For the second consecutive weekend, a blockbuster film was fearlessly released into theaters, undeterred by the presence of March Madness basketball. Despite impressive television ratings for the tournament, Inside Man more than held its own in terms of box office performance, easily winning the weekend. When all else fails in the current move exhibition climate, star power remains the safest play.
By David Mumpower
March 26, 2006
Inside Man, the fourth Spike Lee film to star Denzel Washington, was the runaway movie choice of the weekend. Of course, it helps that other movie luminaries such as Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor were all featured players. While we are only in late March, the possibility exists that Inside Man is the most talent-laden production of the entire 2006 schedule. Audiences took note, leading the feature to earn $29 million from 2,817 venues. This is a very good per-exhibition average of $10,284. Its weekend total is more than the second and third place titles combined.
Inside Man's opening weekend is easily the best of Spike Lee's career, with the previous champion being his live comedy special, The Original Kings of Comedy, which was a surprise hit in 2000, earning $11.1 million in its opening weekend. Prior to that, we would have to go back 14 years to find a true hit film for the two-time Oscar-nominated auteur. So out of character is this mainstream project for its director that it will certainly pass Malcolm X's $48.2 million tally to become his biggest financial performer ever. And this should happen by next Sunday.
Why did Lee choose this time to go commercial? Who knows? Perhaps it's that he felt himself losing relevance with younger audiences. Maybe he was simply tired of doing so many important projects and was ready for something fun. It's even possible that Lee was ready to get his name back in the paper after five years of financially irrelevant (but socially impacting) work.
Whatever the cause, it worked. Lee's name at the helm guaranteed that several high-profile character actors would be willing to work on a modestly budgeted, quality production. The result is one of the best reviewed movies of 2006 to date (Inside Man is currently 89% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes) as well as a huge financial performer for Universal Pictures. With huge buzz and extremely positive word-of-mouth, the project even has a solid chance to be a rare non-family film with old school box office legs.
Finishing a distant second this weekend is last frame's winner, V for Vendetta. Any hope of demonstrating The Matrix-esque legs, however, was blown up as the film declined 52% despite universally positive word-of-mouth and 75% positive reviews at RottenTomatoes. A weekend total of $12.3 million and a running tally of $46.2 million isn't all bad news, though. This means that the Natalie Portman/Hugo Weaving production will at least approach matching its negative cost in North American release. With expected strong sales internationally, particularly in the country that celebrates Guy Fawkes Day, V for Vendetta should be in the black even before it reaches the lucrative DVD marketplace.
Such a performance exemplifies the genius of financial frugality on potential runaway budget projects. A $50 million production is much easier to justify to the numbers crunchers in this manner. Say what you will about the Wachowski Brothers and their disciples, but they have a preternatural insight into money-making movies.
The Bee Gees reunion tour is officially a go. Stay Alive opened to $11.2 million this weekend in 2,009 exhibitions, good enough for third place. That is a very solid per venue average of $5,580. The Samaire Armstrong feature (I have a crush, okay?) is theoretically frontlined by Malcolm in the Middle himself, Frankie Muniz. The title's performance is helped by the fact that it features him, The O.C. and Entourage veteran Armstrong, Gilmore Girls bad boy Milo Ventimiglia and One Tree Hill star Sophia Bush. With Fox, HBO and The WB stars all onboard, the generic "What if videogames started to kill people?" concept overcame its generic horror premise to become a relatively successful performer relative to its budget of less than $10 million. The one nice aspect of Stay Alive is its production shoot. This was the final project finished in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina. Hopefully, its success will encourage Hollywood to keep filming there as reconstruction continues.
Fourth place belongs to Failure to Launch, one of the few true hits on the 2006 schedule thus far. Also created for a reported $50 million, the Sarah Jessica Parker romantic sports comedy (you heard me) has a running total of $63.9 million after bringing in $10.8 million in its third frame. This represents a decline of only 31%. Confirming the current chaos that is 2006 cinema, Failure to Launch has received mixed word-of-mouth and atrocious critical reviews, yet its target demographic, sports widows and the lousy husbands who owe them a night out, remain stubbornly undeterred. Consumers never fail to complain about movie quality when they list why have stopped going to movies for the most part. The success of this title and Madea's Family Reunion belie such statements, though.
Tim Allen's drooling tongue and willingness to roll over and let his career play dead are good enough for fifth place this weekend. The Shaggy Dog accrues another $9.1 million in its third weekend for a grand total of $47.9 million. There is a certain logic in the idea that if a bunch of dogs are worth $75 million, a man acting like a dog should be good for at least $50 million. Tying the threads together, Eight Below finishes in ninth place this weekend with $2.7 million, bringing the second-highest grossing film of 2006 (again, you heard me) to $77.2 million. What have we learned from March box office? Dogs are a man's best friend and, occasionally, what a bored former television actor aspires to be.
She's the Man and she has the sixth place finish to prove it. Teen actress Amanda Bynes, arguably the most talented of the current crop of pubescent divas, continues to show respectability as a box office draw. A moderate second weekend decline of 31% indicates another $7.4 million in box office and a running tally of $20.5 million. Jenny Garth must be so proud of her right now.
Question: How many rednecks does it take to make a movie a box office hit? Answer: More than Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector managed this weekend. The middling $7.1 million performance from 1,710 venues certainly did not "Git-R-Done!" as the Blue Collar Comedian would have wished. Instead, the former Nebraska prep school student who inexplicably developed a southern accident well after puberty will have to go back to focusing upon grandmother-related toilet humor after a seventh place finish this weekend. Clearly, the world is not quite ready for a fat man in plaid to attempt to cross dress as Carmen Miranda. Thank God.
The Hills Have Eyes and 16 Blocks join the aforementioned Eight Below in rounding out the top ten. The horror flick finishes in eighth place with another $4.3 million this frame, bringing its grand total to a decent but disappointing $35.6 million. Much more was expected of this project, but it appears to be experiencing its final moment in the sun this weekend. The Bruce Willis/Mos Def drama tosses another $2.2 million onto its total of $34.1 million. We have finally reached the point where Demi Moore's new flame is definitively more of a box office draw than her old one. This makes my Die Hard loving heart very, very sad.
The news for the weekend itself was good. Box office for the top ten was up 10.6% from last year at this time. This uptick is fantastic for exhibitors as we have officially entered the slump period from 2005. At least this means the start of the spring box office season will not be lumped in with last year's cataclysm. At least not yet.
Next weekend sees four new entries into the marketplace. The humorous b-movie Slither, the southern hip-hop selection ATL, and the way late Basic Instinct sequel will all play sacrificial lambs to the 800 pound gorilla that is Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. Its presence alone should guarantee we see a major uptick in box office as we enter April.