SUNDAY AM: All the major Hollywood studios avoided opening movies wide this weekend because the Friday-Saturday-Sunday grosses following Thanksgiving weekend are considered some of the weakest of the year. (“This, and the weekend after Labor Day, are the ones nobody’s been able to crack,” mused one exec.) So, instead, it’s déjà vu all over again. Friday’s top films were all holdovers, and the weekend rankings will depend on how well the top pics hold up. As expected, the Warner Bros’ holdover laugher Four Christmases starring Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon stayed No. 1 for a second weekend, earning $5.8M Friday and $7M Saturday for an $18.1M weekend (-41%, including Sunday estimates) and new $70.8M cume.
But Imagine/Universal’s debut of Frost/Nixon logged the best opening weekend per-screen average of 2008 — expected since this heavily Oscar-buzzed drama is directed by Ron Howard, written by Peter Morgan (whose comparable The Queen didn’t do this well), and starring shoo-in Best Actor nominee Frank Langella. It made $180K this weekend from just 3 runs (NYC, LA and Toronto), or $60,049 per theater. Exit polling showed that the audience breakdown was 54%/46% male to female and 31%/69% under and over age 35 years. The main reasons cited for choosing to see Frost/Nixon were the “story” (66%), followed by the “scandal/political theme” (54%) and “it’s based on a true story” (51%).
Summit Entertainment’s low-cost blockbuster Twilight was #2 with a $13.1M weekend and new cume of $138.5M. (The vampire romance’s negative cost was under $40M.) Disney’s pooch toon Bolt rack up more good Saturday matinees for a $9.6M weekend and $79.2M cume. Twentieth Century Fox keeps hoping its Nicole Kidman-Hugh Jackman epic directed by Baz Luhrmann, Australia, will keep benefitting from word of mouth; it placed 4th with $2.2M Friday, which is -61% from a week ago. (“Moulin Rouge fell 46% and Romeo And Juliet fell 22%, so no Baz magic this time,” a rival studio exec told me. It added $2.8M Saturday for a $7M weekend (-53%) and new cume of $30.8M. And No. 5 was MGM/Sony’s month-old Bond film Quantum Of Solace which finished with a $6.6M weekend and new cume of $151.4M. But the 007 pic starring Daniel Craig has passed the magic $500 million mark worldwide! The DreamWorks Animation toon Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa distributed by Paramount came in 6 with a $5.1M weekend and hefty new cume of $165.6M. It also lit up the international box office this weekend and grossed $50.2M from 5,129 locations across 35 territories. This brings the foreign cume to $125M still early on in its run.
Lionsgate’s Transporter 3 placed 7th with a $4.4M weekend and fresh cume of $25.3M its second weekend out. But Hollywood was perplexed why Lionsgate would open its Marvel Comics vigilante Punisher: War Zone (not a sequel to the 2004 film, but a fresh start on the Punisher franchise) only 9 days later since it’s also an action genre pic. (It had to do with space and availability.) So it didn’t come as a surprise that the R-rated pic debuted only 8th place to less than half what Hollywood expected, $4M as opposed to $9M in 2,508 theaters. Beyoncé Knowles’ star turn as Etta James in the Sony music biz pic, Cadillac Records, opened in 686 venues with a respectable 9th place finish and a $3.5M weekend. It also set the highest per screen average of the Top 10 films, $5,102, playing this weekend. Not bad for a film produced for a modest $12M. In exit polling, it scored 89% in the top 2 boxes which Sony believes should lead to solid word of mouth in the weeks ahead. Demos were 58% female and 58% of the audience over 30. Rounding out the Top 10 was Universal’s raunchy comedy Role Models with a $2.6M weekend from 1,907 plays and new $61.6M cume.
Meanwhile, Focus Features upped the number of theaters for Academy Award-buzzed Milk to 99 for $1.6M this weekend in 11th place and and new cume of $4.1M. Some of the strongest new markets included Santa Cruz and Austin (college markets), Salt Lake, Sacramento, Baltimore, Nashville and Columbus, Ohio — all of which exprienced sell-out shows on Friday and Saturday. The 46% increase from Fri to Sat indicates Milk’s meaningful appeal with Boomers –especially in the suburbs. The film ranks #1 in many of its theaters. Fox Searchlight expanded Oscar-touted Slumdog Millionaire into 78 venues for $1.4M this weekend in 12thplace and a new cume of $5.3M.