Heaven isn't even half as good as Alabama

Weekend Wrap-Up

By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower

September 18, 2005

Yeah, I don't really buy us as a couple either.

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Three years ago, Reese Witherspoon starred in one of the most successful September releases in box office history. That romantic comedy, Sweet Home Alabama, opened to $35.6 million on its way to domestic receipts of $127.2 million for Disney. It was only natural, then, that DreamWorks would follow a similar trajectory with their own Witherspoon rom-com, releasing it at the same time of year in hopes of a comparable performance. Alas, this was not to be as the box office continued in its own unpredictable way, allowing Just Like Heaven a less-than-holy $16.5 million for its debut. DreamWorks is certainly not saying hallelujah to this news, as studio expectations were quite a bit higher.

Just Like Heaven is the number one film of the weekend, so why are we so hard on it? The Witherspoon/Mark Ruffalo flick opened ultra-wide in 3,508 venues, 215 locations more than Sweet Home Alabama had in 2002. The difference lies in the per venue averages. Alabama returned a scintillating $10,826 per location, while Just Like Heaven managed only 45% of that total. Its per venue total of $4,703 is middling even by September standards. Even if we don't compare Heaven to last weekend's Emily Rose explosion, it doesn't stack up to any of the number films that opened in the top spot in September of 2004. Hero, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Forgotten all had better averages as well. Relative to its ultra-availability to consumers, Just Like Heaven simply did not meet expectations. The question becomes whether it will show legs from here, but since significantly fewer customers than tracking indicated made the effort opening weekend, we're dubious. Just Like Heaven is going to have a hard time making more than $50 million during its domestic run.

The news is not all bad for Witherspoon, though. The actress's next release, Walk the Line, is poised to be 2005's answer to Ray. This is Witherspoon's career M.O. She generally follows shameless commercial projects with Oscar contenders in order to preserve her indie credibility...well, as much as a woman married to Ryan Phillippe can, anyway. She followed American Psycho with Legally Blonde, then went to The Importance of Being Earnest before doing two studio films in Sweet Home Alabama and Legally Blonde 2. Vanity Fair was then sandwiched between the Legally Blonde sequel and Just Like Heaven. It's fitting that she co-stars in Walk the Line, since that's exactly what her career has been doing. As long as that film lives up to its tremendous buzz, this misstep will be quickly forgotten. As for BOP favorite Mark Ruffalo, he finishes the year up strong with two intriguing-looking projects in Rumor Has It and All the King's Men. Disappointments with 13 Going on 30 and Just Like Heaven kill his short-term chances as a romantic lead, though.

Speaking of last week's top performer, The Exorcism of Emily Rose slides one spot to second place. Its estimated weekend total of $15.3 million represents a drop of 49%, which is actually bordering on being a pleasant surprise for a horror flick. This is particularly true for a film that skews as young as Emily Rose did in its debut frame, as 57% of consumers who attended were under the age of 25. It would not have been shocking for the film to decline 60% or more in its second weekend. As such, a drop of 49% feels like a second straight win. Simply consider that the second weekend total of $15.3 million is what most analysts forecasted the opening weekend to be. We're only two weeks into the fall, and already have seen one of the season's biggest winners. So far, it has accumulated a grand total of $52 million.

Just Like Heaven was not the only disappointing opener. Lord of War debuted in third place with an estimated $9.2 million from 2,814 venues. Its per location average of $3,269 makes it envious of Just Like Heaven's number. Nicolas Cage was coming off National Treasure, which opened to $35.1 million on its way to $173 million domestically. To say that this follow-up is lackluster would be an understatement. Throughout his career, Cage has struggled with the occasional bombs like Windtalkers and Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Maybe the lesson Cage should learn here is to stay away from war films and stick to heist flicks. The good news for Cage is that he has another chance at success next month with the release of The Weather Man, a pedigreed movie that will team him up with director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean), Michael Caine and Hope Davis.

Universal Pictures continues to get lucky with The 40 Year-Old Virgin. The Steve Carell film experienced a significant drop last weekend due to the post-holiday box office deflation, but it recovers nicely in its fifth frame. The fourth place finisher earned an estimated $5.8 million, representing a drop of only 24%. With a domestic total of $90.6 million, the raunchy comedy continues its cherry-popping march to $100 million.

If you hadn't heard of Cry Wolf until we mentioned it at this moment, you're not alone. It winds up in fifth place, anyway. The Rogue Pictures release scared up $4.6 million from 1,790 venues full of unsuspecting, gullible viewers. If you're wondering about the film's legs, simply consider that it wasn't even screened for critics. With that said, it actually fared better than the weekend's other horror release. Venom, which had at one point been looking at a semi-wide release, but found itself headed into Friday with less than 500 locations and a seeming attempt by Dimension to pretend it never existed. We're sure you'll be able to find both movies on the shelf at your local Blockbuster by the time you've finished reading this column.

Jason Statham's naked, hairy chest continues to display its prowess as The Transporter 2 finished in sixth place. It had a weekend total of $4 million, which represents a drop of 46%. Its cumulative domestic total of $36.5 million has allowed it to surpass the original by $11 million. This is great news for 20th Century Fox, as the first film made the bulk of its money once it hit DVD.

Focus Features continues to have success with The Constant Gardener, which fell only 22% for an estimated weekend total of $3.7 million and seventh place. Its running total of $24.4 million continues to prove what a powerful box office draw Bill Nighy is. Think about it. He's done Underworld, Love Actually, Shaun of the Dead, and this film. Clearly, he's the lucky rabbit's foot of box office success!

The bottom of the top ten is compiled of three strong holdovers. Red Eye goes over the $55 million mark as it tallies an additional $2.9 from Friday-to-Sunday. It will have unusual competition next weekend, as the similarly-themed Flightplan hits theaters. Those Penguins just keep trudging right along, as Warner Independent Pictures' March of the Penguins added another $2.6 million to its impressive run. It currently has a total of $70.4 million. There isn't much else that can be said about Wedding Crashers now that it has surpassed the $200 million mark. It added another $2.5million to its coffers this weekend, its tenth in the top ten.

Compared to last year, box office was up 12% on the strength of better openers and the holdover from Emily Rose. The top ten movies this weekend were able to rack up $67.1 million, an increase from last year's total of $59.8 million.

Top Ten for Weekend of September 16-18, 2005
of Sites
Percentage Drop
Gross ($)
Gross ($)
1 Just Like Heaven 3,508 --- 16.5 16.5
2 The Exorcism of Emily Rose 2,983 -49% 15.3 52.0
3 Lord of War 2,814 --- 9.2 9.2
4 The 40 Year-Old Virgin 3,006 -24% 5.8 90.6
5 Cry Wolf 1,790 ---- 4.6 4.6
6 Transporter 2 2,805 -46% 4.0 36.5
7 The Constant Gardener 1,387 -22% 3.7 24.4
8 Red Eye 2,455 -35% 2.9 55.2
9 March of the Penguins 1,876 -3% 2.6 70.4
10 Wedding Crashers 1,807 -22% 2.5 203.6
11 An Unfinished Life 753 +110% 2.1 3.4
12 The Brothers Grimm 2,002 -38% 2.1 36.3



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