I'm finally excited about a box office weekend, and my head is swimming with questions. How long did we have to wait for this weekend? Is this just a blip on the radar, or will studio films finally start to show some promise prior to Christmas? Will a $40 million plus opening weekend for Chicken Little put Pixar on the defensive or Disney? How many war films will we get now that Jarhead opened to almost $30 million? And if the openers were so big this weekend, why didn't this weekend beat last year's same weekend at the box office? So many questions, so little column space.
Jarhead, Chicken Little Can’t Beat The Incredibles at the Box Office
Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for November 4-6, 2005
By John Hamann
November 6, 2005
The number one film of the weekend, after a very surprising virtual tie when Friday grosses were released, is Chicken Little, finishing with almost $10 million more than second place Jarhead. Chicken Little, the first Disney standalone CG product, grossed a not bad $40.1 million this weekend from 3,654 venues (expect it to drop below $40 million when actuals are released tomorrow). It had a venue average of $10,970. While the start is slightly better than expected (tracking had it grossing $35 million), Chicken Little's opening is nowhere near same weekend grosses of Pixar's CG films, as last year's The Incredibles opened to $70.5 million and 2001's Monsters, Inc. debuted with $62.6 million. On the other hand, Chicken Little's opening is much better than the 2003 Disney product Brother Bear (you barely remember it, I bet). That one opened to $19.3 million over the same weekend in 2003 and gives a definite indication towards what families are looking for in animation. Unfortunately for Chicken Little, that's most likely where the good news ends. Unlike all the Pixar films, Chicken Little is going to suffer in the long term from poor reviews and word-of-mouth. Are you surprised? Time Magazine certainly had no problem trumpeting this one, as we saw incessantly from the TV ads (the quote sounded like something out of The Manchurian Candidate "Chicken Little is the funniest, bravest, most wonderful Chicken I've ever known"). While that is one opinion, a heavy majority of the remaining critics gave it the finger. At RottenTomatoes, 90 critics saw Chicken Little, and only 33 recommended it. That's a very negative 37%, but maybe kid word-of-mouth will bring that up a bit. Still, a very large egg could still be laid here if there's a big drop next weekend.
On the business side of Chicken Little, things were much less expensive compared to Pixar efforts. The Chicken cost Disney $60 million to make, but they then spent another $8 million preparing for the 3-D side of this release. On top of that, there was a heavy promotional push, especially after reviews began to creep in. One thing I will say is that during last week's episode of Survivor, Disney decided to push The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe instead of Chicken Little. I think Disney will be happy with open of Chicken Little and think of it as a good start; however, investors will be looking at the long-term performance. Last year, even with The Polar Express opening, The Incredibles dropped only 29% in its second weekend, grossing over $50 million. I predict a drop in the high 30 percents or even low 40s next weekend for Chicken Little, and then the egg will really drop when Harry Potter 4 is released on November 18th (even Monsters, Inc. had a heavy-duty drop in the face of that behemoth). And people, if you are thinking about selling your Disney stock because of this box office debut, don't. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is going to be HUGE in December.
Second place, and even a bigger story than Chicken Little, is the surprise debut of Jarhead, Sam Mendes' ode to the Marines. Tracking blew large on this one, an embarrassment, as the pros were looking for little old Jarhead with its 2,411 venues (about 1,200 less than Chicken Little), to gross between $16 and $18 million. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Jarhead, from the masters of marketing at Universal, grossed an outrageous $28.8 million this weekend. This is simply huge. With its 2,411 venues, Jarhead had a venue average of $11,924, a number usually reserved for blockbusters like Batman Begins (first weekend venue avg. $12,635) or Terminator 3 (first weekend venue avg. $12,569). The Universal marketing team has often had the knack of taking something that wasn't destined to be a hit into a huge opener. For example, Universal marketed The 40 Year-Old Virgin, starring no one, into a $20 million plus opener on the strength of a strong TV ad and trailer. Another recent example is White Noise, starring Michael Keaton (who couldn't open a peanut butter jar). Universal marketing turned that one into another $20 million plus opener. For Jarhead, Universal wisely jumped on the back of Kanye West to get their open, along with an excellent tagline in "Welcome to the Suck". TV ads were relentless for Jarhead and perfectly timed. The marketing team was also up against some surprisingly negative reviews. Jarhead only managed 65 positive reviews out of a possible 117 for a mixed 56% fresh rating. Jarhead wasn't a cheap film to make for the big U, as this one cost about $70 million to make; however, any worries about spending too much are gone, gone, gone.
The good news at the box office doesn't end with Jarhead either. Even with two big openers, Saw II also did better than expected business this weekend. Horror and sequels usually add up to bad news in terms of second weekend box office, when horrible drops of up to 60% really come into play. Considering that, Saw II's drop of 46% is an extremely big win, as the film earned another $17.2 million this weekend after grossing over $31 million last weekend and another $4.5 million on Halloween night. The $6 million feature from Lions Gate has now grossed an outstanding $60.5 million, and could earn as much as 15 to 20 times its production budget.
The Legend of Zorro quickly reminds us of what the box office has been like during 2005. In its second weekend, the big Sony film grossed only $10 million (another estimate that will drop on Monday), as the shine has come off the Zorro franchise. Down 39% from last weekend, the Antonio Banderas flick has now earned $30.3 million. Look for this $80 million production to gross about $60 million domestically but be saved from failure by overseas and Latin American grosses.
Prime also manages to hold surprisingly well this weekend, as I expected it to depart quite quickly. The Uma Thurman/Meryl Streep comedy must have struck a chord with audiences, as Prime grossed $5.3 million, down a tiny 15%. Still not a win for Univesal, Prime has now earned $13.5 million.
Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, the horse movie with Dakota Fanning, also managed to hold surprisingly well this weekend. Last weekend DreamWorks added 484 venues to Dreamer's run; this weekend, they added another 126. The move seems to be working. Last weekend Dreamer dropped 33% and grossed about $6 million. This weekend Dreamer dropped 22% and earned $4.8 million. Now, DreamWorks has turned Dreamer into a small word-of-mouth hit – it was never going to be an opener it needed to be a legs film – it now has $23.8 million in the domestic kitty, and should finish above its domestic budget, around $30 million.
Good Night, and Good Luck moves into the top ten this weekend, despite having a quarter the screens as some of its competition. The film, which pits Edgar R. Murrow against Joe McCarthy, grossed $3.1 million from 657 venues, giving it a strong venue average of $4,718. The George Clooney piece cost Warner Independent Pictures about $7 million to make, and already after a few weekends of limited release, Good Night has already earned $11 million.
The Weather Man finishes eighth this weekend, as it couldn't pick it up after last weekend's disappointing debut. The Nic Cage feature grossed $2.9 million in its sophomore frame, a drop of 31% compared to last weekend. The $20 million Paramount feature has now grossed $8.7 million.
Shopgirl, the Steve Martin film based on his book, lands in ninth this weekend, despite having only 493 venues to work with. Shopgirl earned $2.5 million this weekend, and finishes with a venue average of $5,119. BOP will have a lot more on Shopgirl next weekend, when Buena Vista adds more screens.
In tenth is Flightplan, the Jodie Foster film that won't go away. Flightplan earned $2.3 million this weekend, down 15% from last weekend. Flightplan, another Buena Vista product has now earned $84.5 million.
Overall, it's nice to have some good news to report this weekend. Still, we have to remember that last year this same weekend saw The Incredibles open to over $70 million. That helped the top ten reach a lofty $132 million. The top ten estimates this weekend earned an amazing $117 million, not only on the strength of the openers, but also from some decent holds this weekend - holds we haven't seen for many moons. My concern, though, is the reviews the big openers got this weekend; if they fade quickly, November 2005 will be another month lost to last year.