Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for December 3-5, 2004
By David Mumpower
December 5, 2004

But you said you *liked* redheads!

It’s been a week and a half since Thanksgiving, but cineplexes remain stuffed with holiday leftovers. Only one new production entered theaters, and since that film, Closer, was exhibited in fewer than 500 venues, even its solid showing was only a ripple in the tide. In the end, Nic Cage and Tim Allen won again, if such moderate December showings might be accurately described as winning.

There is self-fulfilling prophecy in Hollywood that the weekend after Thanksgiving is the ultimate dead zone on the box office schedule. Everyone who can get to see a movie does so over the five-day holiday period in the United States. That leaves the following weekend a bit on the bare side for new releases historically. Of course, the occasional release challenges this maxim, and in the case of 2001’s Behind Enemy Lines, even disproves the notion. The failure of impotent box office performer Analyze That in 2002 and the presumably deflated The Last Emperor in 2003 has once again created nervousness among studios about eschewing convention. We are left with a weak frame that sees very little of note occur.

Taking the top prize for the weekend of December 5th is National Treasure, the Nic Cage jingoistic action flick. The movie earned $17.1 million from 3,243 exhibitions, a per-venue average of $5,286. For a release in its third weekend, this is a very strong performance. Even better, National Treasure crossed the fabled $100 million milestone, making it Cage's fifth such performer, but the first since the summer of 2000 (Gone in 60 Seconds) and only the second one in the past seven years. Cage needed a hit, and he got exactly that. Treasure’s success is also great news for Disney. Despite the studio’s 2004 struggles, they have a shaky hold on being the second largest revenue earner of the major distributors this year. With the success of Treasure, they are now poised to wage war with WB and its upcoming Ocean’s Twelve in order to hold on to that spot behind Sony, the studio that has a seemingly insurmountable lead for first.

Advancing a spot from third to second this weekend is the critically reviled John Grisham story, Christmas with the Kranks. Out of 106 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, only four kind-hearted souls chose to focus on the positives of this Tim Allen/Jamie Lee Curtis film. North American movie-goers are significantly more kind, though. Krank earned $11.7 million from 3,416 exhibitions, a per-venue average of $3,425. This represents a drop of only 45.8% from last weekend, one of the best holdovers in the top ten. In case you are thinking that still sounds a bit steep, again consider that with everyone on vacation last weekend, it was much easier to screen a movie. The fact that Kranks managed not to lose over half of its audience means that *gulp* there appears to be relatively positive word-of-mouth for the film. While I would argue that anyone talking up this monstrosity deserves to have their tongue cut out, Tim Allen seems to have some sort of weird holiday mojo that makes his siren song an inescapable lure for movie-goers. Kranks has a running tally of $45.6 million and appears likely to wind up with receipts in the $75 million range.

The Polar Express pulls into the station in third place this weekend. The winning tale of a boy trying to restore his faith in Christmas due in large part to an omni-present Tom Hanks earned an estimated $11.0 million this frame. That represents a per-venue average of $3,014 from a still ultra-wide 3,650 exhibitions. Of course, the film’s reported negative cost of $270 million (Wow!) makes this one of the most savage beatings a studio has received from a production since Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. With worldwide receipts unlikely to be significant, The Polar Express is going to be remembered as a grand concept but ultimately a box office failure. Here’s hoping it becomes a holiday staple, though. It’s one of my favorite films of the year, and the best yuletide movie since A Christmas Story.

Pixar’s latest offering, The Incredibles, continues its stellar run at the box office with an estimated $9.2 million in receipts. The movie fell 61% from last weekend. While the Brad Bird film is not going to come anywhere close to matching Finding Nemo’s financial success, the $226 million represents one of the five biggest releases of the year. The Incredibles will not be making the top three, but it does still have a solid chance at overtaking Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’s $249.4 million tally for fourth place.

Who finished in fifth place at the box office this week? SpongeBob SquarePants! Paramount’s mega-franchise accrued another estimated $7.8 million, bringing its running total to $68.4 million. Analysts have been rough on the yellow sponge for his box office performance, citing its failure to match the performance 1998’s Rugrats. While ticket price inflation certainly factors in, the reality is that SpongeBob is pacing at almost exactly what that movie did after three weeks. Rugrats stood at $67.5 million after 17 days. SpongeBob is at $68.3 million. Uncanny, no? Due to changing marketplace behavior in that six-year frame, it’s unlikely that SpongeBob will manage to cross the $100 million threshold as the 1998 release did, but Paramount has to be relatively satisfied with this performance.

The only major new release this weekend, Closer, wound up in sixth for the weekend. Debuting with an estimated $7.7 million, the Julia Roberts/Natalie Portman/Clive Owen/Jude Law quartet proved an irresistible draw in major markets. Exhibited in only 476 venues, the movie managed a superlative per-location average of $16,176. The Mike Nichols Oscar-bait title has not been as well received by critics as expected, receiving only 68% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. Due to this, it now appears unlikely that the movie will wind up being a significant end-of-year factor. But the strong box office performance this weekend justifies a solid expansion pattern over the next couple of weeks.

Alexander limped into seventh place this weekend, offering a lifeless $4.7 million performance. Its running total now stands at an anti-scintillating $29.7 million. A project that was once considered so powerful that it literally shut down production of a competing Alexander story from Baz Luhrmann, Oliver Stone’s opus is poised to be one of the biggest failures of calendar year 2004. With a production cost of $155 million and a negative cost of right at $200 million, WB must be asking themselves one simple question: What the hell were we thinking?

Still in limited release, this week's National Board of Review winner for Best Film, Finding Neverland, turns up in eighth place with $2.9 million. In its fourth weekend of release, the film is still showing solid per-screen averages and will look to expand to more screens over the Christmas holiday. It's certain to be a major factor when the Academy Award nominations roll around, so expect the outstanding Johnny Depp drama to be hanging around the box office for some time to come. Its total currently sits at $11.7 million.

The ninth place entrant this week is the Bridget Jones sequel, Edge of Reason. Already down to only an estimated $2.8 million, the film’s box office total stands at a lackluster $36.3 million. There were early reports of incredible tracking numbers for the follow-up to one of the most popular films in recent memory. Lofty expectations were placed upon Edge of Reason from the get-go, but the hype reached a crescendo in the weeks prior to release. Inexplicably, Universal decided to platform the title rather than launch it ultra-wide. Their meddling with the product has had an undeniable impact. They took a can’t-miss product and turned it into a box office failure. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is quite possibly the worst-marketed film of not just this year but of the 2000s to date.

Finally, in tenth place we have another film that will play a major role come Oscar time. Ray, with an awe-inspiring performance from Jamie Foxx, added another $1.9 million to its coffers over the weekend. Although it's losing a little bit of steam, it might see a bit of resurgence as awards nominees and winners are announced. Foxx has already received the nod for Best Actor from the National Board of Review, and the accolades will only continue to pile up. The film now has a grand total of $67.8 million after six weeks of release.

Box office for the top ten is down a jaw-dropping 47.5% from last weekend. While a lot of this difference is explained by the holiday inflation discussed above, the reality is that we are still looking at a rather dismal weekend. Even compared to last year’s post-Thanksgiving frame of $85.3 million, the $76.8 million estimate still reflects a downturn of 10%. Help is on the way, though. Expected box office superstars Blade: Trinity and Ocean’s Twelve both enters theaters in the next five days.