Trio of New Releases Slays Box Office Blahs

Weekend Wrap-Up for October 6-8, 2006

By John Hamann

October 8, 2006

Absolutely you would have made a better Joker than Heath Ledger.

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It's a special weekend in box office land as moviegoers actually picked a good movie as their number one choice. Marty Scorsese's The Departed took top spot this weekend, but the good news doesn't end there. Moviegoers also chose to support the latest installment of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (isn't it time to find a new state?) and for some reason supported Employee of the Month as well. That leaves us with a fresh start to the fall season, as the box office this weekend is significantly up over last year.

The number one film of the weekend is Warner Bros' The Departed, the star-studded gangster flick from director Martin Scorsese. The Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg film earned an estimated $27.0 million, setting a record for a Martin Scorsese opening. Scorsese's previous biggest opening frame came way back in 1991 with Cape Fear. That film earned $10.3 million over its opening frame from only 924 venues. If Cape Fear's opening is adjusted for inflation, it comes in at about $15 million, still yards away from the opening for The Departed. Scorsese's biggest weekend came with the 2004 release of The Aviator, which grossed $11.4 million in its third weekend from 1,796 venues. The difference with The Departed is that it had 3,017 venues to work with, and in the end took in a decent venue average of $8,949.

Scorsese has never been behind a true blockbuster, and this could be it. It's a great opening considering the subject matter, hard R rating and two-and-a-half-hour runtime. It should also have decent legs. Reviews are simply fantastic, and are at a level we haven't seen since Little Miss Sunshine was released ten weeks ago (that's two-and-a-half months if you are like me and count these things). At RottenTomatoes, 132 reviews were counted for the gangster flick, and of those 121 were positive, leaving only 11 reviews of the negative variety. That gives The Departed a fresh rating of 92% and combined with the opening makes this violent opera our early frontrunner for Oscar bliss. Users at RT are equally in love with this one, with only 1 user out of a possible 34 giving it a thumbs down.

For Warner Bros, The Departed opening breathes fresh life into what has been a disastrous year for the studio. 2006 started with Firewall and 16 Blocks, films with the star power of Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis, which failed to open to a combined $25 million. Next up was V for Vendetta from the Wachowski Brothers, which got off to a decent $25 million start before packing it in with a domestic gross of only $70 million. Warner Bros then had the loud flop of Poseidon, which opened with $22 million and only earned $60 million domestically, despite costing $160 million to make. They then had two disappointing features in Superman Returns and Lady in the Water. Again, these were two films that should have been blockbusters, but finished with Superman failing to earn $200 million domestically and Lady Drowning finishing with just over $40 million. Their next film to tank was The Ant Bully, which opened to $8 million, and their latest was The Wicker Man, which was an embarrassment to filmmaking.

Most of WB's problems have come from idiotic scheduling choices. For example, Superman Returns' second weekend was against the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and The Ant Bully hit theatres the weekend after Monster House was released. You don't have to be a box office smarty-pants to know you're going to run into trouble when making these choices, so The Departed will lift some spirits at WB. Next weekend's releases are mostly aimed at the younger set, and while The Grudge 2 will obviously dominate, The Departed will still work for adult moviegoers.

Yes, there were other films in release this weekend. Number two is Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, another unnecessary horror sequel/prequel/whatever. The Beginning earned an okay $19.1 million from 2,820 venues this weekend. It was well off the $28.1 million the 2003 remake of the original earned, and comes in as a typical performance of the recent horror spectrum. Hostel, When a Stranger Calls, Final Destination 3 and Silent Hill all opened between $19 and $21 million, but considering New Line was hoping to increase on the original's take, this has to be considered a step backward. Budget data has not been released for this one, but considering the first of this lot was made for less than $10 million, this will be a financial win for the studio (so prepare for more chainsaws).

Third spot goes to last weekend's number one film, the animated Open Season. Thanks mostly due to the Columbus Day weekend, Open Season was able to earn $16.0 million this weekend from a huge 3,833 venues. The Sony release dropped only 32% this weekend, as the kiddies had Monday off due to the holiday. Open Season now sits with $44.1 million and will be a good start for Sony's new animation division.

Fourth spot goes to our last opener, Employee of the Month, from those shrewd folks at Lionsgate. Inexplicably, Lionsgate has another hit on their hands, as Employee beat all expectations, earning $11.8 million over its first three days. Released to 2,579 venues, the Dane Cook/Jessica Simpson comedy earned a venue average of $4,575. Now I don't know about you, but I couldn't pick Dane Cook out of a police lineup, so I'm going to give the credit here (begrudgingly) to Jessica Simpson. Her outfit helped get the Dukes of Hazard up over a $30 million opening, and I'd say the same thing happened here. The big winner with Employee of the Month, though, is Lionsgate, as the company spent only $12 million making it. Employee of the Month will disappear quickly, but like the company's Saw and Madea franchises, it's the opening that matters.


Landing in fifth is The Guardian, the other Ashton Kutcher flick in the top ten. The Guardian obviously didn't hold as well as Open Season did, as it took in only $9.6 million this weekend. It was off a decent 47%, more than Buena Vista was looking for, but I doubt they expected the busy frame we've had this weekend. The Guardian has now earned $32.4 million after two weekends.

Dropping hard again is Jackass: Number Two, as the target audience has already seen it once, and the real bright ones in the demographic have most likely seen it twice. Jackass 2 earned $6.4 million in its third frame, and was off 56% from last weekend, when it depreciated 50%. Jackass Part Deux has now earned $62.7 million against a budget of only $12 million, which makes it not bad work if you can get it.

The nether regions of the top ten begin in seventh with School for Scoundrels, last weekend's new release that didn't work. School grossed $3.4 million this weekend, off a big 60% from the previous frame. This one didn't cost MGM too much to make, and will be a wash when combined with home video receipts. Currently, it sits with $14.0 million.

Finishing eighth this weekend are The Rock and his Gridiron Gang, which has gotten crushed under films targeting the same demographic. Gridiron grossed only $2.3 million this weekend, and was off 50%. The $30 million Sony release has now earned $36.6 million.

Jet Li's Fearless earns itself the number nine position, as audiences have chosen to ignore this nicely made feature. Fearless earned $2.2 million this weekend and was off even more than last weekend's 53%, dropping 56%. The Focus Features release has now earned $21.7 million, which has to be disappointing for a film that got off to a $10.6 million start.

The Illusionist spends what is most likely its last weekend in the top ten after a very solid run. The Yari Film Group release earned $1.8 million in its eighth weekend of release, and was off 33% compared to the previous frame. It has now earned $34.1 million.

Overall, things are looking up, at least for the weekend. The top ten this weekend earned $99.7 million, mostly due to some somewhat unexpected strength in the top five. Last year, the top ten at the box office earned $81 million, well back of this year's totals. Next weekend should be another win at the box office, as the 2005 slate did extremely poorly and 2006 will have The Grudge 2.

Top Ten for Weekend of
of Sites
Percentage Drop from Last Week
Gross ($)
Gross ($)
1 The Departed 3,017 New 27.0 27.0
2 Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning 2,820 New 19.1 19.1
3 Open Season 3,833 32% 16.0 44.1
4 Employee of the Month 2,579 New 11.8 11.8
5 The Guardian 3,241 47% 9.6 32.4
6 Jackass: Number Two 3,007 56% 6.4 62.7
7 School for Scoundrels 3,007 60% 3.4 14.0
8 Gridiron Gang 2,228 50% 2.3 36.6
9 Jet Li's Fearless 1,617 56% 2.2 21.7
10 The Illusionist 1,149 33% 1.8 34.1



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