Weekend Box Office (December 17 - 19, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Comedy heavyweight Jim Carrey scored his twelfth number one hit with Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events which easily topped the charts over the final frame before Christmas. Adam Sandler got off to a somewhat reasonable start with his comedy Spanglish which debuted in third while fellow freshman Flight of the Phoenix faced plenty of turbulence landing poorly in eighth place. With no Lord of the Rings movie to give the North American box office a pre-holiday boost, sales slumped significantly when compared to the last three years.

Ending a year full of disappointments on a high note, Paramount took control of the box office with a top spot bow for Lemony Snicket which grossed $30.1M from an ultrawide release in 3,620 theaters, according to final studio figures. The PG-rated adaptation of the popular children's books averaged a strong $8,304 and hopes to keep the cash registers ringing throughout the holiday season as kids leave school and parents get extra time off from work. Snicket co-starred Meryl Streep and Jude Law and received mixed reviews from critics.

Co-produced with DreamWorks for $140M, Unfortunate drew upon a built-in audience of fans of the books plus tapped into Carrey's enormous following. Studio data showed that audiences were equally split between family and non-family patrons.With Lemony Snicket following last month's SpongeBob SquarePants' $32M bow, Paramount scored back-to-back $30M+ openers for the first time since the summer of 1998 when Deep Impact and Carrey's The Truman Show did the deed.

Ocean's Twelve dropped from the number one spot and placed second with $18.1M, off a hefty 54%. After ten days, Warner Bros. has made off with $68.5M. By comparison, in December 2001, Ocean's Eleven generated a similar opening, dropped 42% in the sophomore session, and found its way to $183.4M. As a sequel, Twelve is not likely to reach that height, but the holiday season should allow it to approach the $130-140M range. Overseas, the all-star caper pic opened at number one in several key markets this weekend including France, Germany, and Spain and pushed its international cume to $35M early in the campaign.

Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni dropped into the marketplace with the James L. Brooks-directed domestic comedy Spanglish and collected $8.8M from 2,438 sites. Averaging a mild $3,617 per theater, the PG-13 film about a Mexican housekeeper moving in with an affluent Los Angeles family played to adult women, as expected. Studio research showed that females made up 55% of the crowd and 56% were under age 35. Reviews were mixed for the $80M flick. Spanglish opened a few notches below Sony's other mature comedies bowing in December catering to a similar audience like 1997's As Good As It Gets ($12.6M) and last year's Something's Gotta Give ($16.1M) and Mona Lisa Smile ($11.5M). The latter two went on to gross six to eight times their opening weekends while the Oscar-winning Good reached a multiple of twelve.

Holding onto fourth place with a slender 12% drop was Tom Hanks' The Polar Express which grossed $8.4M. The Warner Bros. release has taken in $123.4M to date and is well-positioned to take advantage of the holidays over the next two weeks. Overseas, the Robert Zemeckis film has taken in an additional $63.5M through this weekend. New Line's Blade: Trinity fell 58% in its second weekend to $6.8M pushing the 12-day total to $35.6M. Budgeted at $65M, the Wesley Snipes pic should find its way to $50-55M falling short of the $70.1M of 1998's Blade and $81.6M of its 2002 sequel.

The action-adventure National Treasure dropped 39% to $6M in its fifth mission giving the Buena Vista release $132.7M to date. Sony's holiday comedy Christmas with the Kranks followed with $5.4M, off only 30%, for a cume of $62M.

Fox's action flick Flight of the Phoenix crashed and burned over the weekend debuting in eighth place with only $5M. The $45M Dennis Quaid starrer about a group of oil company workers who survive a plane crash averaged an embarrassing $1,928 from 2,604 locations.

Sony nearly doubled the theaters on its Julia Roberts-Jude Law drama Closer and saw its weekend gross dip 10% to $3.4M putting the cume at $18.8M. Rounding out the top ten was the Disney/Pixar smash The Incredibles with $3.1M, down 38%, lifting the sum to $237M. The acclaimed animated film now sits at number 39 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters just ahead of 1984's Beverly Hills Cop which took in $234.8M. Of course, ticket prices were much lower twenty years ago when Eddie Murphy spent week after week at number one.

With awards season well under way, a couple of Golden Globe nominees opened to dazzling results in limited release this weekend. Leading the pack was Martin Scorsese's The Aviator which took off in 40 theaters and grossed $858,021 for a strong $21,451 average. Nominated for six Globes including picture, director, and actor, Miramax's three-hour saga on airline tycoon Howard Hughes widens into national release this Saturday, Christmas Day, in about 1,600 theaters.

Clint Eastwood's latest fature, the boxing tale Million Dollar Baby, debuted in New York and Los Angeles to the tune of $179,953 from eight theaters for an average of $22,494 per ring. Starring Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, and Eastwood, the R-rated Warner Bros. entry has taken in $235,407 since its Wednesday launch. In a more subdued debut, Lions Gate opened its Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea starring Kevin Spacey and grossed $45,264 from six locations for a decent average of $7,544.

Three films were pushed out of the top ten this weekend. Paramount's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie dropped 54% in its second weekend to $2M pushing the total to $76.4M. The $30M toon should finish up with about $80M. Miramax's Finding Neverland expanded and rose 16% to $2M for a $16.9M cume to date. The Johnny Depp flick should reach $25M or higher if it collects more awards. Oliver Stone's $150M epic Alexander tumbled again falling 75% and raising its sum to a weak $33.6M. The Warner Bros. release stands as one of the year's biggest flops and should crawl to about $34M.

Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou kept afloat in the second weekend of its exclusive run dipping just 13% to $98,787 from only two sites. The Bill Murray pic has grossed $311,689 to date with Buena Vista expanding nationwide into roughly 1,000 theaters on Christmas Day. Fox Searchlight's Sideways, which has swept all the critics awards and earned a leading seven Globe nods, enjoyed a bubbly 21% bounce up to $1.5M in its ninth frame. The Alexander Payne pic has grossed $16.5M thus far and will widen to 1,200 theaters on January 28 to coincide with the announcement of Oscar nominations.

The top ten films grossed $95.1M which was down 27% from last year when The Return of the King opened at number one with $72.6M; and down 25% from 2002 when The Two Towers debuted in the top spot with $62M.

Compared to projections, Lemony Snicket opened close to my $33M forecast. Spanglish and Flight of the Phoenix both debuted below my predictions of $13M and $9M, respectively.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on whether The Aviator or Sideways has a better shot at Oscar glory. In last week's survey, readers were asked if Lemony Snicket would unseat Ocean's Twelve from the number one spot. Of 1,643 responses, 67% correctly guessed Yes while 33% thought No.

For a NEW review of Lemony Snicket, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Meet the Fockers, Fat Albert, Darkness, and The Phantom of the Opera all open.

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

# Title Dec 17 - 19 Dec 10 - 12 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Lemony Snicket's A Series... $ 30,061,756 3,620 1 $ 8,304 $ 30,061,756 Paramount
2 Ocean's Twelve 18,124,149 39,153,380 -53.7 3,290 2 5,509 68,524,528 Warner Bros.
3 Spanglish 8,817,853 2,438 1 3,617 8,817,853 Sony
4 The Polar Express 8,411,135 9,588,412 -12.3 2,868 6 2,933 123,430,336 Warner Bros.
5 Blade: Trinity 6,817,584 16,061,271 -57.6 2,912 2 2,341 35,628,693 New Line
6 National Treasure 6,022,564 9,832,622 -38.7 2,772 5 2,173 132,748,249 Buena Vista
7 Christmas With The Kranks 5,366,072 7,610,848 -29.5 2,941 4 1,825 61,972,118 Sony
8 Flight of the Phoenix 5,019,430 2,604 1 1,928 5,019,430 Fox
9 Closer 3,351,014 3,735,153 -10.3 1,090 3 3,074 18,803,296 Sony
10 The Incredibles 3,120,541 5,036,631 -38.0 1,930 7 1,617 236,978,426 Buena Vista
11 The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie 2,002,903 4,357,011 -54.0 2,115 5 947 76,362,402 Paramount
12 Finding Neverland 1,960,122 1,688,620 16.1 985 6 1,990 16,908,196 Miramax
13 Sideways 1,502,800 1,240,534 21.1 420 9 3,578 16,511,317 Fox Searchlight
14 The Aviator 858,021 40 1 21,451 858,021 Miramax
15 House of Flying Daggers 812,764 205,416 295.7 145 3 5,605 1,620,434 Sony Classics
16 Ray 550,015 954,050 -42.3 618 8 890 70,247,805 Universal
17 Kinsey 506,039 525,881 -3.8 191 6 2,649 5,140,595 Fox Searchlight
18 Swades 424,804 74 1 5,741 424,804 UTV
19 Alexander 374,890 1,479,348 -74.7 622 4 603 33,649,513 Warner Bros.
20 Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason 331,500 1,114,155 -70.2 514 6 645 39,314,970 Universal
Top 5 $ 72,232,477 $ 82,246,533 -12.2
Top 10 95,112,098 98,543,296 -3.5
Top 20 104,435,956 104,279,448 0.2
Top 20 vs. 2003 104,435,956 138,049,395 -24.3

Last Updated : December 20, 2004 at 7:30PM EST