No Breakout For Sky Captain

Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for September 17-19, 2004

By John Hamann

September 19, 2004

Everything is always better with airships.

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All eyes were toward the skies, as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow took off on what was setting up to be a busy weekend. It’s no secret the effects-filled film was once scheduled for a primetime early summer release date, only to be bumped into the relative obscurity of September. The question is, would that moviegoing Scarlet Letter prohibit box office success?

The number one film of the weekend is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Kerry Conran’s almost-animated, Tron-like first feature. Sky Captain got out of the gate solidly but avoided the breakout, grossing $16.2 million over its first three days from 3,170 venues. It had a calm venue average of $5,110. While not exciting, this is a fair September number for distributor Paramount, as good reviews and positive word-of-mouth will keep the hope alive at the struggling studio’s offices. Sky Captain grabbed 84 positive reviews out of a possible 114 at RottenTomatoes, giving the feature a 74% fresh rating. However, as we all know critics don’t buy tickets; last year The Rundown scored a 70% fresh rating and after opening to $18 million only found $47.6 million in total domestic receipts. Sky Captain cost Paramount and partners $70 million to produce and more to market. I expected a larger ad campaign for the potential blockbuster, but it never materialized. This is a missed opportunity for the studio, as the drop into the September turmoil hurt the breakout chances this film had. Maybe their winter schedule was too busy with two marketing-heavy movies – Paramount has Jim Carrey’s Lemony Snicket movie opening in December and SpongeBob set to rule November.

There have been few highlights in the last year for Paramount Pictures; they sit eighth in market share behind Newmarket, and their schedule for the year has failed to put forward a $100 million earner. Even their last film to reach the century mark is a bit of a joke. It was 2003’s The Italian Job, which took a late run re-release to hit the $100 million mark. Sky Captain is Paramount’s 19th film since The Italian Job to hit theatres – that’s a long time to go without a $100 million film. The good news for the studio is that its year isn’t over yet. Paramount has a busy year coming up with the two titles in October (Team America and Alfie, another Jude Law movie) and the two holiday films I mentioned above.

Second spot goes to Bernie Mac’s Mr. 3000, another film I thought would do better at the box office this weekend. Mr. 3000 settled for a $9.2 million weekend after opening on 2,736 venues. The Buena Vista release had a venue average of $3,362. Mr. 3000 is Bernie Mac’s first above-the-title release, so an opening in the high single digits isn’t all bad. After supporting roles in hits like Ocean’s Eleven, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Bad Santa, Mac was given his first starring role in the baseball comedy. The $30 million film should be a safe bet for the studio – it will have that formulaic sports movie word-of-mouth, so it could still earn $30 million by the end of its run. RottenTomatoes saw the movie get batted around somewhat, with 40 positive reviews and 31 negative for an almost fresh average of 54%.

Last weekend’s champ, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, took third place. The end is nigh for this film, as it dropped a horrendous 61% this weekend to $9 million after finding $23 million over its opening frame. That’s not the biggest drop ever (Gigli has that honor at 82%) but it is nasty enough to raise eyebrows. Resident Evil 2 now has a total gross of $37.4 million against a production budget of about $50 million. RE2 is going to be a soft hit for Screen Gems, finishing with about $45 million.

Fourth this weekend is the new Kirsten Dunst movie, Universal's Wimbledon. Wimbledon took the road less traveled this weekend, opening at only 2,033 venues. The romantic tennis movie (don’t worry – a zombie romantic comedy opens next weekend in Shaun of the Dead) opened to a quiet $7.8 million this weekend, but because of the low venue count, had the second best average in the top ten at $3,824. Budgeted at $35 million, the film needed better reviews if legs are going to be apparent – it scored only a 53% fresh rating at RottenTomatoes. Considering the $775 million in domestic grosses from both Spider-Man movies, I’m surprised that Kirsten Dunst has failed to build more of an audience. The good news for Kirsten is that her next film is Elizabethtown, the new film from Cameron Crowe.

Cellular manages to avoid the huge second weekend drop-off as it finishes fifth this weekend. Cellular grossed $6.9 million this weekend from 2,749 venues, dropping a reasonable 32% after opening to $10.1 million in the last frame. The New Line flick has now grossed $19.8 million, and is on its way to $30 million.

Paramount’s other top ten film this weekend is Without a Paddle, which continues to hold very well after five weekends of release. WaP grossed another $3.7 million this weekend, down only 18% from the weekend before. Without a Paddle has now grossed $50.4 million, not bad against a production budget of $19 million, and a glorious future coming on DVD.

Seventh this weekend is Hero, Miramax’s epic martial arts movie. In its fourth weekend of release, Hero grossed just a little short of $3 million, down 33% from last weekend. The domestic total now for the already successful film stands at $46.2 million.

Napoleon Dynamite enjoys its second consecutive weekend in the top ten after 13 weekends on the outside by finishing in eighth. Although the film grossed only $2.4 million this weekend, this movie is a box office superstar. Made for only $400,000, Napoleon has racked up $33.5 million in domestic grosses. Fox Searchlight added 103 venues this weekend to bring the count up to 1,024. The film had the sixth best venue average in the top ten at $2,343 and the lowest weekend-to-weekend drop-off at only 5%.

Ninth goes to the Tom Cruise flick that won’t go away, Collateral. Now in its eighth weekend, Collateral grossed $2.3 million, as the DreamWorks movie struggles to reach the $100 million mark. Its total has now reached $96 million.

The Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement didn't appear in the top ten Friday films for a second week in a row, but still finished decently in terms of weekend ranking by taking the ten spot. The successful sequel grossed another $2 million this weekend, and is now playing at only 1,902 venues. The Buena Vista flick has now grossed $91.9 million as it heads for home video.

The other wide release this weekend was National Lampoon’s Gold Diggers, which opened at 899 venues. In what may set a record for lowest gross for a wide release, the comedy earned only $410,000 this weekend, delivering a screen average of $456. Nasty.

Overall, box office was left well back of totals from last year when Underworld opened. The top ten last year grossed about $85 million, this year top ten estimates came in at a woeful $62.4 million.

Top Ten for Weekend of September 17-19, 2004
of Sites
Gross ($)
Gross ($)
1 Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow 3,170 New $16.2 $16.2
3 Mr. 3000 2,736 New $9.2 $9.2
2 Resident Evil: Apocalypse 3,284 -61% $9.0 $37.4
4 Wimbledon 2,034 New $7.8 $7.8
5 Cellular 2,749 -32% $6.9 $19.8
6 Without a Paddle 2,610 -18% $3.7 $50.4
7 Hero 1,926 -33% $2.95 $46.2
10 Napoleon Dynamite 1,024 -5% $2.4 $33.5
9 Collateral 1,605 -15% $2.3 $96.0
8 The Princess Diaries 2 1,902 -32% $2.0 $91.9



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