Two big movies faced off this September weekend, and despite the busy Friday night/Saturday morning coverage of Hurricane Rita, both managed solid openings. Flightplan, Jodie Foster's first movie since Panic Room in 2002 and Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride were the debutantes this weekend, with Reese Witherspoon's Just Like Heaven hoping to hold its audience in the face of this steep competition. The weekend was hoping to gain some momentum after Friday night, as the news media dominated North America with coverage of Hurricane Rita. Despite the storm, the top ten box office titles did something we haven't seen a lot of this year – beat last year's totals, at least for the weekend.
Flightplan and Corpse Bride Duel at the Box Office
Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for September 23-25, 2005
By John Hamann
September 25, 2005
The number one film of the weekend goes to Jodie Foster's Flightplan, but it was close, just as tracking indicated. Flightplan earned $24.6 million this weekend, which is solid for September, but Buena Vista needed 3,424 venues to sell that many tickets. The ‘thriller in the air' scored a solid venue average of $7,198, and after opening to $8.5 million over Friday night, continued its solid weekend with a 2.9 internal multiplier. With Hurricane Rita coverage dominating Friday, I was interested to see if multipliers would end up higher on average as audiences headed back out to movie theatres on Saturday. A good comparison would be Foster's Panic Room, which had a 2.55 internal multiplier (Friday gross divided by weekend gross) in March 2002, but also featured director David Fincher coming off of Fight Club. Red Eye, August's surprise $16 million opener, saw a 2.65 opening weekend multiplier. Probably the best example, though, is Double Jeopardy. Ashley Judd's thriller was the third-biggest September opener until this weekend. DJ opened to $23.2 million over the same weekend as this in 1999 – it had a 3.08 multiplier, which tells me that Flightplan had more working against it than just Hurricane Rita.
The reviews for Flightplan have to be a disappointment to distributor Buena Vista and production company Imagine Entertainment (although we should give them credit for knowing what they had, and releasing Flightplan in September). Of the 94 reviews counted at RottenTomatoes, only a slim 34 were positive. For a two-time Oscar winner (and four times nominated), one has to wonder why Jodie chose this script and newbie director Robert Schwentke. My only guess is that Jodie Foster must have really loved Se7en. After the thriller was released, she teamed up with Fincher for Panic Room, and Schwentke is known for directing a German film much like Se7en, called Tattoo. Overall, though, the pedigree of the film doesn't matter as Flightplan is now the third biggest open all time for the month of September.
The sophomore slot this weekend goes to Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride, despite being a much better film than Flightplan. The eerie and odd-looking Corpse Bride grossed $20.1 million, in some ways proving what a success The Nightmare Before Christmas was despite its less than stellar domestic box office receipts. The Corpse Bride also benefited from a huge allotment of screens this weekend. The Tim Burton stop-motion extravaganza had a venue count of 3,204 and had a venue average of $6,282 – about $900 less than Flightplan. After earning $385,000 from only five venues last weekend, Warner Bros. was expecting big things and pretty much got them. One must remember how tough this one is to market. It's too old for the kiddies despite the clever animation, extremely dark, and that damn animation again keeps some adults away. That word-of-mouth in the last frame really grew the awareness for this one (despite the one-minded media over the last week), and reviews and blanket demographic marketing helped ite to shine. At RottenTomatoes, 118 reviews were counted, and 98 were positive, leading to a stellar 89% fresh rating, which WB trumpeted in their marketing. Is this another feather in Johnny Depp's cap? Maybe, but really it's been a great couple of months for Tim Burton, who guided Charlie and the Chocolate Factory over the $200 million mark domestically, despite a bizarre at best performance from Depp. The real winner out of all of this will be Warner Bros., who spent only $40 million bringing The Corpse Bride to the screen, as the actors worked for scale (in other words, the back end may be as costly as the production budget). In 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas took two and a half weeks to earn what Bride did in its first weekend, but didn't have the venue backing or studio support that Bride had.
Third place starts all the suck that I missed while on vacation (yay!). Just Like Heaven is the number three film, earning only $9.8 million in its sophomore frame. Down a nasty for a rom-com 40%, this isn't a good sign after the already disappointing opening weekend. The $60 million DreamWorks release that also stars Mark Ruffalo and Jon Heder has now earned $30 million, and could finish with about $60 million at the domestic box office.
Fourth spot goes to Roll Bounce from Fox Searchlight, our final opener of the weekend. Despite a long and interesting advertising campaign, Roll Bounce couldn't find the success of films like You Got Served and Drumline, and the urban release opened to an okay $8 million. The opening figure is healthy when you consider that Roll Bounce opened at only 1,625 venues, half that of Flightplan. Roll Bounce had a very decent venue average of $4,923, and probably cost the studio less than $15 million to make. The Malcolm D. Lee roller skate flick did have decent reviews, so an expansion over the next couple of weeks might be in this one's best interests.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose slides down to fifth, but the boffo opening number on this one will protect it forever and most likely produce eight or nine sequels. This weekend Emily Rose grossed $7.5 million, down a serious 50% from the previous frame. Still, the $20 million Screen Gems product has now grossed $62.3 million. It's interesting that if you make a movie that people like rather than critics and give it one of the best marketing campaigns in years, that movie makes a ton of dough at the box office. Maybe someday, the major studios will pick up on this idea.
Nicolas Cage's Lord of War falls to sixth this weekend after failing to open solidly last weekend. Lord of War grossed $4.9 million this weekend, off a precipitous 48% from its opening frame. This $50 million flick is a true disappointment. From Gattaca director Andrew Niccol, this Cage feature with an interesting story and okay reviews was a marketing mess for Lions Gate. Its almost like the studio didn't want this one to succeed. And it won't, as Lord of War will be lucky to reach $25 million. Currently it has $17.2 million in the domestic kitty.
Seventh spot to goes to The 40 Year-Old Virgin, which still has a healthy top ten spot despite being on the chart for six weekends. The Virgin had another good hold this weekend, as the drop came in at 28% versus a gross of $4.3 million. Now approaching $100 million, The 40 Year-Old Virgin should pass that mark next weekend or shortly thereafter, as its current total sits at $96.9 million. That's not bad for a comedy with no names and a $25 million production budget.
Eighth spot goes to The Constant Gardener from Focus Features. The Ralph Fiennes feature grossed $2.2 million from 1,282 venues. It dropped 38% and has amassed $27.6 million over four weekends.
Transporter 2, Jason Statham's successful sequel, comes in ninth place. Transporter 2 grossed $2.2 million and has earned $39.8 million domestically versus a production budget of about $30 million.
Tenth goes to Cry Wolf, and I must admit with only two weekends in hiding, I have never heard of this film. That's probably why it earned only $2.1 million in its second weekend, and sits with a total of only $7.4 million. I wonder if Jon Bon Jovi will continue to get work.
Overall, box office is doing something different for one of the few times this year. It's actually up over the same weekend last year (I'll give you a moment to compose yourself). This weekend, the top ten films grossed about $86.9 million versus a take last year of $55.7 million over the same weekend. Don't get used to it, things should go back to normal next weekend.