Box Office Guru Wrapup: Cloverfield Crushes Records at #1

'Twas a monster mash at the box office.

Two not-so-pricey films, one aimed at guys and the other for the gals, rocked North American multiplexes leading the marketplace to the biggest Martin Luther King holiday weekend ever. Most holdovers attracted solid numbers too and helped the top ten films surge to nearly $130M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of the four-day holiday frame. Among new releases, the sci-fi thriller Cloverfield bowed at number one breaking the January opening weekend record, the wedding-themed comedy 27 Dresses took the bridesmaid spot, and the heist comedy Mad Money made off with only enough for a disappointing seventh place finish.

Following months of hype and anticipation, Paramount's monster flick Cloverfield arrived and generated monster sales grossing an estimated $41M in its first three days of release. Directed by Matt Reeves and produced by J.J. Abrams, the PG-13 film averaged a brutal $12,020 from 3,411 theaters and broke the eleven-year-old record for the biggest opening weekend gross for a film debuting in January. The Special Edition re-release of Star Wars held that record since 1997 when it launched in 2,104 locations to the tune of $35.9M and a scorching $17,066 average. At today's ticket prices however, those figures would be more than $53M and $25,000, respectively.

Still, Cloverfield delivered muscular numbers especially for a film with no well-known stars and a reported production cost of only $25M. The trim 84-minute feature was shot from the perspective of a personal camcorder and tells the story of a group of friends that must fight to survive when a giant beast attacks New York City. Studio research showed that young men were the driving force. Males made up 60% of the audience while 55% were under the age of 25. Critics were mostly pleased and gave good reviews.

Cloverfield also set a new opening weekend record for the MLK holiday frame beating the $28.6M three-day tally of 2002's Black Hawk Down which expanded nationally after three weeks of limited play. Even adjusting for inflation, Hawk's bow would be $33M+ at today's ticket prices giving Cloverfield a clear victory. Distributors rarely program their big-ticket films into the first month of the year.

The monster movie began its marketing campaign last summer with a mysterious teaser in front of Paramount's sci-fi gargantuan Transformers. Curiosity led to endless online hype as the filmmakers purposely withheld key information on the film. Fans became intrigued and attacked the multiplexes on Friday spending $16.9M - the biggest opening day gross ever in the month of January. The disaster pic then dropped by a steep 19% on Saturday which was understandable since upfront demand and grosses from Thursday night midnight shows beefed up the Friday take. The studio estimated that Cloverfield would drop by only 25% on Sunday to $10.3M. Given Sunday's NFL championship games which will distract millions of men, final grosses could see the three-day figure go down. Most other studios incorporated 30-35% Sunday declines into their weekend estimates.

Opening with strength in the runnerup spot was the romantic comedy 27 Dresses with an estimated $22.4M from 3,057 theaters for a sparkling $7,336 average. The PG-13 film is anchored by Katherine Heigl who proved her box office pull with this powerful debut. Her last film Knocked Up was a runaway hit last summer opening to $30.7M before ending with $148.8M, but was sold more on the appeal of director Judd Apatow. Heigl's Dresses launch is in the same neighborhood as romantic comedy bows from the more established Kate Hudson. How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days with Matthew McConaughey debuted to $23.8M in 2003 while 2006's You, Me and Dupree with Owen Wilson and Matt Dillon opened to $21.5M. Dresses boasted weaker male starpower with James Marsden and Edward Burns putting even more pressure on Heigl to deliver a paying crowd.

The audience for the $30M-budgeted 27 Dresses was overwhelmingly female. Studio research showed that a remarkable 75% of the crowd consisted of women, but the audience was evenly split between those over and under 25. Fox made the tactical move of offering sneak previews not once but twice over the past few weeks, first on Thursday December 27 during the holiday season and then again last Sunday January 13 when men were pre-occupied with football playoffs. The studio credits the sneaks with spreading positive word-of-mouth leading up to the opening frame. Reviews were not too encouraging which made the sneaks even more important as 27 Dresses stands as a crowd-pleaser, not a critic-pleaser.

Cloverfield and 27 Dresses combined to inject $63.4M in new business into the marketplace and accounted for half of all ticket sales spent on the top ten movies.

Following its top spot showing last weekend in its first frame of nationwide release, the geezer buddy flick The Bucket List starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman  enjoyed a strong hold slipping only 22% to an estimated $15.2M. Warner Bros. has banked $42.7M to date and looks headed for the vicinity of $90M with an outside chance of hitting nine-digit territory.

The teen comedy Juno fell 25% to an estimated $10.3M in its seventh weekend and placed fourth for the frame. Fox Searchlight's top-grossing film ever has reached $85.4M and should cross the century mark by the end of the month. Following in fifth was Disney's adventure blockbuster National Treasure: Book of Secrets with an estimated $8.1M, down 28%, for a total of $198M. By the end of the week, the Nicolas Cage actioner will become the tenth film released in 2007 to break the $200M mark.

The Ice Cube comedy First Sunday took a beating in its second weekend tumbling 56% to an estimated $7.8M suffering the worst drop in the top ten. Budgeted at $20M, the Sony title has looted $28.5M in ten days and should finish with $40-45M.

Another comedy about likable characters stealing money followed close behind. Overture Films launched its first release Mad Money this weekend and settled for a mediocre seventh-place showing with an estimated $7.7M. Playing in 2,470 locations, the PG-13 film starring Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Holmes as Federal Reserve Bank employees who steal cash from their work averaged a not-so-impressive $3,126. Reviews were mostly negative. The actresses were on the campaign trail last week popping up on every talk show that would have them, but moviegoers were not too thrilled about spending their greenbacks.

Kidpic sensation Alvin and the Chipmunks continued to dazzle the family audience grossing an estimated $7M in its sixth weekend, down only 25%, for a cume to date of $196.4M. The Fox hit should scurry past the $200M mark next weekend.

Fellow sixth-weekender I Am Legend dropped 38% to an estimated $5.1M to boost its towering total to $247.7M. The Will Smith sci-fi thriller now sits at number 45 on the all-time domestic blockbusters list just behind Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban which grossed $249.4M in 2004. Overseas, the last man on Earth took in an estimated $28.7M vaulting the international total to a stellar $262.4M allowing the global tally to smash through the half-billion barrier. Worldwide gross is now $510.1M and climbing.

Rounding out the top ten was the Golden Globe winner for Best Picture - Drama Atonement which climbed 13% to an estimated $4.8M in its seventh session. Focus added another 341 playdates this weekend to take advantage of the added exposure of the Globe wins (it also won for Original Score) and raised the sum to $31.9M. Atonement has also grossed $50M overseas for a global tally of $81.9M thus far.

Opening to mild results outside of the Top 20 was Woody Allen's latest film Cassandra's Dream which bowed to just $400,000 from 107 theaters for a lukewarm $3,738 average, according to estimates. The Weinstein Co. release starring Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell as brothers on a killing spree was panned by critics. The distributor also reported a four-day holiday estimate of $501,000.

A trio of films fell from the top ten this weekend. The Warner Bros. thriller One Missed Call dropped 53% to an estimated $2.8M for a 17-day cume of $24.4M. Look for a $30M final for the horror remake. The animated adventure The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything grossed an estimated $2.8M, off 34%, and has collected just $7.7M in its first ten days. The Universal release should end with just $15M dipping well below the $25.6M of its big brother Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie from 2002.
 

With the arrival of 27 Dresses, the female audience for P.S. I Love You disappeared prompting the Hilary Swank-Gerard Butler romance to tumble by 61% to an estimated $1.9M. With a solid $50.4M grossed to date, the Warner Bros. title should conclude with around $55M.

Paramount Vantage expanded its critically-acclaimed oilman saga There Will Be Blood once again and continued to see strong results in new parts of North America. The Daniel Day-Lewis pic widened from 129 to 389 theaters and grossed an estimated $3.1M climbing from number seventeen up to the number eleven slot for the weekend. The average was a solid $8,023 while the total climbed to $8.2M.

Blood will expand further this Friday to between 700 and 850 locations in a strategic move to capitalize on its expected Academy Award nominations which will be announced on Tuesday morning. The Paul Thomas Anderson film and fellow Vantage-Miramax co-production No Country For Old Men from the Coen brothers are seen as having a lock on nominations in the Best Picture race. Among the many films vying for the other three nods in the top race are Michael Clayton, Juno, American Gangster, Atonement, and the French-language drama The Diving Bell and the Butterfly from American director Julian Schnabel.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $129.4M over the Friday-to-Sunday span which was up a stunning 43% from last year's MLK frame when Stomp the Yard opened at number one with $21.8M; and up a potent 40% from 2006's holiday when Glory Road debuted in the top spot with $13.6M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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