You can really tell that summer is over. There are more good films than bad in the top ten this weekend, and it feels like an eternity since we've had this kind of slate for the Weekend Wrap-Up. However, the question remains: do good films mean more box office, and even if they do, is anyone listening? Four films spun into the rotation, taking up 7,331 new venues. That means many of the older titles were flushed, but the average venue count for the openers came in at about 1,833, meaning at least half of the debutantes were going to need some good word-of-mouth to continue at the ball next weekend.
Violence, Serenity Hot at the Box Office
Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for September 30-October 2, 2005
By John Hamann
October 2, 2005
It's tough facing off against last year's numbers. A year ago, Shark Tale opened to over $45 million, and was followed by Ladder 49, which grossed over $20 million in its first three days. This weekend is blockbuster-free, but there are some good titles that moviegoers actually might enjoy instead of the same old, same old from the likes of something like Shark Tale and Travolta's Ladder 49. This weekend brings us the blockbuster-wannabe in Serenity, Joss Whedon's follow-up to his cult hit Firefly series; Into the Blue, Paul Walker and Jessica Alba's latest; the art house A History of Violence (starring "Viggo," as my wife would say quite dreamily - if I said mmm...Alba during the Into the Blue trailer, I would be hit); and lastly, The Greatest Game Ever Played, a golf movie for kids, directed by Bill Paxton of Aliens fame - "We're on an express elevator to hell". It's a wacky group of movies this weekend, especially when we add in holdovers like the brilliant Corpse Bride and the not so brilliant Flightplan. Let's have a look at how things shook out this weekend.
The number one film again - I'm sad to say - is the not-very-good Flightplan, starring Jodie Foster. Out of a crop of not-so-bad movies, North America picks one of the worst in the list (but at least it isn't Into the Blue). Flightplan grossed $15 million from 3,424 venues, giving it a second weekend venue average of $4,391. The saving grace here is that at least Flightplan is down 39%, and may get the shiv similar to the way Just Like Heaven has performed. Currently Flightplan sits with $46.1 million, and could see as much as $70 million before this long flight is over.
Pulling up in second this weekend is Serenity, Joss Whedon's take on what a space opera is in 2005. Serenity did okay over its opening frame, grossing $10.1 million, thanks mostly to the cult success of its creator and its originating TV Series called Firefly. Notable here is that the venue count was actually quite low for an sci-fi flick at only 2,188. That gives Serenity the second best venue average in the top ten at $4,634, which means it stays ahead of new films despite having fewer screens in the per venue battle. We often talk about how the second weekend of a film's release is so crucial, and it's even more important in this case. Because this movie is based on a TV show that only a renegade few watched and stars no one mainstream audiences would know, the second weekend drop could be inherently precipitous. However, Serenity does seem to have reviews and word-of-mouth on its side. At RottenTomatoes, a much higher than expected 80% of critics gave this one a thumbs up, a number I certainly did not think it would see. Not only is this one fresh in the critics' eyes, but also in the Users of RottenTomatoes. Signed-up users of the review compilation Web site combine to give this a 92% fresh rating. Sure, it may just be a bunch of freaks and geeks, but remember that this same demo made Napoleon Dynamite a $44.5 million winner against a production budget of $400,000. Universal and partners spent a small $40 million on Serenity, a good investment for this kind of opening weekend. If it doesn't drop crazily next weekend, a franchise could be born. Ah hell, with this sort of open it's probably a franchise already. A decent follow up weekend probably makes it a trilogy. It worked for Transporter 2, so there's no reason not to do it here.
Third spot goes to Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride. Proving that good movies don't always hold well, The Corpse Bride grossed $9.8 million, down a nasty 49% compared to its just shy of $20 million open. Out to 3,204 venues, The Corpse Bride had a disappointing second weekend venue average of $3,044. As I mentioned last weekend, this movie is a tough one to keep rolling at the ticket window. Since it is too old for the younger set and good but not good enough for repeat viewings from the Goth crowd, Corpse Bride seems to be falling into a hole versus competition from Flightplan and Serenity. The best news for Warner Bros is that the production cost was only $40 million, a sum which will easily be made from DVD sales and rentals. In terms of theatrical success, I'm looking at you, North America, to keep this churning at least until Halloween. Also, I'm begging Oscar (and BOP Columnists!) to keep Danny Elfman in mind for next year's awards.
Pulling up in a surprise number four spot is A History of Violence, a film I thought would have finished in the lower rungs of this weekend's box office top ten. History, starring Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello, grossed $8.2 million from only 1,340 venues. It had the best venue average in the top ten at $6,119. From director David Cronenberg, History was released by New Line with a big-for-Cronenberg-budget of $32 million. It got off to a great start last weekend in limited release, grossing about a half million from only 14 venues, giving it an average in the $36,000 area. Reviews are of the fantastic variety on this one, with 118 out of 131 critics liking this one enough to give it a thumbs up. Hopefully, word-of-mouth will take over and get this movie the attention it deserves. So far, A History of Violence has earned about $9 million.
In fifth is Into the Blue, a leftover from MGM before execs fled after seeing The Pink Panther. Into the Blue stars Paul 'if you see my name, don't see my movie' Walker and Jessica Alba in a film about finding drugs, planning to steal them and then getting caught by the strung-out druggies. Into the Blue grossed $7 million this weekend from 2,789 venues and should be out my hair within a few weekends (why can't Paul Walker just do porn?). It had a venue average of $2,509 for Sony, who got the rights for MGM films after the takeover.
Sixth this weekend, with an inordinate number of venues, is Reese Witherspoon's Just Like Heaven. Heaven, now in its third weekend, earned $6.1 million. Still at a mind numbing 3,543 venues, this one had one of the worst averages in the top ten at $1,721. The DreamWorks product has now earned $38.4 million against a budget of about $60 million.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose holds onto seventh spot this weekend, as the shine is coming off of it very quickly. Emily Rose grossed $4.4 million in her fourth frame from 3,004 venues, dropping 41%. The Screen Gems release has now earned $68.5 million versus a production budget of about $20 million.
Eighth spot goes to Roll Bounce, the roller-derby Fox Searchlight film that hasn't made much noise. Roll Bounce grossed $4 million in its second weekend, down 47%. The '70s-style flick has now grossed a whopping $12.7 million.
Ninth place goes to our last new release, The Greatest Game Ever Played. Greatest Game, a Disney movie directed by Bill Paxton (I miss the Near Dark days), earned $3.7 million from a tiny venue count of only 1,014. It had a strong average at $3,697. Getting the greenlight on this one must have been tough. Let's do a kids movie, set it in the early 1900s and make it about golf. Marketed solidly to the Christian Church (don't ask, I don't know why) worked, and the TV campaign was solid, so awareness is up. The question is still whether it will find an audience in the weeks to come. For what it's worth, critics were mostly mixed on this one, but it did come out fresh at RottenTomatoes, with a 61% fresh rating (less than 60% is rotten, so come up with your own conclusions on that one).
Tenth goes to The 40 Year-Old Virgin, who hosted Saturday Night Live over the weekend. The Steve Carell comedy grossed $3.1 million, dropping a slight 28% and finally pulling its total above the $100 million mark. The huge Universal hit now sits with $101.4 million, versus a production budget of only $25 million.
Overall, the box office didn't have a chance and could afford to take a weekend off after cleaning up in the last frame. This weekend, the top ten films grossed about $72 million, which does not compare favorably with last year's Shark Tale-enabled top ten gross of about $97 million. Last weekend we were way up, this weekend we are way down, and next weekend we get Wallace & Gromit, where last year had Taxi with Jimmy Fallon.