Shark Bites Into October

Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for October 1-3, 2004

By John Hamann

October 3, 2004

Cue the Marvin Gaye music.

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Monday Update

So much for that October record. I thought it was odd that DreamWorks would estimate Shark Tale at $49.1 versus the usual studio lie of $50.1 (Hollywood likes even numbers). It turns out they were over-estimating to get headlines on Monday for the record breaking October figure (estimates had it beating Scary Movie 3's $48.1 million open). Now that actuals are out, it turns out that Shark Tale never beat the record, falling just shy at $47.6 million. That's a $1.5 million over-estimation, you can decide whether they did that on purpose or not. If they didn't do it on purpose, DreamWorks is going to have to contend with questionable word of mouth as the reason for the overshoot.

Ladder 49 was closer, but considering it did half the business that Shark Tale did, the Disney folks didn't do much better. The actual number for Ladder 49's first weekend gross came in at $22.1 million, versus the estimate of $22.8 million.

In other missed-estimate news, Shaun of the Dead was able to get ahead of Woman, Thou Art Loosed, as Shaun's estimate climbed to $2.5 million versus $2.4 and Women's dropped from $2.5m to $2.3m.

The column below has not been updated, however the chart at the bottom of the page is current with actuals included.

Thank you, box office gods; we are clear of an awful September. Theatre owners and distributors cheered the launches of Shark Tale and Ladder 49 this weekend, as the two heavily marketed films hit a combined 7,276 venues this weekend. Results were good, but not of the breakout variety; however, this box office weekend only needed good to break out of the doldrums.

Much was riding on the DreamWorks’ release of Shark Tale, as more than the usual tens of millions were at stake over the course of a normal box office weekend. DreamWorks is set to spin off its animation unit, so many investing eyes were anxious to see how the animated feature Shark Tale would perform at the box office. DreamWorks’ animation unit has had a string of hits and misses, so a strong performance here would go a long way to solidifying a high IPO price, and build on the huge success of Shrek 2. The box office was primed for a breakout performer; business has been dreadfully slow through September, with the youth market considerably under-served. What DreamWorks may not have envisioned coming was the strength of Buena Vista’s Ladder 49, the firefighting movie that gobbled up its own huge amount of screens and marketing time. If Ladder 49 hadn’t taken up as many big auditoriums as it did, Shark Tale could have performed ever better. I guess that’s Disney’s way of saying thanks for the memories.

The number one film of the weekend is Shark Tale, DreamWorks’ second shot at a blockbuster computer animated film this year. Shark Tale did what it had to do, but not much more than that. Tracking had the film pegged at a $45-50 million open, and it came in at the higher part of that range, grossing $49.1 million over its first three days. With its 4,016 venues, the kids flick drew an average of $12,226. As Kim Hollis reported yesterday, Shark Tale grossed an adequate $12.9 million on Friday, but then hit the gas pedal on Saturday with a $21 million gross. The film’s internal multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) came in at 3.8, which is a good sign for the future of Shark Tale. The Mafioso fish movie becomes the biggest opener for the month of October, just eclipsing the $48.1 million open of Scary Movie 3 last year. It is DreamWorks’ second biggest opening for an animated film, wedged between number one Shrek 2 and the original Shrek, which opened to $42.3 million back in May 2001. The opening is eerily reminiscent of Fox’s Ice Age, which found $46.3 million over its opening frame in March 2002. That film went on to make $176 million domestically for 20th Century Fox and an awesome $206.3 million overseas. If Shark Tale can repeat that success or even build on it, that IPO should have no problem unloading.

Shark Tale was an expensive venture for the studio. Sure the production budget for the feature came in at a reasonable-for-a-blockbuster $75 million, however I can’t even estimate the marketing dollars that went into this one. The bet appears to be paying off, although legs could be a question. Reviewers panned the feature in newspapers across the country, with only 37 reviewers out of a possible 107 enjoying the film enough to give it a thumbs up at RottenTomatoes. Yes, kids aren’t likely to care what Roger Ebert thinks of Shark Tale, but it could curtail the family outing to the theatre, which is where the big dollars are. $150 million stateside should be a lock for this one, but we won’t have a good idea of final domestic earnings until we see how the film performs next weekend against the new Hillary Duff movie, Jimmy Fallon’s Taxi, and the high school football drama Friday Night Lights. Next weekend is going to be very interesting.

The number two film this weekend is Touchstone’s Ladder 49 starring Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta. After some fantastic marketing, Ladder 49 rose to the cause, and pulled in a somewhat surprising $22.8 million in box office receipts. The firefighting film debuted at 3,260 venues and pulled a strong average of $6,989. Ladder 49 worked as a ‘parent’ film this weekend, making it as great counter-programming versus the animated blockbuster. For John Travolta, it breaks a mini-slump he’s been in since the $22.3 million open of The General’s Daughter in 1999 (maybe he earned the slump with 2000’s Battlefield Earth). For Joaquin Phoenix, Ladder 49 is another step toward major stardom. He was the main draw for this summer’s disappointing The Village, after having supporting roles in huge hits like Signs and Gladiator. Next up for Phoenix is the biopic about Johnny Cash that looks better and better every day.

Like Shark Tale, critics ravaged Ladder 49. Of the 105 reviewers polled at RottenTomatoes, only 42 gave it a positive review. That’s only 40% fresh; however, I think general word-of-mouth is going to be better than reviews indicate. Audience manipulation seems to be at the center of this one, and that does tend to sell tickets. More on that next weekend, as it engages some serious competition in its second frame.

Down two spots to third is Sony’s The Forgotten with Julianne Moore. The Forgotten wasn’t as forgotten in its second week as a Vin Diesel movie, for example, but the damage was still pretty severe. With the top two films grossing a combined $71.9 million, The Forgotten dropped a very reasonable 43%, grossing $12 million compared to its $21 million opening last weekend. Sony added 40 new venues to the thriller’s run, bringing the location count up to 3,144; it had an average of $3,816. The total now for the $42 million film sits at $38.3 million, making this project another positive entry for Revolution Studios.

The rest of the top ten, save one, still had a lot of that September death dust on them, which kept any of them from grossing more than $4 million. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow managed the fourth spot, grossing $3.4 million from 2,721 venues, 449 less than last weekend. The blue screen film dropped a nasty 49% in its third weekend. Paramount’s failed experiment has now grossed $30.7 million against a budget of $70 million. It’s going to finish poorly with a little under $40 million domestically.

Fifth this weekend is the Bernie Mac miss Mr. 3000. The baseball comedy continued its steady decline this weekend, grossing $2.6 million from 2,239 venues. The drop came in at 49%, and the film has now grossed a total of $19.2 million.

Sixth goes to the upstart film of the week, Woman Thou Art Loosed, a film I’m sure many of you have never heard of. Based on a self-help novel by religious leader T.D. Jakes, Woman found a built-in audience and was able to work itself into a top ten box office hit despite being released at only 408 venues. Woman grossed a remarkable $2.5 million this weekend and grabbed the third best venue average in the top ten at $6,127. Magnolia Pictures picked the film up after a screening at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. The film was originally supposed to be direct-to-video, but missed that fate after the Magnolia pickup. We’ll have a good indication whether this is a one-weekend wonder or not after next weekend’s box office results are in.

Shaun of the Dead finished in seventh spot this weekend, as this great film from England failed to build on last weekend’s success. Shaun grossed $2.4 million as Focus decided to only add 38 venues to the film’s run, bringing its count up to 645. The rom-zom-com had a venue average of $3,768, and dropped 27% compared to its gross last weekend. If you want to see a good, unique movie, I beg you to see this film. So far Shaun has grossed $6.9 million.

Eighth goes to Resident Evil: Apocalypse, a film that fell from top spot to bottom quite quickly. In its fourth weekend of release, Resident Evil 2 grossed $2.3 million, and after drops of 62% and 53%, it drops 43% this weekend. The Screen Gems film has now grossed $47 million against a production budget of $45 million.

First Daughter drops four spots to ninth this weekend after debuting softly in fifth last weekend. The Katie Holmes picture grossed a measly $2.2 million in its sophomore frame, down 46% from its $4 million take last weekend. First Daughter has now grossed only $7.1 million as it struggles to reach $10 million.

Much less exciting in tenth is Cellular, which narrowly pushed Kirsten Dunst’s Wimbledon out of the top ten after only two weekends of release. Four-weekend-old Cellular grossed $2 million this weekend, down 45% from the previous frame. The $25 million New Line release has now grossed a quite respectable $28.2 million.

In the arthouse world, David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees opened on four screens this weekend to excellent results. The existential comedy earned $300,000, and had a venue average of $75,000. The $20 million Fox Searchlight film will continue to platform in the weeks to come.

Overall, box office went from blue ice last weekend to red-hot this weekend. The top ten films for this frame grossed a powerful $101.3 million. Last year, School of Rock was on top with $19.6 million – the top ten last year grossed about $76 million. The big increase over last year will go a long way in making up for the losses from Black September 2004.

Top Ten for Weekend of October 1-3, 2004
of Sites
Gross ($)
Gross ($)
1 Shark Tale 4,016 New $47.6 $47.6
2 Ladder 49 3,260 New $22.1 $22.1
3 The Forgotten 3,144 -44% $11.8 $38.1
4 Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow 2,721 -51% $3.3 $30.6
5 Mr. 3000 2,239 -50% $2.5 $19.1
7 Shaun of the Dead 645 -26% $2.5 $6.9
6 Woman, Thou Art Loosed 408 New $2.3 $2.3
8 Resident Evil: Apocalypse 1,986 -43% $2.3 $47.0
9 First Daughter 2,280 -46% $2.2 $7.1
10 Cellular 2,020 -45% $2.0 $28.2



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