Weekend Wrap-Up for December 14-16, 2007
Will Smith a Legend at the Box Office
By John Hamann
December 16, 2007

That's a state of the art bathtub, built for comfort.

After last weekend's disappointing debut of The Golden Compass, the box office was desperate for a kick start heading into the lucrative holiday season. The box office got a much bigger kick than was expected, as Will Smith opened I Am Legend to record-breaking results. Also opening big this weekend was the kid flick Alvin and the Chipmunks, which was looking to do Garfield type numbers. The top 12 number to beat from last year was $110.9 million, and thanks to Will Smith and Alvin, the box office finally has something to celebrate.

The number one film of the weekend is I Am Legend, as Will Smith conquers the box office once again. I Am Legend earned a ludicrously large $76.5 million this weekend, as it fills a huge hole at movie theaters created by a string of disappointments released since the Thanksgiving weekend. Released to 3,606 venues, this Warner Bros. production earned a venue average of $21,224. This the biggest opening ever for a December release, passing huge blockbusters like Lord of the Rings: Return of the King ($72.6 million opening) and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe ($65.6 million opening) to earn the December crown. This a breathtaking breakout success. Tracking had I Am Legend opening in the $40-50 million dollar range, and this debut trounced that expectation. This is three times what Golden Compass opened to last weekend, and must leave New Line shaking its head at I Am Legend's success.

For Will Smith, this is his biggest opening ever, and pretty much crowns him as king of the box office. His former biggest flicks, I Robot and Men in Black II, both opened to $51.2 million, and were two parts of Smith's four $50 million openers (the others were Independence Day with a $50.2 million opening and Men In Black with a $51.1 million opening). Smith's last six films have finished between $138 million and $190 million, and I Am Legend should finish as his third $200 million plus picture, and maybe as his second $300 million plus feature. Why do Will Smith's flicks work so well? Simple: he picks good projects. Legend has been in the studio system for years, bouncing around, but it was always a project that had a huge amount of fan-based support. Admittedly, he did get lucky with a release date at a historically low point at the box office, leaving a huge amount of room for success. This one was 59% fresh at RottenTomatoes, which is good enough for a sci-fi action-thriller. This is an event flick that works just enough, and audiences should be lapping it up in serious amounts throughout the holiday season and beyond.

Finishing a very big second is Alvin and the Chipmunks, the ridiculous-looking new feature from Fox. Alvin, Theodore and... this one has so much dust on it that I can't even remember the last chipmunk's name, or are they squirrels? Anyway, the new family movie with Jason Lee and David Cross blew my expectations away as well as tracking, as it opened very strongly with $45 million, which is a bigger shock to me than the disappointing Golden Compass debut last weekend. Alvin and friends were put out to 3,475 venues, and somehow managed to earn a huge venue average of $12,950. This one was expected to open in the $20-25 million range, so like I Am Legend, tracking dropped the ball in a big way this weekend. Alvin stakes a spot in the top ten December openers of all time, well ahead of huge star-driven projects like Lemony Snicket and Catch Me If You Can.

While Fox and the exhibitors showing this one must be thrilled, parents have to be hurting. Much like the Garfield flicks, this one got lambasted by critics, earning a 26% rotten rating at the review compilation website RottenTomatoes. Alvin and the Chipmunks was not an inexpensive effort for production partners Fox and Regency Enterprises, as this one cost $70 million to make. At first blush, this looked like way too much to spend on such a ridiculous concept, but families ate it up, and it ended up almost doubling the opening of the first Garfield flick, which debuted with $21.7 million. The original Garfield was a summer movie, so its legs weren't great - it finished with about $75 million. Alvin should earn a lot more over the rest of December. The real key to this release, though, will be international grosses; Garfield earned $75 million domestic, but took in $125 million overseas. Alvin and the Chipmunks is another huge win for the folks at Fox.

Third spot goes to last weekend's disappointing The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Things got a lot worse this weekend. After finishing last weekend with a disappointing opening frame of $25.7 million, the family action film tanked this weekend, earning only $9 million, giving the $180 million film a weekend-to-weekend drop of 65%. New Line kept their behemoth at 3,528 venues, and the film earned an average of $2,558. Heads are going to roll now at New Line, as what was once a big upcoming franchise for the studio will now be one of the bigger flops of all time, as it will be lucky to earn $80 million. Currently, The Golden Compass has earned $41 million.

Finishing fourth is Disney's Enchanted, as it begins to get buried by other family-friendly pictures. Enchanted earned a decent $6 million this weekend - despite duking it out with Alvin and The Golden Compass - and dipped 44% compared to last weekend. Is it too late for Enchanted to cash in on the Christmas holiday? Not really. I see a very slight dip coming in the next frame, and then a series of million dollar days (or two million dollar days) coming between December 25th and December 30th. Currently, Enchanted has earned $92.3 million after four weekends of release, and could finish with as much as $125 million - a large success for the folks at Disney.

Fifth spot goes to No Country For Old Men, the opus from Joel and Ethan Coen. No Country has held up quite well over the last few weekends, and this one is no different. Miramax added 24 more venues to bring Country's screen count up to 1,348 this weekend, and the film earned $3 million. It was off 29% from last weekend, as a string of Golden Globe nominations put it back in the spotlight this week. No Country For Old Men has now earned $33.6 million.

Finding sixth place is Fred Claus, as this one took an odd tumble. Fred Claus earned another $2.3 million and was off 51%. So far, Fred Claus has earned what's becoming a respectable $69 million and should do well right up until December 26th.

Seventh goes to This Christmas, the Screen Gems phenomenon, as the $13 million production continues to score a spot in the top ten. This Christmas earned another $2.3 million this and was off 54% compared to the last frame. So far, This Christmas has earned an impressive $46 million.

The Perfect Holiday, which is being released by the underdog distributor Yari Film Group, finishes in eighth place. With little marketing, The Perfect Holiday settles for an opening weekend of $3 million, as it was released to only 1,307 venues. It had a venue average of $2,269. This one stars Morris Chestnut and Gabrielle Union (as well as Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard), and was not treated kindly by critics. At RottenTomatoes, The Perfect Holiday had to settle with a 18% fresh score, and should limp through the holidays.

On the strength of seven Golden Globe nominations, Atonement finishes in ninth place. The almost sure-to-be an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture earned $1.9 million from only 117 venues. That's good for a per-location average of $15,829, which is not shabby at all. The movie has earned $3 million so far and will certainly be expanding to more venues in the weeks to come.

August Rush finishes tenth, as grandmothers failed to come out for this sickly sweet fantasy from Warner Bros. This weekend, August Rush earned $1.8 million and was off 49% from the previous frame. So far, Rush has earned $28.1 million and will be out of the top 12 by next weekend.

Overall, things are looking up, up, up compared to last weekend's top 12 take of just $72.8 million, as I Am Legend outgrossed last weekend's top 12. The top 12 films this weekend earned a huge $153.6 million, which dominates last year's total of $110.9 million when Will Smith's Pursuit of Happyness was on top. Things should only get better next weekend, when five big releases hit screens, and finally remove the $2 million earners from the top ten. Next weekend brings Charlie Wilson's War with Tom Hanks, Sweeney Todd with Johnny Depp, National Treasure 2 with Nic Cage, and PS I Love You will Hilary Swank. The drought is over at the box office.