Box Office Hotter Than Hellboy

John Hamann's Weekend Wrap-up

April 4, 2004

Johnny Loves Glenda.

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If you were a teenage girl who had a thing for comics and wrestlers, you were a moviegoer this weekend, and maybe a very busy one.

It was an odd weekend at the box office. A stunning six films finished the weekend in the $10 million plus area, making for an intense competition for screens between studios. Perhaps more odd is the fact that the same weekend Newmarket added 194 screens to the already massive release of The Passion of the Christ, Sony unleashed Hellboy, which must have created some odd crowds at the box office. It looks like 14 films will finish with $1 million or more for the weekend and the box office will record its sixth $100 million plus gross for the top ten weekend estimates. It’s a good thing the box office is hot right now; I’m expecting a pretty tough downturn after the Easter weekend has passed.

Despite being only the fourth widest release of the weekend, a film with no stars and based on a comic book that was underground at best, Hellboy is the number one film of the weekend by a landslide. Hellboy broke out, grossing $23.5 million from 3,028 venues. The film had a venue average of $7,760, but carried a worrisome 2.61 Friday-to-Sunday multiplier based on the Friday estimate of $8.97 million. Sony Pictures handled the release of this one beautifully, and marketed the opening perfectly despite its obvious challenges. In his weekend forecast (which was spot on by the way), Reagen Sulewski compared Hellboy to Blade. It also compares with Spawn, another dark comic book property that broke out at the box office. Spawn opened to a surprising $21.2 million over five days, which in today’s dollars is about $26.8 million. The Wesley Snipes film did this amount of business on 500 fewer screens. Also, at the time, the weekend of said performance used to be a viciously slow period at the box office (August 1st). Hellboy had something that Spawn didn’t, though. Critics were on its side. At RottenTomatoes, 106 critics voted, with a healthy 81 giving a thumbs up. That’s 76% fresh from all reviewers, and a powerful 87% from RT’s "cream of the crop." The much-loved (by fans) Blade was forced to eat a 55% rotten rating.

Hellboy is another hit for Joe Roth’s Revolution Studios and his partnership with Sony, after coming off a couple of disasters. Revolution’s recent releases include the much-maligned Gigli, Ron Howard’s The Missing and the not-so-memorable Mona Lisa Smile. While that looks like an upsetting 2003, hits included Radio, Daddy Day Care and Anger Management. After seeing Hellboy, I have to wonder if the $60 million film is $100 million plus material, but with a holiday weekend on the way that has little in terms of direct demographic competition, anything is possible. No matter what it does domestically, sequel possibilities are endless and a wealthy franchise is most likely born.

Striding into second spot is The Rock in what looks to be a safe bet from MGM, Walking Tall. How much could a film like this cost? $35 million? 40 million? Try $56 million, and with an opening weekend gross of $15.3 million, it's going to have to work pretty hard over the next few weeks to recoup the investment. Walking Tall will need an overall multiplier of 3.7 from opening weekend until the movie exits theaters if it hopes to recoup the production budget stateside. Unfortunately, Rock’s The Rundown only reached 2.57, and The Scorpion King came in at 2.51.

Third this weekend is Scooby-Doo 2: The Return of Freddy Prinze Jr. Scooby 2 did the expected and dropped a very Freddy-like 49%, pulling a gross of $15.1 million (Last weekend, the estimate for the weekend was $30.7 million before being reduced to $29.4 million, so if you believe it did $15.1 million and dropped 49% I’ve got some stuff to sell you). An educated guess puts the production budget around $85 million, a figure this one is never going to see in terms of domestic box office. It has a current total of $50 million (boy that’s convenient eh?), and with five new releases next weekend this one could disappear very quickly.

Dropped off in fourth is the poorly marketed Home on the Range from Disney. The very expensive (and probably last for a while) traditionally animated feature from the studio grossed a disappointing but expected $14 million this weekend from a massive 3,047 venues. Questions should be raised as to exactly what happened with this release. It’s been no secret that Disney is moving away from 2-D animation and one has to wonder just how much the Mouse House wanted this one to work. They spent somewhere between $90 and $110 million on this project, about the level of the individual Lord of the Rings films, and then apparently forgot to market it, making a feeble effort at best. If I were a shareholder, I would have to ask why it wasn’t marketed as “The Last Traditionally Animated Feature from Walt Disney” much akin to their “closing the video vault forever” campaign. We’ll have to see how it plays out in the weeks to come, but expect a quick departure, as I highly doubt the studio will support this one much heading into the long weekend.

After a battle between Julia Stiles and Christ, Paramount’s The Prince and Me takes fifth. The critically-reviled teenage girl flick grossed a somewhat surprising $10 million from 2,682 venues this weekend. This is another one that despite a decent opening is going to be a memory in two weeks. Sorry, Julia.

Sixth goes to The Passion of the Christ, which slips three spots despite a very favorable hold. Newmarket added 194 venues this weekend, bringing the already massive count up to 3,408. The move worked as The Passion was able to keep its nose right around $10 million for the sixth straight weekend, pulling down a weekend total of $9.9 million, a number I think will go up when actuals are released tomorrow. The gross equals a tiny drop of 22%, and should improve on this frame’s take next weekend as Easter enthusiasts crowd theatres. The current gross sits at $330.1 million, and moves into the top ten grossing films (domestic) of all time, passing Forrest Gump at $329.7 million. Easter Weekend will move it past 2003 calendar champ Finding Nemo, which grossed $339.7 million.

The strength of the openers really robbed the sophomore films of any chance at decent hold. Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Ladykillers dropped five spots from second to seventh this weekend, as the film failed to generate any positive momentum in its second weekend. The Ladykillers grossed $7 million after its debut last weekend of $12.6 million, an unfortunate drop of 44.5%. With a gross now of $23.4 million, Tom Hanks will not be able to avoid having his lowest grossing film since 1996’s That Thing You Do which finished with $25.8 million. If you argue that he didn’t topline that film, you have to go all the way back to 1990’s Bonfire of the Vanities, which flopped with a total of only $15.4 million.

Jersey Girl held decently this weekend as Miramax added 301 venues to Kevin Smith’s latest release. Jersey Girl still lost three spots on the chart, dropping to eighth with a gross of $5.1 million. Despite the screen bump, the drop came in at 38%, with the film carrying a current gross of $15.8 million.

Falling to ninth like a head-shot zombie is Dawn of the Dead, the really-quite-good horror re-imagining of George Romero’s classic. Dawn has stumbled hard since its opening, and continued to fall apart this weekend. Dawn dropped a nasty 59%, grossing $4.4 million. It now has grossed $51.5 million, about twice its $26 million production budget.

Tenth goes to the really good but sadly forgotten Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Focus Features estimated Eternal Sunshine at $3.6 million. The Jim Carrey think piece has now grossed $22 million.

Overall this weekend, box office continued to lord over last year. The top ten pulled in $107.8 million, completely dominating over last year’s top ten take of $79.2 million. That’s a 28% increase over 2003, with no sign of slowing next weekend.

Top Ten for Weekend of April 2-4, 2004
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Changes in
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Gross ($)
Gross ($)
1 Hellboy 2,962 New $23.5 $23.5
2 Walking Tall 2,836 New $15.3 $15.3
3 Scooby Doo 2 3312 n/c $15.1 $50.0
4 Home on the Range 3,047 New $14.0 $14.0
5 The Prince and Me 2,682 New $10.0 $10.0
6 The Passion of the Christ 3,408 +194 $9.9 $330.1
7 The Ladykillers 1,587 +4 $7.0 $23.4
8 Jersey Girl 1,821 +301 $5.1 $15.8
9 Dawn of the Dead 2,357 -393 $4.4 $51.5
10 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 1,120 -237 $3.6 $22.0
11 Taking Lives 2,010 -695 $3.5 $27.5
12 Starsky & Hutch 2,103 -882 $3.2 $81.9



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