Weekend Box Office (December 19 - 21, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers gave a clear yes to Jim Carrey and a definite maybe to Will Smith as the A-list Hollywood stars took the top two spots at the North American box office with their newest films. Carrey's comedy Yes Man finished first, Smith's odd drama Seven Pounds locked up the runnerup spot, while another new release - the animated mouse adventure The Tale of Despereaux - debuted in third place. Ticket sales were hurt by huge snowstorms and sub-freezing temperatures across much of the northeast and midwest. Add in the frenzy of the final shopping weekend before Christmas and it was clear that going to the movies was not a top priority this weekend with the top ten crashing by nearly 50% versus a year ago. Studios are hoping to pick up some of the lost business in the coming days when people leave work and school for the holidays.

Warner Bros. claimed the top spot for the third time in four weeks with Yes Man which took in $18.3M from 3,434 theaters for a moderate $5,318 average, according to final studio figures. Carrey's return to broad comedy opened below expectations, though it is difficult to say exactly how much weather and holiday shopping impacted the grosses. The funnyman's last live-action comedy also bowed during the yuletide season. His 2005 pic Fun with Dick and Jane debuted on the Wednesday before the Santa holiday grossing $21.5M over the Friday-to-Monday holiday frame and $29.1M over six days. Comparisons would not be fair given the weak numbers of Christmas Eve and the stronger-than-usual sales on Christmas Day which affected its opening weekend. Dick went on to reach $110.3M.

Yes Man posted the smallest gross for a top spot debut in two months. The last six films to open at number one this year all debuted with more than $30M each. But the studio should see solid numbers in the days ahead as audiences become more available. Plus Yes is one of very few funny and feel-good films this holiday season that won't make moviegoers cry by the end so that should make it stand out.

Will Smith's streak of eight consecutive number one openings came to an end with his latest film Seven Pounds which debuted in second place with $14.9M from 2,758 locations for a $5,385 average. The Sony release reunited the world's biggest box office star with director Gabriele Muccino who enjoyed a much stronger $26.5M bow for their uplifting drama The Pursuit of Happyness which also debuted in mid-December. That film, however, had better reviews, a Golden Globe nomination for Smith, and strong word-of-mouth which allowed it to have good legs throughout the winter season on its way to a $162.6M final. Their latest collaboration drew an audience that was 55% female and 64% 25 or older.

Seven Pounds has attracted some of the worst reviews of the superstar's career - not so much for his acting, but for the storyline. The $55M-budgeted film will still try to pick up more business over the next two weeks, but with five new wide releases hitting the multiplexes on Christmas Day, it may be an uphill battle. The last film for Smith to open lower was 2001's Ali which grossed $14.7M on its opening weekend. However, that film debuted on Christmas Day which fell on a Tuesday so its gross in the first three days was $20M. Before that, Smith and a pre-Bourne Matt Damon starred in The Legend of Bagger Vance which bowed on a regular November weekend to $11.5M which would be $15M at today's prices.

Universal enjoyed a promising start to its kidpic offering for the holiday season The Tale of Despereaux which grossed $10.1M from 3,104 theaters for a $3,255 average. Ordinarily that would be a mild performance but with children getting out of school this week and parents having extra time off, every day between Christmas and New Year's will be a virtual Saturday at the box office so the bulk of the business lies ahead. Studios often launch family films in mid-December to establish themselves in the marketplace before the holidays begin. Two years ago, Charlotte's Web opened to $11.5M on its way to a $83M final (seven times its debut), 2000's animated film The Emperor's New Groove bowed to $9.8M leading to a $89.3M cume (nine times the debut), and the previous year's mouse flick Stuart Little opened to $15M and ended with $140M (nine times its debut). The G-rated Tale benefited from little competition for its target audience this weekend and should be able to ride out the holiday season in style.

Following its top spot debut last weekend, The Day the Earth Stood Still came crumbling down in its second frame falling a steep 68% to $9.9M. After ten days, the Keanu Reeves sci-fi pic has amassed just $48.4M for Fox giving the studio yet another disappointment. Earth cost $80M to produce and was backed by a pricey marketing campaign. Word-of-mouth was poor which contributed to the big sophomore decline. The doomsday film will be looking for a holiday bonus in the coming weeks to help it finish with about $70M from North America.

The Warner Bros. hit Four Christmases saw some competition from studio stablemate Yes Man and dropped by 41% in its fourth frame to $7.7M for a cume to date of $100.1M. Summit's Twilight continued to show good legs thanks to repeat business from die-hard fans dipping 35% to $5.2M pushing the total to $158.4M.

Dropping 44% was Disney's 3D toon Bolt which grossed $4.1M for a $94.9M sum to date. Fox Searchlight saw a strong national expansion for its awards contender Slumdog Millionaire which widened from 169 to 589 locations this weekend and jumped into the top ten in its sixth frame with $3.1M. The Danny Boyle-directed indie hit averaged $5,185 - third best in the top ten - and lifted its cume to $12M and counting.

Fox's expensive historical epic Australia continued to sink falling 48% to $2.2M while the 007 hit Quantum of Solace rounded out the top ten with $2.1M for Sony, down 45%. Totals are now $41.8M and $161.2M, respectively.

Mickey Rourke's critically-praised comeback film The Wrestler got off to the second best start of the year for a limited release opener. The Fox Searchlight pic platformed in four theaters and grossed $202,714 marking a scorching $50,679 average. Only Frost/Nixon debuted with a stronger average with its $60,236 from three theaters two weeks ago. Since its Wednesday launch, The Wrestler has taken in $288,220 and the film will slowly add more venues during each of the coming weekends.

A handful of acclaimed pics in limited release continued to shine ahead of their Christmas expansions. Miramax's Meryl Streep-Philip Seymour Hoffman drama Doubt grossed $680,948 from 39 theaters for a strong $17,460 average. Total is $1.4M. Gran Torino from director/star Clint Eastwood averaged a stellar $24,643 with $468,221 from 19 sites for Warner Bros. The political drama Frost/Nixon remained in 39 locations and grossed $378,052, off 40%, for a $9,694 average. Cumes are $859,860 and $1.5M, respectively.

The top ten films grossed $77.4M which was down a sharp 48% from last year when National Treasure: Book of Secrets opened in the top spot with $44.8M; and down significantly from 2006 when Night at the Museum debuted at number one with a four-day holiday take of $42.2M when Christmas fell on a Monday.

Compared to projections, Yes Man opened below my $26M forecast while Seven Pounds was close to my $17M prediction. The Tale of Despereaux debuted ahead of my $8M projection.

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

For NEW reviews of Yes Man and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Wednesday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Bedtime Stories, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Marley & Me, The Spirit, and Valkyrie all shove their way into multiplexes on Thursday for Christmas Day.

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

# Title Dec 19 - 21 Dec 12 - 14 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Yes Man $ 18,262,471 3,434 1 $ 5,318 $ 18,262,471 Warner Bros.
2 Seven Pounds 14,851,136 2,758 1 5,385 14,851,136 Sony
3 The Tale of Despereaux 10,103,675 3,104 1 3,255 10,103,675 Universal
4 The Day the Earth Stood Still 9,890,105 30,480,153 -67.6 3,560 2 2,778 48,366,989 Fox
5 Four Christmases 7,701,375 13,074,470 -41.1 3,515 4 2,191 100,110,827 Warner Bros.
6 Twilight 5,189,319 7,951,131 -34.7 2,991 5 1,735 158,423,218 Summit
7 Bolt 4,146,856 7,464,282 -44.4 2,968 5 1,397 94,900,059 Buena Vista
8 Slumdog Millionaire 3,053,760 2,175,518 40.4 589 6 5,185 12,037,510 Fox Searchlight
9 Australia 2,174,188 4,169,277 -47.9 2,212 4 983 41,796,525 Fox
10 Quantum of Solace 2,051,882 3,715,522 -44.8 1,874 6 1,095 161,200,412 Sony
11 Milk 1,729,156 2,598,638 -33.5 356 4 4,857 10,410,039 Focus
12 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa 1,569,610 3,181,231 -50.7 2,007 7 782 172,392,069 Paramount
13 Nothing Like the Holidays 1,305,439 3,531,664 -63.0 1,671 2 781 5,924,513 Overture
14 Transporter 3 682,033 2,351,229 -71.0 1,007 4 677 31,069,389 Lionsgate
15 Doubt 680,948 507,226 34.2 39 2 17,460 1,399,548 Miramax
16 Role Models 645,395 1,543,625 -58.2 792 7 815 65,593,985 Universal
17 Cadillac Records 606,748 1,585,407 -61.7 701 3 866 7,046,250 Sony
18 Gran Torino 468,221 271,720 72.3 19 2 24,643 859,860 Warner Bros.
19 Frost/Nixon 378,052 626,377 -39.6 39 3 9,694 1,491,262 Universal
20 Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi 326,641 911,771 -64.2 82 2 3,983 1,431,843 Yash Raj
Top 5 $ 60,808,762 $ 63,139,313 -3.7
Top 10 77,424,767 78,517,597 -1.4
Top 20 85,817,010 88,720,524 -3.3
Top 20 vs. 2007 85,817,010 157,117,308 -45.4

Last Updated: December 22, 2008 at 7:30PM ET