Bond, Happy Feet Rule Pre-Thanksgiving Box Office
Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for November 17-19, 2006
By John Hamann
November 19, 2006

And most of all, son, beware of creepy cameramen here to film your march.

A new serving of Bond and more animated animals energized the box office, leaving our two-weekend champ Borat in the dust. It was an extremely close race toward the top; Casino Royale won the opening day battle, but Happy Feet, with a big Saturday and Sunday, came back and won the weekend box office title. All the returning films were crushed under the weight of the two big openers, including family films Flushed Away and The Santa Clause 3.

While the return of James Bond did re-energize the franchise, it was a group of happy penguins that stole the box office show. Happy Feet, from the usually inept Warner Bros., is our number one film of the weekend, as it grossed a very strong $42.3 million from a huge 3,804 venues. It had a venue average of $11,120. Happy Feet started the weekend almost $3 million behind Bond on Friday, but managed to come back and win the frame. As Tim Briody reported on Saturday, Happy Feet earned approximately $11.6 million on opening day, well back of Casino Royale's estimate of $14.4 million. Happy Feet stormed back, though, earning a weekend multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) of 3.7, a standard non-summer multiplier for a film so directly aimed at kids.

Warner Bros. and production company Village Roadshow should be thrilled with this opening. Warner Bros. has never had an animated feature debut as large as this (remember The Ant Bully?) and Village Roadshow has never produced an animated feature. The magic maker may be director George Miller, director of Babe and the classic Babe : Pig in the City, which is really one of the best films ever produced. Miller proved himself as a storyteller with the Mad Max films; he then showed he had the right touch for kids with the Babe films. He was able to wrangle Nicole Kidman into a big part for this film, and Robin Williams is becoming a more popular animated star than feature film performer. Williams has now appeared in Aladdin ($217 million domestic gross), Robots ($36 million open, $128 million finish) and now Happy Feet, which is certainly on its way to $150 million.

Yes, legs for Happy Feet should be of no concern for the distributor and production partners. Reviews were fantastic. At RottenTomatoes, 94 reviewers chimed in on Happy Feet at the time of this writing, and a stellar 75 were happy enough with what they saw. That gives Happy Feet a fresh rating of 80%, a number a non-Pixar, non-Disney animated film should be happy with. IMDb lists the budget at $85 million, which is a figure Warner Bros. should have in the bank by the end of the upcoming long weekend. Happy Feet will have the kid market to themselves until Charlotte's Web opens in mid-December, so the sky may be the limit.

Despite an excellent opening frame, Casino Royale has to settle for second spot at the box office. Naysayers toward Daniel Craig can shut up now, as Casino Royale managed an opening weekend take of $40.6 million. The new Bond debuted on 3,434 venues, about 400 less than Happy Feet, and managed a venue average of $11,823 � the best in the top ten. Most critics call Daniel Craig the best Bond since Sean Connery, while others call him the best ever. Casino Royale received simply stunning reviews. RottenTomatoes gathered 133 reviews, and only six were negative. That gives this franchise reinvention a 95% fresh rating, and one of the best RottenTomatoes scores of the year. With the stellar notices, this one could be even leggier than the usual Bond triumphs, and should have a decent shot at usurping the Bond box office crown from Die Another Day, which finished with a domestic total of $161 million. Casino Royale has already smashed a record in Britain, where its opening day beat Die Another Day by 54%. All in all, this reinvention has worked smashingly, and will breathe new life into many years of box office returns.

After two weekends on top, Borat finally got a taste of reality. The Sacha Baron Cohen flick got dumped into third spot, as some real box office heavyweights brushed Borat to the side. Still, the oddball comedy managed to keep its drop below 50%, earning $14.4 million from 2,611 venues. It dropped 49% compared to the previous weekend, when it earned $28.3 million, up 7% from its debut frame. Borat will have to wait another weekend to celebrate reaching $100 million, as its total currently sits at $90.5 million. Still, this weekend's gross is close to the film's production budget of $18 million, so I don't think 20th Century Fox will be too disappointed with a third place finish.

Finishing fourth is The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, as it gets some separation from the other family friendly holdover, Flushed Away. Santa Clause 3 got hammered hard, grossing $8.2 million over its third frame and dropping a serious 51%. The debut of the animated penguins rocked both of the family holdovers this weekend, and raises serious questions about how they will finish. They should get a reprieve over the Thanksgiving weekend, by will be hung out to dry the weekend after that. Currently, The Santa Clause 3 sits with $51.6 million, and will have to work hard to reach $80 million.

Flushed Away gets hurt the worst by Happy Feet, as the Aardman animated flick gets decimated by the mighty penguins. Flushed Away grossed only $6.8 million, off a disastrous 59% compared to last weekend. The Veteran's Day holiday artificially inflated last weekend's grosses for both Flushed Away and Santa Clause 3, and the heat is being felt this frame. Flushed Away has now grossed $48.8 million for Paramount, against a budget of about $90 million.

Will Ferrell's Stranger than Fiction couldn't get any traction at the box office, either, as adult moviegoers chose action or animation over a thinking man's comedy. Stranger than Fiction rang up only $6.6 million in sales, off an unexpected 51%. This one looks like it will play like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and despite being a great film, will fade into the sunset more quickly than it should. Currently the Will Ferrell comedy has earned $22.9 million domestically.

Even good films weren't spared the wrath of the percentage drop, as even the Brad Pitt/Cate Blanchett feature Babel was left out to dry. Babel, from Paramount Vantage, earned only $2.9 million and was off 48% compared to last weekend's take. Out to only 1,251 venues, it had a venue average of $2,318, and has a current domestic total of only $12.0 million. Unless something strange happens, this one should be gone by next weekend, as four new flicks hit screens to celebrate the Thanksgiving weekend.

Saw III finished eighth, as horror fanatics have had their thrill and moved on. Saw III earned $2.8 million, off a huge 60% from last weekend. Saw III has now seen drops of 56%, 53% and now 60%, and currently sits with $74.9 million in the box office kitty.

The Departed finishes ninth, as Martin Scorsese's crime drama continues to wind down. The mob flick earned $2.6 million in its seventh weekend, and was off 50% compared to the previous frame. The Departed has now earned $113.9 million at the domestic box office.

Tenth place goes (somewhat unexpectedly) to Eight Films to Die For, an ambitious project from After Dark Films. The three night indie horror film festival exhibited in 488 different theaters across the country, has to be viewed as a roaring success. This is a win for After Dark as well as indie horror as a whole.

Out of the top ten is the worst idea of the weekend. Let's Go To Prison opens in 12th, earning $2.1 million. Thank you for not seeing this movie.

Overall, even with two strong openers the box office couldn't hold a candle to what was happening last year at this time. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire opened to $102.7 million over the same weekend last year, and was followed by Walk the Line at $22.3 million. That $124 million the two openers earned last year was just about equal to the $129.7 million the entire top ten found this year.