Weekend Box Office (December 24 - 26, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers spent their yuletide holiday with the Robert De Niro-Ben Stiller comedy sequel Meet the Fockers which generated the biggest opening ever over Christmas weekend easily dominating the North American box office. A flood of other new films filled up the rest of the top ten with mixed results but the overall marketplace was down significantly from last year. With Christmas Eve slowing down sales on Friday, several films debuted or expanded nationwide on Saturday to take advantage of the surge in moviegoing that holiday sees each year.

Universal rang in Christmas with the explosive debut of Meet the Fockers which grossed $46.1M over the Friday-to-Sunday frame, according to final studio figures, exceeding even the loftiest of industry expectations. Playing ultrawide in 3,518 theaters, the Jay Roach-directed film averaged a festive $13,110 over three days. Since its Wednesday launch, the PG-13 hit has collected a stunning $70.5M and should join the century club next weekend. Joining De Niro in Fockers is his Wag the Dog co-star Dustin Hoffman as well as Barbra Streisand who has not done a film in eight years. For Stiller, it was his fourth number one opener of 2004 following Along Came Polly, Starsky & Hutch, and Dodgeball.

The sequel to the $166.2M-grossing blockbuster Meet the Parents delivered the biggest opening ever for Christmas weekend beating the $30.1M of 2002's Catch Me If You Can. Fockers also posted the largest Christmas Day gross ever with $19.1M in its fourth day beating the $14M of last year's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in its ninth day. For the month of December, Fockers generated the fourth best opening weekend ever trailing the three Hobbit tales. It actually came close to beating the first installment The Fellowship of the Ring which bowed in 2001 to $47.2M and $75.1M over five days. Co-produced with DreamWorks for $80M, the hit comedy aims to keep its momentum going strong over the holiday week ahead and into New Year's frame when no new films will compete for the top spot.

Jim Carrey's latest comic joint Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events tumbled 58% in its second weekend to $12.6M over three days pushing the total to $59.4M in ten days. The $140M Paramount release could find its way past the $100M domestic mark.

Bouncing into theaters on Christmas Day, Fox's family comedy Fat Albert left its mark grossing $10M in just two days. The modern adaptation of the popular Bill Cosby-voiced cartoon series averaged $3,748 over the Saturday-Sunday span. The studio originally estimated a gross of $12.7M with expectations of a 30% rise on Sunday, but final figures showed that the projection was too bullish. Critics were harsh on the PG-rated pic.

Leonardo DiCaprio flew into the fourth spot with his portrayal of eccentric tycoon Howard Hughes in The Aviator which opened nationally on Saturday and grossed $8.6M for the frame. Averaging a solid $4,806 in two days, the $100M+ Martin Scorsese vehicle has taken in $10M since its limited opening last week. The PG-13 film, which Miramax is releasing domestically and Warner Bros. will handle overseas, is a major awards contender winning six Golden Globe nominations and aims to remain a contender at the box office over the weeks to come. Reviews for the nearly three-hour biopic were outstanding.

Comparisons to other end-of-year Oscar hopefuls from Miramax are almost pointless given The Aviator's two-day gross. However, over the Christmas 1999 frame, when the calendar was the same, the Matt Damon-Gwenyth Paltrow pic The Talented Mr. Ripley opened on Saturday and averaged a somewhat stronger $5,522 from 2,307 theaters for a $12.7M gross in two days. Ripley, which was rated R and did not earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, went on to reach $81.3M, or more than six times its two-day opening.

Caper pic Ocean's Twelve dropped 54% to $8.4M in its third weekend and boosted the total haul for the Warner Bros. release to $86.6M. The studio's holiday hit The Polar Express dipped 22% on Christmas weekend to $6.5M lifting the cume after its seventh trip to $140.2M.

Miramax's Dimension unit saw a respectable opening for its horror entry Darkness which bowed Saturday and collected $6.2M from 1,700 locations. The PG-13 haunted house thriller averaged $3,625 in two days. Sony's Adam Sandler-Tea Leoni comedy Spanglish fell 47% to $4.6M in its second weekend putting the $80M James L. Brooks comedy at a mild $18.2M in ten days.

Buena Vista expanded its Bill Murray comedy The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou from two to 1,105 theaters on Saturday and grossed $4.5M to place ninth. Averaging a healthy $4,115, the Wes Anderson-directed film has taken in $5M to date.

Rounding out the top ten was the new musical The Phantom of the Opera which premiered with $4M from only 622 locations for a solid $6,434 average. The $70M Joel Schumacher title has grossed $6.3M from its Wednesday launch and hopes to coast over the long haul as it adds more theaters.

A pair of limited release dramas generated strong results over the weekend. MGM/UA's Don Cheadle starrer Hotel Rwanda bowed to $142,386 from seven locations for a $20,340 average. With $142,386 after five days, the genocide pic expands on January 7. Kevin Bacon's turn as a pedophile in The Woodsman attracted $53,985 from six sites for a $8,997 average. The Newmarket release also widens on January 7.

With all the new holiday films crowding into the multiplexes, six holdovers were pushed out of the top ten this weekend. A hair out of tenth place was Disney's action hit National Treasure with $4M, off 34%, for a cume of $141.1M. The PG-rated film became the highest-grossing movie ever for Nicolas Cage beating the $134.1M of 1996's The Rock, another Jerry Bruckheimer production released by Buena Vista. Budgeted at over $100M, National Treasure should conclude with about $150M domestically with international markets contributing even more currency.

Sony's Christmas with the Kranks dropped 52% to $2.6M for a cume of $68.8M. The $60M Tim Allen comedy should find its way to around $75-80M. Blade: Trinity crashed 57% and grossed $3M giving New Line a sum of $42.1M to date. A $45-47M final seems likely. Fox's $45M action flop Flight of the Phoenix took in $2.7M, down 47%, and raised its total to just $10.5M after ten days. Look for a $16-18M finish.

The Disney/Pixar sensation The Incredibles slipped only 23% to $2.4M in its eighth mission and boosted its stellar cume to $242.4M. That puts the super hero family at number 35 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters right behind last year's Bruce Almighty with $242.8M. Produced for $92M, The Incredibles should end its run with $250-255M making it the sixth animated film in history to cross the quarter-billion mark. Sony's Julia Roberts-Jude Law drama Closer stumbled 50% thanks to intense competition for its adult audience and embraced $1.7M. With $22.6M in the bank, the R-rated pic should finish with just $26-28M.

The top ten films grossed $111.7M which was down 30% from last year when The Return of the King remained at number one with $50.6M; and down 25% from 2002 when The Two Towers stayed in the top spot with $48.9M.

Compared to projections, Meet the Fockers powered well past my $50M five-day forecast while Fat Albert was very close to my $9M two-day prediction. The Aviator debuted below my $12M projection but Darkness was close to my $5M forecast. The Life Aquatic bowed weaker than my $7M prediction and Phantom opened very close to my five-day projection of $5M.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on your favorite megablockbuster of 2004. In last week's survey, readers were asked whether The Aviator or Sideways has a better shot at winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Of 1,825 responses, 81% guessed The Aviator while 19% thought Sideways.

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

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for New Year's weekend.

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

# Title Dec 24 - 26 Dec 17 - 19 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Meet the Fockers $ 46,120,980 3,518 1 $ 13,110 $ 70,517,720 Universal
2 Lemony Snicket's A Series... 12,611,876 30,061,756 -58.0 3,623 2 3,481 59,411,366 Paramount
3 Fat Albert 10,021,510 2,674 1 3,748 10,021,510 Fox
4 The Aviator 8,631,367 858,021 1,796 2 4,806 9,986,105 Miramax
5 Ocean's Twelve 8,401,175 18,124,149 -53.6 3,290 3 2,554 86,600,224 Warner Bros.
6 The Polar Express 6,527,163 8,411,135 -22.4 2,618 7 2,493 140,233,149 Warner Bros.
7 Darkness 6,163,306 1,700 1 3,625 6,163,306 Miramax
8 Spanglish 4,641,492 8,817,853 -47.4 2,441 2 1,901 18,181,748 Sony
9 The Life Aquatic 4,547,181 98,787 1,105 3 4,115 4,955,054 Buena Vista
10 The Phantom of the Opera 4,001,890 622 1 6,434 6,323,567 Warner Bros.
11 National Treasure 3,964,473 6,022,564 -34.2 2,201 6 1,801 141,064,753 Buena Vista
12 Blade: Trinity 2,952,129 6,817,584 -56.7 2,318 3 1,274 42,099,570 New Line
13 Flight of the Phoenix 2,666,898 5,019,430 -46.9 2,604 2 1,024 10,479,474 Fox
14 Christmas With The Kranks 2,586,277 5,366,072 -51.8 2,135 5 1,211 68,835,654 Sony
15 The Incredibles 2,417,309 3,120,541 -22.5 1,732 8 1,396 242,425,976 Buena Vista
16 Closer 1,692,847 3,351,014 -49.5 1,069 4 1,584 22,564,250 Sony
17 Finding Neverland 1,361,370 1,960,122 -30.5 933 7 1,459 19,758,924 Miramax
18 Sideways 1,169,527 1,502,800 -22.2 359 10 3,258 18,500,087 Fox Searchlight
19 The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie 714,503 2,002,903 -64.3 1,316 6 543 78,779,272 Paramount
20 House of Flying Daggers 662,342 812,764 -18.5 165 4 4,014 2,733,303 Sony Classics
Top 5 $ 85,786,908 $ 72,232,477 18.8
Top 10 111,667,940 95,112,098 17.4
Top 20 131,855,615 104,435,956 26.3
Top 20 vs. 2003 131,855,615 178,605,843 -26.2

Last Updated : December 27, 2004 at 7:00PM EST