Snicket Not Quite Lemony Fresh at the Box Office

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

By John Hamann

December 19, 2004

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It was a week before Christmas, and movie theatres were busy, but exhibitors and studios still had the right to be somewhat grinchy. This is the first year without a Lord of the Rings movie, and overall box office suffered because of it. Looking to try and replace that $72.6 million The Return of the King made last year are Jim Carrey in the first Lemony Snicket movie, James L. Brooks’ Spanglish, and the woeful arrival of The Flight of the Phoenix with Dennis Quaid.

Jim Carrey is back on top at the box office for the first time since Bruce Almighty in May 2003. This time he's playing Count Olaf in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Carrey is back to playing the Grinch character in a Christmas movie, but instead of a best-selling Dr. Seuss book, we have a best-selling Daniel Handler novel. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is the number one film of the weekend before Christmas; however, it grossed a lower-than-expected $30.2 million over its opening frame from an ultra-wide 3,620 venues. The Paramount/DreamWorks collaboration had a venue average of $8,342. Snicket was not a cheap film to make, coming in between $100 and $145 million. I think the two studios (especially Paramount, who carried the burden of the cost) were looking for a lot more this weekend, but will have to settle for an open in the low 30s. It sounds like the production was fraught with all things Hollywood. Original director Barry Sonnenfeld quit (or was fired) after money issues couldn’t be resolved, and was replaced by TV man of late, Brad Silberling (who ironically got more money to make the film after DreamWorks came on board). Word has it that after advanced screenings, the producers decided to change the ending of the film, making it happier and more upbeat. All of this should at least make for an interesting DVD.

For the $25 million man Jim Carrey, Lemony Snicket’s opening is not a great performance for the box office phenom. The $30 million open couldn’t even match films like Liar Liar ($31.4 million open) and The Truman Show ($31.5 million open), and was far off from his greatest triumphs like The Grinch ($55.8 million open) and Bruce Almighty ($68.0 million open). It is, however, the biggest opening ever for Jude Law and Meryl Streep. For Paramount, the studio finally has a small roll going, thanks to the under-20 set. Mean Girls was a huge hit back in May, SpongeBob is going gross $80 million, and now Lemony Snicket looks to be at least a $120 million winner through domestic sales alone. They haven’t had this many hits in so few months since 2002 with We Were Soldiers, Changing Lanes and Sum of All Fears.

Second spot this weekend goes to the Ocean’s Twelve crew, last weekend’s top earner. The box office trajectory for the Ocean’s sequel dropped away from the original in its second frame. Ocean’s Twelve grossed $18.3 million from 3,290 venues, dropping 53% from its opening weekend. The first Steven Soderbergh film grossed $22.1 million in its second frame, dropping 42.1%. The total for Ocean’s Twelve stands at $68.7 million, and with a solid Christmas gross, it could see $110 million by the end of its run.

In at third this weekend is James L. Brooks’ Spanglish, which also hopes to receive its director’s Midas touch, like Brooks’ previous winners As Good as It Gets, and Terms of Endearment. Spanglish didn’t have the opening strength that As Good as It Gets had despite the involvement of Adam Sandler, but still puts a solid foot forward. Spanglish took in $9 million this weekend from only 2,438 venues. It had a venue average of $3,691, and I have to assume Sony was looking for better. With a production cost rumored to be in the $100 million area, Spanglish needs to work for the studio. When the Golden Globe nominations came out, Sony had to be disappointed with only one nod in the Original Music Category, after As Good as it Gets was nominated for six majors, winning three, including best picture. Audiences have supported this sort of family dramedy in the recent past, so let's see how it performs leading up to Christmas weekend.

Fourth place goes to The Polar Express, which has come in fourth four times over its six weekend run. The time bomb that is The Polar Express grossed another $8.6 million this weekend, pulling up its total to $123.6 million. The film dropped slightly (11%) compared to last weekend’s $9.6 million take. The problem for Warner Bros and Playtone is that Christmas is next Saturday, and no matter how good the film is, it will completely fizzle at the box office after Christmas. The good news is that it should have a good week leading up to next Saturday.

Fifth this weekend is the Bridget-Jones-like Blade: Trinity, as the third film in the Blade trilogy has collapsed after opening poorly last weekend. Blade 3 grossed only $6.6 million this weekend, dropping a stunning 59%. The $75 million Wesley Snipes starrer should be able to find some more dough over Christmas, but this weekend most likely signals the end of the franchise. I wonder what Wesley Snipes will do with his time. So far, Blade: Trinity has grossed $35.4 million.

In at sixth is solid earner National Treasure. The Nicolas Cage hit (and the film that will keep him in big movies) earned another $6.1 million this weekend, but dropped 38%. The Buena Vista film has also started its roll out internationally and opens in the UK on Boxing Day. So far, the domestic total for the $100 million production has reached $132.8 million.

Christmas with the Kranks drops three spots to seventh this weekend, but has certainly exceeded my expectations after reviewing so poorly. Kranks grossed $5.7 million in its fourth weekend, dropping only 25%. Somehow this one has at least outgrossed its reported $60 million budget figure, as its total now stands at $62.3 million.

Eighth this weekend is The Flight of the Phoenix, the latest release from 20th Century Fox. Phoenix got hammered critically heading into the weekend, and Fox didn’t show much advertising support for this remake. The box office suffered with a poor opening weekend gross of $5.2 million. Phoenix opened on only 2,604 venues, and had a venue average of $1,977. Of the 67 reviews at RottenTomatoes, only 19 were positive, leading to a rotten rating of 29%. Dennis Quaid has to be happy he had The Day After Tomorrow in 2004, as The Alamo and this one make one think of the age-old Dennis Quaid curse.

Ninth spot goes to Closer, as the Julia Roberts film has failed to hang on to its hot start. Closer added 468 venues to its playlist this weekend, but still failed to build any momentum. Closer grossed $3.5 million this weekend from 1,090 venues. It dropped 6% compared to its gross last weekend. So far, the Mike Nichols film has pulled in $19 million.

Rounding out the top ten this weekend is The Incredibles, which, incredibly, won’t make it to $300 million after its hot start. This weekend the Pixar flick grossed $3.3 million, down 35% compared to last weekend. Look for the superhero flick to play slightly better over the Christmas holidays. So far the Disney distributed animated feature has grossed $237.1 million domestically.

Sideways, with its multiple Golden Globe and award nominations, grossed $1.6 million this weekend, increasing on last weekend’s take by 32%. The Alexander Payne film is now on 424 venues and has a cume of $16.6 million. The Aviator got off to a hot start with $800,000 from only 40 venues, leading to an average of $20,775.

Overall this weekend, box office couldn’t compare with last year’s pace, as there wasn’t a good enough replacement for a Lord of the Rings entry. Last year, the top ten grossed about $130 million. This year’s estimates came in much lower at about $96.3 million.

Top Ten for Weekend of December 17-19, 2004
of Sites
Gross ($)
Gross ($)
1 Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events 3,620 New $30.2 $30.2
2 Ocean's Twelve 3,290 -53% $18.3 $68.7
3 Spanglish 2,438 New $9.0 $9.0
4 The Polar Express 2,868 -11% $8.6 $123.6
5 Blade: Trinity 2,912 -59% $6.6 $35.4
6 National Treasure 2,772 -38% $6.1 $132.8
7 Christmas With the Kranks 2,941 -25% $5.7 $62.3
8 Closer 1,090 -6% $3.5 $19.0
9 The Flight of the Phoenix 2,604 New $5.2 $5.2
10 The Incredibles 1,930 -35% $3.3 $237.1



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