.2M and became the 17th film of 2005 to cross the $100M mark. At this point last year, 19 had reached the same milestone. With competition from Kong, Narnia suffered a strong decline, however with the holiday season approaching and most children getting out of school in the coming days, the pricey actioner looks to remain a major contender at the box office and still has its sights set on reaching the $200M mark. The frame marked only the second time ever that two different films grossed over $30M each on a December weekend.

The new romantic comedy The Family Stone enjoyed a solid launch in third place with $12.5M from 2,466 theaters. Averaging a healthy $5,077, the Fox release stars Dermot Mulroney and Sarah Jessica Parker and played mainly to adult women. In fact, the demographic quadrant of females over the age of 25 made up 51% of the total audience, according to studio data. With Kong generating more excitement with men, Fox saw an opportunity with women and programmed Stone on the same weekend with hopes of reaching more of its target audience in the weeks ahead.

In its fifth weekend, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire collected $6M for Warner Bros. and surpassed the total domestic take of the previous wizard tale. Down 42% from last weekend, the latest Hogwarts pic boosted its tally to $252.6M edging out the $249.4M of last year's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. By Christmas, Goblet should approach the $262M of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Currently, Goblet sits at number 33 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters behind 2001's Monsters, Inc. which grossed $255.9M.

Claiming fifth was studio stablemate Syriana with $5.6M, down 52%, for a cume to date of $22.5M. The Johnny Cash flick Walk the Line took sixth place slipping 36% to $3.7M giving Fox $82.6M to date. The family remake Yours, Mine & Ours followed with $3.5M, down only 31%, for a sum of $45.2M for Paramount.

Awards season frontrunner Brokeback Mountain expanded from five to 69 theaters and jumped into the top ten with $2.5M in ticket sales from a very narrow release. Leading all of this year's films with seven Golden Globe nominations, the Focus Features love story averaged a spectacular $36,355 per venue and raised its total to $3.5M. No other film playing in fewer than 100 theaters has entered the top ten over the last four years. Brokeback will continue to ride into additional locations each week.

The New Line comedy Just Friends fell 45% to $2.1M in its fourth weekend to push its cume to $29.6M. Paramount's Aeon Flux rounded out the top ten with $1.8M, tumbling 62%, for a total of $23.2M.

Opening to sparkling results in a platform debut was Universal's The Producers which played in only six theaters but grossed $154,590 for a sizzling $25,765 average. The Nathan Lane-Matthew Broderick musical has drawn strong reviews and also was nominated for four Golden Globes including Best Picture - Comedy or Musical. On Christmas Day, The Producers will expand to 1,000 theaters.

Sony's Memoirs of a Geisha successfully expanded into additional cities this weekend grossing $1.3M from only 52 theaters for a potent $25,045 average. Nominated for two Globes, the PG-13 film has taken in $2.3M from limited release and expands nationally on Friday into roughly 1,400 theaters.

Three diverse films fell from the top ten over the weekend. The Golden Globe-nominated costume pic Pride & Prejudice dropped 39% to $1.6M giving Focus $29.2M thus far. The Keira Knightley film may reach the vicinity of $35M domestically.

Disney's Chicken Little, still the studio's top-grossing film of the year, fell 54% to $1.1M. With $128.8M to date, the animated comedy could finish up with $132-134M. Sony's musical Rent stumbled another 63% and collected $752,122 for a cume of $28.3M. The Chris Columbus-directed film looks to close with a disappointing $30M.

The top ten films grossed $119.6M which was up 26% from last year when Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events debuted at number one with $30.1M; but down 8% from 2003 when The Return of the King opened in the top spot with $72.6M.

Compared to projections, King Kong debuted below my $58M three-day forecast while The Family Stone opened above my $9M prediction.

For NEW reviews of King Kong and The Producers, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend's crowded Christmas frame when Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Fun with Dick and Jane, Munich, The Ringer, Rumor Has It, and Wolf Creek all squeeze into theaters.

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

# Title Dec 16 - 18 Dec 9 - 11 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 King Kong $ 50,130,145 3,568 1 $ 14,050 $ 66,181,646 Universal
2 The Chronicles of Narnia 31,837,683 65,556,312 -51.4 3,680 2 8,652 113,169,644 Buena Vista
3 The Family Stone 12,521,027 2,466 1 5,077 12,521,027 Fox
4 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 5,952,452 10,265,443 -42.0 3,185 5 1,869 252,598,259 Warner Bros.
5 Syriana 5,605,167 11,737,143 -52.2 1,775 4 3,158 22,462,362 Warner Bros.
6 Walk the Line 3,688,031 5,738,176 -35.7 2,667 5 1,383 82,607,528 Fox
7 Yours, Mine & Ours 3,511,110 5,051,879 -30.5 2,723 4 1,289 45,202,963 Paramount
8 Brokeback Mountain 2,508,494 682,504 267.5 69 2 36,355 3,474,311 Focus
9 Just Friends 2,080,852 3,808,637 -45.4 1,882 4 1,106 29,572,142 New Line
10 Aeon Flux 1,751,220 4,561,619 -61.6 2,058 3 851 23,215,672 Paramount
11 Pride & Prejudice 1,579,825 2,579,523 -38.8 1,141 7 1,385 29,237,853 Focus
12 Memoirs of a Geisha 1,302,331 682,504 90.8 52 2 25,045 2,274,320 Sony
13 The Polar Express - Imax RE 1,091,215 931,603 17.1 66 4 16,534 168,200,324 Warner Bros.
14 Chicken Little 1,054,952 2,306,627 -54.3 1,602 7 659 128,829,279 Buena Vista
15 Rent 752,122 2,004,157 -62.5 926 4 812 28,274,336 Sony
16 Derailed 368,918 1,209,510 -69.5 547 7 674 35,402,054 Weinstein Co.
17 Good Night, and Good Luck 341,905 538,082 -36.5 322 11 1,062 22,432,374 Warner Independent
18 Capote 301,468 337,644 -10.7 193 12 1,562 10,790,585 Sony Classics
19 The Squid and the Whale 218,053 220,564 -1.1 132 11 1,652 4,299,500 Samuel Goldwyn / Sony
20 In the Mix 211,653 777,213 -72.8 348 4 608 10,105,281 Lions Gate
Top 5 $ 106,046,474 $ 98,348,953 7.8
Top 10 119,586,181 113,609,516 5.3
Top 20 126,808,623 120,059,233 5.6
Top 20 vs. 2004 126,808,623 104,435,956 21.4

Last Updated : December 20, 2005 at 12:15AM EST