Box Office Wrapup: Penguins Edge Out Bond For #1 Spot

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In what was a very close race for box office supremacy, the dancing penguin cartoon Happy Feet narrowly edged out a strong debut for the new James Bond actioner Casino Royale for the number one spot in North America this weekend.

Final numbers will be released on Monday after all Sunday ticket sales are counted up, but the animated adventure is still expected to lead by a slim margin. If estimates hold, the frame will mark only the second time in box office history that two films have opened with over $40M each on the same weekend. The potent pair also helped to push the top ten to its highest level in four months.



The mighty penguins of Happy Feet flexed their muscles and took over the number one spot this weekend opening to an estimated $42.3M. Warner Bros. launched the computer-animated film in an ultrawide 3,804 locations and averaged a stellar $11,125 per theater. The PG-rated pic finds a young penguin named Mumble trying to find his place in the world and features the voices of Robin Williams, Elijah Wood, Nicole Kidman, and Hugh Jackman. The studio is estimating a optimistically slim Saturday-to-Sunday decline of only 14%.

Happy Feet was backed by a massive marketing campaign and beat out the openings of other recent computer-animated kids movies like DreamWorks' Over the Hedge ($38.5M), Disney's Chicken Little ($40M), and Fox's Robots ($36M). However, it did not reach the Pixar territory of Cars ($60.1M) and The Incredibles ($70.5M). But with competing kids movies The Santa Clause 3 and Flushed Away still in the top five, Happy Feet performed as well as expected given the choices that the target audience has. With the Thanksgiving school holidays approaching, the $100M penguin pic should enjoy a robust sophomore frame.



After a four-year hiatus, Sony and MGM restarted the James Bond franchise with Casino Royale and generated an impressive $40.6M over the weekend, according to estimates, settling in for a close second place finish. The Daniel Craig starrer generated the best per-theater average among all wide releases with a potent $11,823 from 3,434 sites. It was the second biggest opening ever for the franchise trailing the $47.1M bow of the last installment, 2002's Die Another Day. Casino was never expected to reach the heights of Die since it had a new and mostly unknown star in the lead and no famous co-star like Halle Berry to add more ammunition. Casino did attract rave reviews from critics which helped to sell the idea of a non-Pierce Brosnan Bond film to an American audience that was unfamiliar with Craig.

Brosnan's first Bond film Goldeneye, which opened on the same weekend in 1995 and was also directed by Martin Campbell, bowed to $26.2M from 2,667 theaters for a $9,826 average. At today's ticket prices, that would translate to an opening weekend average of roughly $13,000. Brosnan's future Agent 007 flicks would each post larger openings so Craig, who is contracted for at least two more films, could follow suit and see even bigger grosses in the years ahead as audiences become more comfortable with him. The next adventure is already slated for a November 7, 2008 launch.

Sony's research showed that Casino Royale's audience was 55% male and 57% 25 and older. Around the world, Bond dominated the box office with even greater results opening at number one in 27 markets with an estimated $42.2M overseas. The U.K. led the field with a spectacular $25.6M bow.



Following its two-week reign over the U. S. and A., Borat dropped to third place collecting an estimated $14.4M in its third weekend of release. Down 49% from last weekend, the Fox comedy has lifted its cume to a stellar $90.5M in 17 days and could cross the century mark by Thanksgiving Day. Budgeted at only $18M (plus the cost of litigating its many current lawsuits), Borat looks to finish in the neighborhood of $125M domestically.



The two new films topping the charts helped to give most holdover films some hefty declines. Disney's The Santa Clause 3 dropped 52% to an estimated $8.2M in its third weekend for a cume to date of $51.6M. After two weeks in third place, the animated pic Flushed Away got hit hard by the dancing penguins and dropped to fifth with an estimated $6.8M. Down a steep 59%, the Paramount/DreamWorks venture raised its sum to $48.8M.



The Will Ferrell comedy Stranger Than Fiction had a tough sophomore frame grossing an estimated $6.6M, off 51%, to give Sony a ten-day total of $22.9M. Budgeted at under $30M, the Marc Forster-directed pic should find its way to $35-40M. The cross-continent drama Babel fell 48% in its second weekend of wide release and captured an estimated $2.9M putting the total at $12M for Paramount Vantage. After scorching results in limited release, the Brad Pitt-Cate Blanchett film is having a hard time competing on a nationwide scale.

The horror sequel Saw III followed with an estimated $2.8M, tumbling 60%, putting Lionsgate's cume at $74.9M. Warner Bros. grossed an estimated $2.6M for The Departed which declined by 50% in its seventh mission giving Martin Scorsese's top-grossing film $113.9M to date.

Creeping into tenth place was the experimental film festival called After Dark's Horror Fest - 8 Films to Die For with an estimated weekend gross of $2.5M. The distributor offered eight different low-budget fright flicks throughout the weekend in 488 locations averaging a solid $5,086. With so many titles, many fans were encouraged to buy more than one ticket throughout the frame. Freestyle Releasing handled distribution.

Debuting poorly outside of the top ten was the jailhouse comedy Let's Go To Prison which locked up an estimated $2.1M in ticket sales from 1,495 locations for a dismal $1,410 average. According to its distributor Universal, the R-rated revenge comedy played mostly to young men with studio research showing that 67% of the audience was under the age of 25 and 59% was male.



Three high profile films premiered in limited release with varying results. MGM platformed The Weinstein Co. political drama Bobby in only two theaters and grossed an estimated $67,000 for a potent $33,500 average. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, the star-studded film about the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated boasts a cast featuring Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, Elijah Wood, Lindsay Lohan, Sharon Stone, Helen Hunt, Demi Moore, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Ashton Kutcher, and Martin Sheen. The R-rated film expands nationwide on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.



Also opening to strong results was Warner Independent's film industry comedy For Your Consideration which debuted in 23 theaters with an estimated $394,000 for a solid $17,130 average. The Christopher Guest-directed film launched in a dozen cities and will widen to over 600 runs nationwide on Wednesday. The filmmaker's last picture A Mighty Wind had wider distribution and opened to $2.1M from 133 theaters for a $15,881 average in April of 2003 on its way to a $17.8M overall take.



Arthouse moviegoers did not have an appetite for Fox Searchlight's junk food industry pic Fast Food Nation which debuted in 321 theaters with an estimated $390,000 for a poor $1,215 average. Starring Greg Kinnear, Wilmer Valderrama, Ethan Hawke, and Patricia Arquette, the R-rated film attracted mixed reviews from critics.

Three films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. The magician pic The Prestige took in an estimated $2M in its fifth frame, down 58%, boosting the cume to $49.4M. Look for a final tally of around $54M for the Buena Vista hit.

A pair of star-driven flops that opened last week crumbled in their sophomore frames losing more than half of their audience. Sarah Michelle Gellar's suspense thriller The Return grossed an estimated $1.7M, down 62%, for a measly total of $6.9M after ten days. Russell Crowe's stab at a romantic comedy, Fox's A Good Year, fell 56% to an estimated $1.6M putting its total at $6.4M. An embarrassing final total of about $9M should result for each pic.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $129.7M which was down a hefty 23% from last year when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire opened at number one with a jaw-dropping $102.3M; and down 7% from 2004 when National Treasure debuted in the top spot with $35.1M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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