Box Office Guru Wrapup: "Epic Movie" Conquers Box Office

Proving that there's always money in spoof comedies, Fox's "Epic Movie" shot straight to number one over the weekend in its debut frame beating out three other new releases plus a handful of expanding Academy Award contenders. In fact, the immature laugher outgrossed all five Oscar nominees for best picture combined.

The crime drama "Smokin' Aces" and the Jennifer Garner dramedy "Catch and Release" both enjoyed good results in their opening weekends, however the new horror flick "Blood and Chocolate" failed to even make the top ten. Most holdovers remained strong as the overall marketplace bounced back from last weekend's dismal results.

Matching the numbers it posted a year ago with "Date Movie," Fox struck again with "Epic Movie" which topped the charts with an estimated $19.2M from 2,801 theaters. The PG-13 film lampooned several recent box office action hits and averaged a solid $6,855 per site. "Date Movie" skewered numerous romantic comedies and bowed to a similar $19.1M last February over the three-day portion of the Presidents' Day holiday weekend. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, whose writing credits include "Date Movie," "Spy Hard," and the entire "Scary Movie" series, wrote and directed "Epic." Teenagers made up a large portion of the audience and both genders were well-represented. Critics who did bother to review it trashed the film.


"Epic Movie": 0 percent Tomatometer, $19 million opening

Opening in second place with impressive results and similar per-theater success was Universal's mob thriller "Smokin' Aces" with an estimated $14.3M from 2,218 locations. Averaging a commendable $6,430 per site, the frame's only new R-rated pic connected with young men as its primary audience. According to studio research, 59% of the audience was male and 57% was 25 or older. "Smokin'" stars Jeremy Piven, Andy Garcia, and Alicia Keys and cost less than $20M to produce which should make it a profitable venture when all worldwide rights are exploited. The film also opened at number one in Russia this weekend with $1.7M and has grossed an additional $5.3M from the United Kingdom after its third weekend.



Alicia Keys, in her big-screen debut

The unstoppable blockbuster comedy "Night at the Museum" enjoyed yet another small decline sliding only 21% in its sixth weekend to an estimated $9.5M. The Ben Stiller-Robin Williams smash has pumped its cume up to $216.7M and will soon join the top 50 domestic blockbusters of all-time.

Jennifer Garner generated respectable results for her latest film "Catch and Release" which was not given a very wide release, but still sold an estimated $8M in ticket stubs. Averaging a solid $4,932 from 1,622 playdates, the PG-13 film about a woman rebuilding her life after her husband's death played heavily female. According to Sony's research, an overwhelming 75% of the crowd consisted of women and 58% was 25 or older. "Catch" cost $25M to produce and opened smaller than her previous headlining efforts "13 Going on 30" ($21.1M in 2004) and "Elektra" ($12.8M in 2005). Reviews were mostly negative.


"Catch and Release": At 22 percent, it's better than "Elektra"

Sony's "Stomp the Yard," 2007's top-grossing new release, slipped only 37% and took fifth with an estimated $7.8M. Total stands at an impressive $50.7M.

A quartet of Oscar-nominated films followed. Paramount's musical "Dreamgirls," which led all films with eight Academy Award nominations, expanded from 2,214 to 2,785 sites and grossed an estimated $6.6M. That represented a slim 17% drop in sales from last weekend but a steeper 34% fall in the per-theater average which was $2,376. Cume to date is $86.7M. Despite not earning a best picture nomination, "Dreamgirls" is still holding up well and posting relatively low declines.


"And You, And You, And You...You're Gonna Snub Me"

Also showing durability was Will Smith's "The Pursuit of Happyness" which earned the box office star an Academy nod for best actor. The Sony blockbuster dipped only 21% to an estimated $5M pushing its sum to $152.9M. "Pursuit" did not have any expansion, but instead lost 378 theaters and still witnessed a decline similar to that of "Dreamgirls" which scored many more Oscar nominations and added hundreds of playdates to its run.

The fantasy tale "Pan's Labyrinth" widened from 609 to 823 sites and grossed an estimated $4.5M equaling its gross from last weekend. Nominated in six different categories, the Mexican film saw its per-theater average dip 26% from last weekend to a still-solid $5,474. Total is $16.3M for the Picturehouse release.



"The Queen" saw a healthy bump in sales and ranked ninth for the weekend with an estimated $4M, up 18%, for a $41.2M sum to date. Miramax added 244 additional venues and saw its average inch up 2% to $2,186.

Rounding out the top ten was a film that has approximately zero chance of earning any Academy Award nominations a year from now. The horror film "The Hitcher" tumbled 54% in its second weekend to an estimated $3.6M giving Focus only $13.4M to date. A $16-18M final seems likely.

Opening poorly outside of the top ten was yet another horror film, the werewolf thriller "Blood and Chocolate," which bowed to only $2.1M according to estimates. The PG-13 film attacked 1,200 theaters and averaged a weak $1,753 per venue for MGM.




With last Tuesday's Academy Award nominations putting several films into the media spotlight, distributors took the opportunity to expand their contenders and saw increased weekend grosses, even though averages were mostly not very impressive. Best picture candidate "The Departed," which was near the end of its theatrical run after opening in early October, went back into national release and grossed an estimated $3M. Averaging $2,096 per site in 1,453 locations, the Martin Scorsese crime saga upped its cume to $124.9M. Its best picture rival "Babel" widened to 1,090 playdates and grossed an estimated $2.6M for a $2,368 average. Sales were up 25% from last weekend while the average inched up 2% with the total reaching $27.2M.

Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima," which has been holding back much of its release in anticipation of Oscar nods, added 55 theaters to its run and surged 26% to an estimated $1.7M. The Warner Bros. release averaged a decent but not spectacular $4,120 from 415 locations. The average increased a healthy 9% from last weekend and the subtitled film has collected $4.9M to date as "Letters" remained the lowest-grossing best picture nominee by far. But much potential could still be ahead of it.



Among films with high profile acting nominations, Fox Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal" more than tripled its run to 640 theaters and grossed an estimated $2.5M as the weekend take doubled. The Judi Dench-Cate Blanchett pic averaged $3,978 per playdate and has taken in $9M thus far. The distributor's Forest Whitaker drama "The Last King of Scotland" remained mostly steady with its theater count and saw its gross inch up 3% to an estimated $1.7M for a $7.7M total. Sony Classics more than quadrupled the run of Penelope Cruz's "Volver" and took in an estimated $1.2M from 689 sites. The average was diluted down to just $1,671 as the total climbed to $8.9M.

The industry often looks at a film's box office boost on the weekend after Academy Award nominations are announced to determine how much gold an Oscar nod is worth. But what is often overlooked is the additional marketing and distribution expense that is invested by a distributor to create new marketing materials, buy more advertising, and ship extra prints out across the country. Expanding these films in a crowded marketplace is not cheap, but studios do believe that there are long-term benefits to be gained by the added attention like extra momentum in overseas and video markets, plus possibly some added votes from Academy members. In addition, it is difficult to separate the sales that are due directly to the Oscar attention from those that would have occured anyway even if no nominations came through.

Three films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Paramount's high school drama "Freedom Writers" dipped 33% to an estimated $3.5M in its fourth session. The Hilary Swank pic has grossed a respectable $31.3M to date and should finish with about $36-38M. The MGM family release "Arthur and the Invisibles" dropped 46% to an estimated $1.7M for a $11.5M cume. A disappointing $14M final seems likely.



Universal's futuristic drama "Children of Men" scored three Oscar nominations, but it meant little to its ticket sales. The R-rated drama fell 46% to an estimated $2M lifting the sum to $30.7M. The Alfonso Cuaron-directed film should conclude with around $35M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $82.4M which was down 12% from last year when "Big Momma's House 2" opened at number one with $27.7M; and down 16% from 2005 when "Hide and Seek" debuted on top with $22M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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