Borat Make Box Office Boffo

Weekend Wrap-Up for November 3-5, 2006

By John Hamann

November 5, 2006

Sacha Baron Cohen hired a bear when threats of lawsuits became apparent.

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All hail Borat, king of the box office. After some of the oddest hype seen since Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy about an oddball Kazakhstan TV Reporter hammered expectations, becoming the biggest surprise hit since Napoleon Dynamite or even The Blair Witch Project. The R-rated comedy even beat two strong family movies in The Santa Clause 3 and Flushed Away despite being on about 25% of their screens. In other news, Saw III did the expected and plummeted, The Prestige and The Departed continued to shine, and The Queen showed up in the top ten for the first time despite being at only 387 venues. It was an odd, odd, odd weekend at the box office.

How can I write about the incomparable? The number one film at the box office this weekend is Borat, the 20th Century Fox film from Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles (Seinfeld). Borat is a breakout success, as it earned an absolutely huge $26.4 million from a minuscule 837 venues. It had a venue average of $31,517, an average that puts Borat in the same ballpark as something like Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. That film opened to $108.4 million but grossed that amount from 3,661 venues, giving it a Borat-like venue average of $29,619. The Hollywood Reporter said on Friday that they were looking for an $8-$10 million opening for Borat and BOP's own Reagen Sulewski was looking for a $14 million debut. Simply put, the opening here is historic. Sure, it's not a $100 million plus weekend, but its impact will be the same, and I'm certain will be seeing a lot of Borat lookalikes in the months and years ahead.


Two weeks ago, 20th Century Fox decided that Borat wasn't going to play well in middle-America, so the studio decided to slash the number of venues from well over 2,000 to 800 and hope to build word-of-mouth from there. Obviously, they didn't have to, but it does make me wonder if it the venue count change was a ploy to raise awareness about this very funny film, or if Fox actually thought this one wouldn't play in Topeka. With the venue average it has, Borat obviously played very well in every venue. It should have. Reviews were universally positive. At RottenTomatoes, only five reviewers out of 125 didn't get the joke, giving it a fresh rating of 96%. For a wide release film (more than 700 venues) Borat has the best reviews of the year, but will eventually drop behind The Queen, which currently sits at 98% fresh. That's better reviews than Marty Scorsese's The Departed and indie-darling Little Miss Sunshine, which both sit at 93%. When is someone going to say Oscar?

Next weekend, Fox plans on taking Borat even wider, back to the 2,000+ venues it had originally imagined. After this weekend, I wouldn't be surprised if that 2,000+ didn't become 3,000+. As Tim Briody reported on Friday, Borat earned $8.9 million on Friday night. That gives the comedy a weekend internal multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) of 2.97. To do this kind of business over an opening weekend and still keep the multiplier close to 3.0 is an amazing accomplishment, and leads me to think that Fox should go as wide as possible with Borat next weekend. Given the multiplier and the reviews, there is no doubt in my mind that Borat will be a $100 million earner, and I'm looking for a sub-20% drop next weekend. Congratulations to Universal, who already signed a contract for the follow-up, valued at only $42.5 million. This Borat cost the studio less than $20 million to make, and will be the start of a very wonderful franchise.

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