Happyness Back at Movie Theatres

Weekend Wrap-Up for December 15-17, 2006

By John Hamann

December 17, 2006

Stop calling me the 'Fresher' Prince!

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After a dismal weekend in the last frame, the box office bounced back this weekend, despite a less than stellar debut of Charlotte's Web. Three new films brought some spark to the box office: the aforementioned Charlotte's Web, Will Smith and son in The Pursuit of Happyness, and Eragon, the $100 million gamble from 20th Century Fox. While the December box office is still not up to par with last year, this weekend does give some hope now for a decent holiday season.

The number one film, to the surprise of some, is Will Smith's The Pursuit of Happyness. Audiences were looking for something to feel good about, and they chose this Sony product in waves, resulting in a solid opening weekend gross of $27.0 million. Released to a moderate 2,852 venues, Happyness scored an average of $9,467. Audiences seem to like this Will Smith effort, even if critical notices were mixed. It had a solid weekend multiplier of 2.93, which means audiences didn't abandon this Pursuit after opening night, and it's playing as more than a date movie. Critics weren't as happy. At RottenTomatoes, 107 reviews were counted, and a fair 72 were positive, leaving this one with a fresh rating at 67%. These types of feel-good movies are usually followed by excellent word-of-mouth, especially around the holiday season. I expect this one to easily be a $125 million winner and a big Christmas present for Will Smith and Sony.


Will Smith has become sort of a quiet superstar. His last five above-the-title films have opened between $43 and $52 million; however, to be fair to Happyness, two were sequels (Bad Boys II, MIIB), one was summer sci-fi (I, Robot), and one was DreamWorks Animation (Shark Tale). Is this a disappointment for Smith? Not at all. First off, this is more of a drama than a comedy, and dramas are tough to open big. The only dramas in the top ten biggest weekends ever are The Da Vinci Code and The Passion of the Christ, and this just isn't an event film. Secondly, I wouldn't say Sony was ‘shooting for the moon' over opening weekend with this one. Christmas is coming, and The Pursuit of Happyness will have $1 million plus days from opening day until after New Year's Day. Despite a busy frame coming next weekend, expect a good hold from Happyness.

For me, a bit of a surprise lands in second spot, as Fox's Eragon manages to beat Charlotte's Web. Eragon, via some ambush marketing, earned a somewhat surprising $23.5 million. Eragon opened on 3,020 venues and scored a decent venue average of $7,765. To me, this one looked more like Dungeons and Dragons - for more reasons than just a repeat appearance by Jeremy Irons. It was also the effects and look of this picture, as well as the reviews. Those reviews were hideous – of the 70 reviewers that voted at RottenTomatoes, only ten liked it enough to give it a thumbs-up, giving Eragon a rather rotten rating of 14%. The biggest impact Eragon may have had was taking away the drawing power of Charlotte's Web over its opening frame. Fox spent $100 million making Eragon, but despite that, I expect Eragon to fade quickly next weekend.

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