Weekend Box Office (December 26 - 28, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND People were in the mood for movies over Christmas weekend as multiplexes were jam-packed with customers that powered four different new releases to more than $29M in ticket sales each over the long Thursday-to-Sunday holiday session. The Owen Wilson-Jennifer Aniston dog drama Marley & Me led the way with a huge debut that exceeded expectations. Adam Sandler's new family comedy Bedtime Stories and Brad Pitt's period drama The Curious Case of Benjamin Button generated nearly identical numbers with the former winning the three-day period and the latter grossing more over the four-day span. Tom Cruise also showed some firepower with his war thriller Valkyrie which found a large audience too.

North American ticket buyers had no problems spending ferociously as the Top 20 films hauled in a stunning $196M making for the second biggest weekend of 2008 after only the July 18-20 frame when The Dark Knight scored its record debut. This weekend's explosive box office was even more impressive considering the fact that there were no sequels in the top ten at all. Instead, moviegoers spread their money across numerous star-driven films as everyone found something to their liking.

Soaring ahead of its competitors, Marley & Me scored a powerful top spot debut grossing $36.4M over the Friday-to-Sunday period and a sensational $50.7M since its Thursday launch, according to final studio figures. After several months of disappointments, Fox finally delivered a surefire smash averaging a sturdy $10,448 over three days from 3,480 locations. The studio began 2008 with hits like 27 Dresses, Jumper, and Horton Hears a Who but then stumbled with a handful of films that generated little excitement.

Based on the best-selling book, the PG-rated Marley drew upon a built-in audience but the studio also marketed the film to dog lovers and families to pull in a wide range of business. Thursday saw a stellar $14.4M in sales which set a new record for Christmas Day openers beating the $10.2M of 2001's Ali which translates to about $13M at today's ticket prices. With kids off from school and a large number of adults having no work either, everyday this week will be like a Saturday at the box office so Marley could shatter the $100M mark by next weekend.

Disney's comedy adventure Bedtime Stories, picked by many to be the top dog this weekend, settled into second with $27.5M in three days and $38M over its four-day Thursday-to-Sunday launch. The Adam Sandler family pic averaged an impressive $7,457 during three days and played to a broad audience. Studio data showed that 51% of the turnout was female and 52% was over 25 so all four quadrants were well represented. Bedtime basically targeted the same audience that powered Ben Stiller film Night at the Museum to a $42.2M four-day Christmas weekend launch two years ago. Reviews were dismal, but moviegoers responded instead to the starpower and effects-driven adventure of the PG-rated entry.

Brad Pitt attracted a sizable audience to his Oscar contender The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with $26.9M over the weekend and a stellar $38.7M over the four-day span. Paramount averaged a strong $8,987 from 2,988 theaters over three days with its PG-13 tale of a man who ages in reverse. Directed by David Fincher, Button co-stars Cate Blanchett and runs 2 hours and 47 minutes in length meaning most auditoriums were offering just four shows per day instead of five. Reviews have been very favorable and the film has scored five Golden Globe nominations. Many expect it to be a Best Picture candidate come Oscar night on February 22.

Adult women made up the biggest sector of the audience for Brad. Females were 60% of the crowd while 70% were over 25. Button was not an easy sell for the studio and competition for mature adults was intense so the large opening truly underlines the drawing power of Shiloh's dad. In fact its first day take of $11.9M marked the second biggest Christmas Day opening in history after Marley. Co-produced by Warner Bros. which will handle the film overseas, Button cost a whopping $150M to produce. But with Golden Globe awards and Academy Award nominations to be announced in January, the epic film should have long legs at the box office and may surpass that figure in domestic coin.

MGM performed a Christmas miracle this weekend. The studio took what was long considered a surefire flop anchored by a star on the decline and turned it around and into a big hit. That film, Tom Cruise's war drama Valkyrie, debuted in fourth place with $21M over the weekend and a terrific $29.5M since its Thursday launch. Invading 2,711 venues, the thriller about a plot to assassinate Hitler averaged a sturdy $7,756. Valkyrie's debut was in the same vicinity as other Cruise pics like Collateral ($24.7M opening) and The Last Samurai ($24.3M) although those films opened on Fridays during non-holiday frames.

Valkyrie took advantage of a void in the marketplace and seized the opportunity. Emotional dramas like Marley and Button skewed female and Bedtime appealed more to kids leaving adult men with very few films to be excited about. Studio research showed that the PG-13 film pulled in an audience that was 55% male and 66% over 25. Backed by decent reviews, the World War II flick now has a shot at becoming yet another $100M hit for Cruise capping off a major comeback year for Suri's old man who also delivered one of the summer's most memorable performances with his Golden Globe-nominated turn in Tropic Thunder.

Following a less-than-spectacular opening last weekend, Jim Carrey's comedy Yes Man dropped from first to fifth place with $16.7M. But the Warner Bros. release held up well dipping only 9% putting the ten-day cume at a solid $49.8M. A trip to the $100M club may still result for the A-list funnyman. Will Smith also saw a good hold for his latest venture. The do-gooder drama Seven Pounds slipped by 11% from its opening frame and grossed $13.2M pushing its ten-day tally to $38.8M for Sony.

Universal's animated film The Tale of Despereaux eased by just 12% and collected $8.9M for seventh place. The top ten's only G-rated film has taken in $27.4M in ten days and has helped the studio reach a new company high with $1.1 billion in box office in 2008. Keanu Reeves followed with $7.7M for his sci-fi remake The Day the Earth Stood Still. Down 22%, the Fox release has pulled in $63.5M in 17 days.

Not all new releases clicked with moviegoers this holiday weekend. The one casualty was Lionsgate's stylish actioner The Spirit which bowed to $6.5M over three days and $10.3M across four days. Playing in 2,509 locations, the PG-13 pic averaged a weak $2,576. Graphic novel king Frank Miller made his solo directing debut after co-helming the 2005 hit Sin City with Robert Rodriguez which opened much stronger with $29.1M over three days.

Rounding out the top ten was Miramax's Doubt which expanded nationally from 39 to 1,267 theaters and grossed $5.3M. Averaging a respectable $4,214, the Meryl Streep pic has taken in $8.5M thus far and has made the queen bee of actresses a major contender for the Oscar...again.

Everything has been going right for specialty distributors this holiday season as every major limited release has been met with sold out shows and strong averages. Two more new pics enjoyed solid bows this weekend. The much-hyped Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet reunion in Revolutionary Road led to the year's best opening weekend average. Paramount Vantage took in $189,911 from only three sites for a robust $63,304 average and will expand next weekend into the top 15 markets. Road has earned four Golden Globe nominations and has been well-liked by most critics.

Overture got off to a nice start with its double Globe nominee Last Chance Harvey which bowed to $97,260 from six locations for a solid $16,210 average. The Dustin Hoffman-Emma Thompson pic has grossed $132,934 since debuting on Christmas Day.

Holdover pics in limited release scored some extra theaters and saw their weekend grosses climb. Fox Searchlight's Slumdog Millionaire grossed $4.3M from 614 theaters for an impressive $7,006 average, up 41% from last weekend. The Clint Eastwood hit Gran Torino expanded from 19 to 84 sites and collected $2.3M for a powerful $27,652 average. Totals sit at $19.5M and $4.2M, respectively.

Milk inched up 2% to $1.8M from 311 playdates for a $5,668 average. The Sean Penn starrer has grossed $13.5M for Focus. Parent company Universal used Christmas to widen its political drama Frost/Nixon from 39 to 205 locations and saw $1.4M in sales for a strong $6,611 average. Cume is $3.5M.

The Weinstein Co. expanded the Kate Winslet flick The Reader into 116 houses and took in $664,013 for a $5,724 average. Mickey Rourke's The Wrestler averaged a muscular $21,529 thanks to $387,530 from 18 arenas for Fox Searchlight.

Also notable below the top ten was the vampire blockbuster Twilight surpassing the total gross of fellow November hit Quantum of Solace. Just a month ago, nobody would have guessed that the modestly-budgeted $37M teen saga would go on to outgun the latest James Bond film and its $200M+ budget. Twilight grossed $4.7M this weekend, down only 9%, for a $167.3M domestic total while Quantum fell 32% to $1.4M pushing its cume to $164.3M. Overseas, of course, is another story with the 007 actioner having a $300M advantage, but Stephanie Meyer fans have given the film industry something that is rare nowadays - a hit with legs. For the year, Twilight ranks as the eighth biggest blockbuster of 2008.

The top ten films grossed $170M which was up 7% from last year when National Treasure: Book of Secrets stayed in the top spot with $36.7M; and up 27% from 2006 when Night at the Museum remained at number one with $36.8M.

Compared to projections, Marley & Me powered ahead of my $20M forecast while Bedtime Stories was very close to my $37M prediction. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Valkyrie both debuted higher than my respective projections of $21M and $14M while The Spirit bowed below my $14M forecast.

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

For a NEW review of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when a new box office year kicks off for 2009.

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

# Title Dec 26 - 28 Dec 19 - 21 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Marley & Me $ 36,357,586 3,480 1 $ 10,448 $ 50,738,566 Fox
2 Bedtime Stories 27,450,296 3,681 1 7,457 38,029,113 Buena Vista
3 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 26,853,816 2,988 1 8,987 38,725,647 Paramount
4 Valkyrie 21,027,007 2,711 1 7,756 29,520,979 MGM
5 Yes Man 16,657,046 18,262,471 -8.8 3,434 2 4,851 49,798,560 Warner Bros.
6 Seven Pounds 13,203,236 14,851,136 -11.1 2,758 2 4,787 38,762,647 Sony
7 The Tale of Despereaux 8,932,625 10,103,675 -11.6 3,107 2 2,875 27,448,085 Universal
8 The Day the Earth Stood Still 7,697,799 9,890,105 -22.2 2,402 3 3,205 63,480,184 Fox
9 The Spirit 6,463,278 2,509 1 2,576 10,305,501 Lionsgate
10 Doubt 5,339,742 680,948 684.2 1,267 3 4,214 8,484,863 Miramax
11 Four Christmases 4,840,221 7,701,375 -37.2 2,510 5 1,928 111,588,896 Warner Bros.
12 Twilight 4,742,432 5,189,319 -8.6 1,849 6 2,565 167,325,197 Summit
13 Slumdog Millionaire 4,301,870 3,053,760 40.9 614 7 7,006 19,476,395 Fox Searchlight
14 Bolt 3,377,761 4,146,856 -18.5 1,923 6 1,757 102,423,519 Buena Vista
15 Gran Torino 2,322,781 468,221 396.1 84 3 27,652 4,220,824 Warner Bros.
16 Milk 1,762,638 1,729,156 1.9 311 5 5,668 13,533,585 Focus
17 Quantum of Solace 1,400,474 2,051,882 -31.7 891 7 1,572 164,302,659 Sony
18 Frost/Nixon 1,355,186 378,052 258.5 205 4 6,611 3,539,426 Universal
19 Australia 1,079,248 2,174,188 -50.4 711 5 1,518 44,283,588 Fox
20 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa 923,018 1,569,610 -41.2 808 8 1,142 174,862,381 Paramount
Top 5 $ 128,345,751 $ 60,808,762 111.1
Top 10 169,982,431 77,424,767 119.5
Top 20 196,088,060 85,817,010 128.5
Top 20 vs. 2007 196,088,060 182,551,842 7.4

Last Updated: December 29, 2008 at 6:00PM ET