Openers Save Box Office

John Hamann's Weekend Wrap Up

April 25, 2004

You're cute and all, but I still hated Cat in the Hat.

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With disastrous holdovers dropping screens like a bad habit this weekend, two mid- to high-level releases were able to achieve big venue counts, and dominate the box office. It was set to be a race between debuting films: one a lightweight comedy in 13 Going on 30, the other a stylish action piece in Fox’s Man on Fire.

It’s a tough time to release a film. Universal’s Van Helsing is set for massive release in two weeks, ready to scoop a large percentage of the weekend box office, leaving holdovers to feed on themselves for a portion of the box office pie. Releasing an expensive effects-filled film at this time wouldn’t be wise, as Van Helsing would cannibalize any third or fourth weekend returns. With this is mind, Sony and Revolution Studios released 13 Going on 30, which carried a moderate production budget in the $35-40 million range, and 20th Century Fox served up Man on Fire, an action movie that cost between $60 and $70 million. Believe it or not, in 2004, these films are at or below the average production budget ($64 million), and should be able to recoup a large portion of the production cost before the summer behemoths hit screens.

Audience tracking was off the mark this weekend, as Fox’s Man on Fire had to settle for a virtual tie for first place against the more family-friendly comedy in 13 Going on 30. The R-rated Denzel Washington feature came out on top, grossing $23 million from 2,979 venues and earning a solid average of $7,720. There was a lot of competition from a variety of weak holdovers this weekend, but as we’ve said before, while competition is often blamed for weak opening numbers, it’s not often the case. Holdovers are much more subject to the competition blues (as you will see), and the $23 million opening has to be at the top level of expectations on the Fox lot. Training Day opened to a similar $22.6 million in October 2001, a notoriously weak period at the box office. Denzel Washington is a good bet for a studio; he’s had 11 above-the-title films since 1998, eight are $10 million plus openers and four are $20 million plus openers. Even with Van Helsing on the horizon, Man on Fire is still going to be a good entry for Fox.

The big gross from the number two film of the weekend is not a surprise to BOP readers. Like Reagen Sulewski called on Thursday, Jennifer Garner’s 13 Going on 30 was able to earn $20+ million. The Sony/Revolution Studios release pulled in $22 million this weekend from an extremely wide 3,438 venues.

Jennifer Garner has officially made it, as 13 Going on 30 is really the first film she has carried by herself after small appearances in $100 million hits like Daredevil and Catch Me If You Can. Even though it was through the early '90s when ticket prices were much lower, Julia Roberts had seven films she toplined before earning a $20 million plus opener. Some of those include Pretty Woman ($11.3 million open), Dying Young ($9.7 million open), and Sleeping With the Enemy ($13.8 million open), none of which are $20 million openers even with inflation included. What Julia lacked in lower numbers, she made up with legs in a lot of different ways, if you get my drift. A similar story to Garner may be Reese Witherspoon. After a series of supporting performances, Witherspoon broke out in Legally Blonde, which earned $20.4 million in its opening weekend, before finding $96.5 million domestically. 13 Going on 30 is no Sweet Home Alabama, Reese Witherspoon’s surprise hit in September 2002. That film opened to $35.6 million from 3,293 venues, and eventually grossed $127.2 million stateside. Like Reese Witherspoon, the big money for Jennifer Garner may be in the follow-up to her first big solo film. Elektra, the Daredevil spin-off starring Garner as the title character, is set to open early next year.

Third spot goes to Kill Bill Vol. 2, which had a disastrous weekend after debuting in top spot one week ago. KBV2 dropped a drastic 59% despite adding 102 new venues to its run. The Miramax second half pulled in $10.4 million and had a second weekend venue average of $3,387. I think Miramax may be wishing they either waited to release the first film on DVD until after the sequel’s release, or waited to release Vol. 2 until the DVD had a longer run in video stores to build an audience. The Tarantino follow-up now has a gross of $43 million after ten days, and with most of that being profit after distribution splits, Miramax can’t be too disappointed with the big drop.

In fourth spot at the box office is The Punisher, which also got punished by Man on Fire this weekend. The relatively inexpensive Lions Gate Film grossed $6.1 million this weekend and will most likely finish near its production budget of $37 million. It currently sits with a two-weekend total of $24 million.

It was another tussle for the bottom of the chart, as five films battled for spots five through ten. With estimates in, fifth place goes to Home on the Range with an awesome $3.5 million, down 37% from last weekend. With little demographic competition, Range has been able to limp to $42.5 million, with its $100 million budget still a long range off.

Sixth goes to Cedric the Entertainer and Johnson Family Vacation, which is surprisingly one of the most successful films on the chart this weekend. Johnson grossed $3.2 million, and despite being off 47%, the film has now grossed $25.1 million, more than double its production budget of $12 million. That’s more good news for the people at Fox, as Fox Searchlight is the distributor on this one.

Seventh is Scooby-Doo 2, which somehow continues to draw patrons. Scooby 2 pulled in another $3.1 million this weekend, down 40% from the previous frame. The film has now pulled in an inexplicable $76.5 million after five weekends of release.

Eighth is Hellboy, which has dropped quickly since its $23.2 million open four weekends ago. The film finished this frame with $3 million, and a drop of 47%. This Sony/Revolution Studios release cost $66 million and has now made $54.7 million domestically.

Ninth is Miramax’s Ella Enchanted, which is going to have to be paid for by the profits made from Kill Bill 2. Ella grossed $2.7 million, down 36% from last weekend, despite adding 210 venues. It now has a total of $17.2 million against a production budget of $31 million.

Tenth this weekend does not go to The Passion of the Christ (which finishes outside the top ten for the first time in nine weekends) or The Alamo, it goes to Walking Tall, MGM’s most recent rehashing. Walking Tall pulled in $2.7 million, down 42% from last weekend. The total for The Rock’s movie has now hit $40.5 million; it carried a production budget of $46 million.

Overall, numbers were saved by the openers again this weekend. Top ten estimates added up to $79.6 million, giving the weekend only a 2% lift over last year, when the openers totaled $74.8 million.

Top Ten for Weekend of April 23-25, 2004
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Gross ($)
Gross ($)
1 Man on Fire 2,979 New $23.0 $23.0
2 13 Going on 30 3,438 New $22.0 $22.0
3 Kill Bill Vol. 2 3,073 +102 $10.4 $43.0
4 The Punisher 2,649 No change $6.1 $24.0
5 Home on the Range 2,481 -254 $3.5 $42.5
6 Johnson Family Vacation 1,259 -67 $3.2 $25.1
7 Scooby Doo 2 2,420 -390 $3.1 $76.5
8 Hellboy 2,218 -679 $3.0 $54.7
9 Ella Enchanted 2,149 +210 $2.7 $17.2
10 Walking Tall 2,201 -243 $2.7 $40.5
11 The Passion of the Christ 2,269 -579 $2.1 $364.3
12 The Alamo 2,039 -570 $2.0 $19.7



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