Box Office Guru Wrapup: American Gangster Crushes Competition at #1

Denzel, Crowe, and Scott take over the multiplexes.

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The North American box office exploded thanks to the scorching debuts of the Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe crime drama American Gangster and Jerry Seinfeld's animated comedy Bee Movie which combined for over $85M in ticket sales. Following weeks of sluggish business where the marketplace failed to match 2006 levels, this weekend's box office enjoyed a healthy bounce over last year and kicked off the holiday movie season with a bang.

Washington and Crowe both scored new career highs with the estimated $46.3M opening weekend for the crime saga American Gangster which dominated the multiplexes. Universal opened the R-rated tale in 3,054 theaters and generated a scorching $15,175 average per location. Directed by Ridley Scott, Gangster tells the true story of a drug kingpin who built up a heroin empire in Harlem in the early 1970s. The opening easily beat out the former all-time biggest debuts for the Oscar-winning actors: Washington's Inside Man with $29M and Crowe's Gladiator with $34.8M.

American Gangster enjoyed the second highest launch of the year for an R-rated film trailing only 300's $70.9M. Much of the success came from strong sales from young males and the urban audience which saw it as a Scarface for today's generation. The same audience also helped to power Eminem's R-rated hip hop drama 8 Mile to a surprising number one opening of $51.2M in November of 2002. Brian Grazer produced both Mile and Gangster. Reviews were mostly favorable and early Academy Award buzz could help the film in the weeks ahead. Despite the long running time of nearly two hours and forty minutes, moviegoers lined up and found their showtimes.

Paramount and DreamWorks settled for a second place debut for their latest animated film Bee Movie which grossed an estimated $39.1M in its opening weekend. The PG-rated toon averaged a sturdy $9,954 from 3,928 locations and performed just a bit below the levels of recent November animated titles. Last year, the penguin pic Happy Feet bowed to $41.5M while the previous year's Chicken Little launched with $40M. The two went on to gross $198M and $135.4M, respectively, from the North American market. Co-written by and starring Jerry Seinfeld, Bee Movie enjoyed virtually no competition in the current marketplace for family audiences. Critics were not too kind, but ticket buyers showed interest on the opening weekend. For 2007, the toon posted the fourth biggest debut for an animated film after Shrek the Third ($121.6M), The Simpsons Movie ($74M) and Ratatouille ($47M).

Suffering the largest sophomore drop in franchise history, Saw IV tumbled 65% from its top spot bow and grossed an estimated $11M. The Lionsgate title has still banked an impressive $51.1M in ten days and should finish with nearly $70M.

Buena Vista's Dan in Real Life fared much better in its second weekend dropping a slim 31% to an estimated $8.1M. With $23M in ten days, the romantic comedy might find its way to around $50M despite playing in less than 2,000 theaters.