Box Office Guru Wrapup: Will Smith Rescues Industry With Explosive Opening For I Am Legend

Movies make a comeback, big Willie style.

Will Smith cemented his standing as the number one box office draw in Hollywood with his latest action thriller I Am Legend which soared past lofty expectations to open on top and drive the overall marketplace to an explosive weekend ending the recent slump. Also debuting much bigger than expected and playing to a different audience was the family comedy Alvin and the Chipmunks which scored a red hot bow. Together the dynamic duo generated a jaw-dropping $121M in ticket sales and accounted for a whopping 75% of the entire box office. Audiences starving for entertainment returned to the multiplexes in droves thanks to two high-profile films that delivered exactly what moviegoers were looking for driving the box office to its highest level ever for a non-holiday weekend in December.

Scoring his eleventh career number one opening and seventh in a row, Will Smith ruled the box office with ease with the new sci-fi smash I Am Legend which commanded an estimated $76.5M on its first weekend to rank as the superstar's biggest debut ever by a wide margin. Averaging a sensational $21,224 from 3,606 theaters, the PG-13 film also broke the record for the biggest December bow in history edging past the $72.6M of 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Also impressive was the fact that Legend delivered the fifth best non-summer debut ever behind a trio of Harry Potter films which all wee November launches and The Passion of the Christ which was a February release. At this time of year, movie openings don't get much bigger than this.

I Am Legend was backed by a massive marketing campaign from Warner Bros. which excited the core audience of sci-fi and action fans, but a broader showing of ticket buyers also hit the cinemas. The big-budget film was also released in 77 IMAX theaters where patrons were given the additional treat of seeing the six-minute IMAX prologue for next summer's much-anticipated Batman film The Dark Knight. That helped to make Legend a hot ticket for hard core comic book fans and assisted in fueling the grosses as tickets on the large format screen ran as high as $16 each.

In just three days, Legend grossed as much as last weekend's top fifteen films combined and helped to power this weekend's top ten to its best performance since early August. With no co-stars, no well-known director, and no other bells and whistles, I Am Legend's success relied completely on Will Smith's shoulders and the superstar proved how bankable he really is by blasting past even the highest industry expectations this weekend. The former Fresh Prince is well on his way to enjoying his seventh consecutive $250M+ global grosser. No other star comes close to this achievement.

Warner Bros. launched I Am Legend in eight Asian territories over the weekend and grabbed an additional $20M in business from key markets like Japan and South Korea which kicked in more than $6M each. The sci-fi pic bowed at number one in all markets except Hong Kong where it was the runnerup behind the local film Warlords. Numerous European markets will open Legend this coming weekend.

Setting off its own fireworks in second place was Fox's family comedy Alvin and the Chipmunks with a stunning estimate of $45M in its first weekend. That was good enough to be the second largest December opening in history for a PG-rated film behind only The Chronicles of Narnia which debuted to $65.6M two years ago. The gross doubled the studio's expectations going into the frame and is now well-positioned to be a monster hit with families once children begin their winter breaks in the coming week. The Chipmunks also scored the third largest opening of the year for a G or PG film trailing just Shrek the Third's $121.6M and Ratatouille's $47M.

Alvin also took advantage of a marketplace that was lacking options for young kids. Studios typically have an abundance of titles for children in December but this year's menu is surprisingly light. Competition in the weeks ahead will come primarily from National Treasure: Book of Secrets opening on Friday and The Water Horse bowing next Tuesday, Christmas Day. Both carry PG ratings. Alvin's solid A grade from CinemaScore also hints at a prolonged run ahead.

With big Will pulling in all ticket buyers looking for an action extravaganza, last weekend's top film The Golden Compass saw its sales sink a troubling 65% to an estimated $9M. The New Line release has grossed only $41M in its first ten days and looks headed for a final domestic tally in the neighborhood of $60M. Compass carries a production budget of more than $180M.
 

Two-time chart-topper Enchanted fell a reasonable 44% to an estimated $6M in its fourth round boosting Disney's total to a solid $92.3M. Inching up one spot to fifth was the Coen brothers hit No Country for Old Men which took in an estimated $3M, down 27%, for a $33.6M cume. The Miramax release earned four major Golden Globe nominations on Thursday including Best Picture - Drama and enjoyed the smallest decline of any wide release.

Comments

CowboyMovieJunkie26

Jake Randa

Cha, I pretty sure I said last week that this movie was going to straight blow the lid off of December. Oh. And look. It did. I still havent seen it but no body can mess with Big Willie so I'll be going this week. But I will see this movie. Oh yes, I will see this movie!

Dec 16 - 04:51 PM

MattBaerFTW

Matt Baer

smith deserves it...think what you want about Legend..personally i liked it but smith in my opinion should any hater that he can ****in act.

Dec 16 - 06:25 PM

jeremyd4

jeremy d

Shame about the Golden Compass bombing so much... I hope this doesn't discourage other ambitious fantasy projects in the future. Could the failure be put down to the anti-christian sentiment hyped up prior to release? Sure, Narnia and LOTR are more recognised novels too, but I can't help thinking the Christian populace of America has such obvious influence on things like this.

Maybe "Big Willie" should've just been put in the Golden Compass to ensure success?

Dec 16 - 06:26 PM

Lighthope

Light hope

I'm glad to see Golden Compass tanking. And well deserved it is.

Dec 16 - 07:00 PM

dewright23

Don Wright

I don't think the failure of the Golden Compass had any thing to do with the anti-christian sentiment. I managed theaters for 13 years, and if anything these "boycotts" that they propose usually stir interest in a film and the grosses are better than they would have to begin with.
"The Last Temptation of Christ" is a perfect example. My theater circuit was not going to play it except in Des Moines, but after all of the controversy they expanded it to almost every city.
While Christian approval can spur a large increase, the disapproval never seems to hurt.

Dec 17 - 06:17 AM

zooman

Alex Reyes

then why did the da vinci code still do well? plus, if its an american thing, the golden compass should do extremely well on the international market as Narnia did (which isn't as widely recognized outside English speaking countries)... maybe compass just isn't good or attractive (its bashing against catholicism and christianity in general should still play some role in it though)

Dec 18 - 10:37 AM

SirLezdain

Tytus Tolshem

Eh, what did you expect? 85% of America is Christian and from what I heard, the adaptation was watered down which always sucks.

Dec 19 - 01:09 PM

ksduded

Khurram Suhrwardy

Will Smith has the broadest appeal and the most likable persona in the current A-list starts today. Plus he always deliver performance wise.

Dec 16 - 06:26 PM

Conehead2187

Sean Berger

I know it's a small demographic, but a lot of the people I know went to see it specifically in IMAX, just to catch the first 6 minutes of The Dark Knight that was shown before the film. Considering the price of an IMAX ticket can sometimes cost twice as much as a regular movie ticket, I wouldn't be surprised if this at least contributed, however marginally, in padding IAL's overall gross.

Dec 16 - 06:54 PM

Lighthope

Light hope

I'm glad to see Golden Compass tanking. And well deserved it is.

Dec 16 - 07:00 PM

h-town24

frank ford

Conehead2187.............................your an idiot! Will Smith is the biggest movie star on the fricking planet! He needs no help!

Dec 16 - 07:03 PM

BatsInTheBelfry

Derek Meadors

Glad to see Smith with another big hit, even if I Am Legend did go all to hell in the final act. Everything up until then was fantastic though, and Smith was great even after the script had gone kaput. The Dark Knight preview was also great, though I only saw the theatrical edition, not the IMAX.

Dec 16 - 07:44 PM

acebandit22

Ian Crowe

I am happy to see I am Legend do well, but that happiness was all but destroyed upon seeing Alvin and the chipmunk doing so well. i cant believe 45 mil. dollars worth of idiots went to see that. and it makes me even sadder to see a film like that do so well while a great work like The Golden Compass hasnt found a audience in america. TGC was is one of my favorite books since i was 12 (im now 17) and i was very pleased with the movie. Come on, america! i hope compass finds some legs cuz i really would like to see the sequals made.

Dec 16 - 08:15 PM

lamer

Nathaniel Bowman

"Setting off its own fireworks in second place was Fox's family comedy Alvin and the Chipmunks with a stunning estimate of $45M in its first weekend."

No...no...

NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dec 16 - 08:17 PM

Bloody Mathias

Mathias N/A

I Am Legend was good until those other two people showed up.
And nobody guessed that the Chipmunks would open with double that of the Golden Compass' opening weekend. Wow!

But i couldn't focus on the movie because my mind ws blown by the best trailer i've ever seen. Heath Ledger scared the crap out of so many unsuspecting people in the audience i saw it with. My Jaw was on the floor.

The Dark Knight can't come soon enough.

Dec 16 - 08:18 PM

a_sad_un-sorry_hashbrown

Shawn Hasinger

TDK was definitely a big draw for I Am Legend. My friends and I were going to see it in IMAX and we planned to arrive at the theatre around 6 for the 7:20 show. We weren't expecting too big of a line for the IMAX version and we were excited for the 6-minute preview...but then as we walked into the mall we saw a HUGE line and a sign put up at the front reading "IMAX 7:20 Showtime for 'I Am Legend'" and we asked the ticket guy how long ago the tickets sold out and he said they'd been sold out since 4:30. So we watched the normal version.

I liked I Am Legend. It was a very likable movie and my favorite to watch so far this year besides Transformers and 28 Weeks Later.

Dec 16 - 09:01 PM

balanceman

Steve Baltich

I tried to go see this movie on opening night at 3 different theatres here in Hawaii and they were all sold out so it comes as no surprise to me this movie did as well as it did. However, like RT pointed out, audiences were starving for entertainment. These box office numbers are more a result of good timing than good quality filmaking. Or Will Smith (nothing against the guy) but it could have been any high profile blockbuster and it would have made around the same amount.

Dec 16 - 11:55 PM

kobe8byrant

Teh Daniel

I respect Will Smith but I went to TDK to watch the trailers for Cloverfield and TDK. Having said that, Legend was a decent movie as well.

Dec 16 - 11:57 PM

TheIceGhost

Harry Myland

Haven't seen Legend yet, but I'm surprised (and pleased) it made 'those' numbers opening weekend, even with the IMAX Batman promo. BIG WILL!!!

And wow, 45 million for Alvin? Crazy... I'd actually be pretty happy about that if it were a 2D fare, but them in CGI is laaaaaame. What's next, a CGI Muppet movie?? Maybe a mo-cap remake of The Goonies?? GI JOE!?!?! Oh wait....



Dec 17 - 12:11 AM

jasperoosterveld

Jasper Oosterveld

I am still sad about Golden Compass, that movie deservers why more then the haters make you believe it does.

I am going to see I am legend in IMAX! Only for the dark knight! haha

Dec 17 - 12:54 AM

screwhead100

Ben Wellick

If I Am Legend didnt tank after the 2/3 mark, i would say its legs would take it a mighty long way and rake in the dough, but as i was walking out of the theatre i heard a middle aged woman actually say that the movie sucked Lol......i said to myself wow, it wasn't that bad.......but i did hear people talking down on it, so that negative word of mouth will not be good for big willie......

Dec 17 - 01:09 AM

~*Admiral Snowstorm*~

Dominique Amsterdam

Yeah, it's a shame I Am Legend is getting mixed reactions. If its reviews were overwhelmingly positive, this movie would make tons and tons of money. I mean, it already has, but I'm sure it'll lose at least $20 million to that destructive force which is bad word-of-mouth. I'm still going to see it; 61% is still Fresh, in my book. But a handful of people won't.

I am honestly just tickled pink at how badly The Golden Compass is failing. I don't care that it takes jabs at Christianity, I'm more concerned about whether or not it was a bad movie, and the Tomatometer seems to indicate that it was. You'd think this'd be exactly the sort of pseudo-epic nonsense American audiences would soak up, but for a movie with such glamorous special effects, it sure has dropped the ball. A resounding failure, really, which is amusing to me since I was expecting the opposite.

On the other hand, I can't regain my faith in American audiences yet. Alvin and the Chipmunks for $45 million? That is mind-boggling. Seriously, if you people wanted good family entertainment, how about you go see Enchanted again? There's a movie that deserves its money. Alvin and the Chipmunks is just...atrocious. I have no other words for it.

Dec 17 - 03:43 AM

dewright23

Don Wright

I don't think the failure of the Golden Compass had any thing to do with the anti-christian sentiment. I managed theaters for 13 years, and if anything these "boycotts" that they propose usually stir interest in a film and the grosses are better than they would have to begin with.
"The Last Temptation of Christ" is a perfect example. My theater circuit was not going to play it except in Des Moines, but after all of the controversy they expanded it to almost every city.
While Christian approval can spur a large increase, the disapproval never seems to hurt.

Dec 17 - 06:17 AM

rt_hire_me

Teague Bates

"Alvin and the Chipmunks is just...atrocious. I have no other words for it."
Admiral, do not condemn that which you do not understand!

Just kidding.
A pastor was interviewed on local radio about Golden Compass. He liked it. He said it was more about religious oppression and using dogma to keep people down than it was about destroying religion. I felt bad, because I also got the posts from well-meaning Christian friends warning that the Pullman Compass Machine was trying to kill god and turn our children to the dark side. I like to see religious bigots take it on the chin, and I say this as a regular church goer.

Just thought I'd sound off on a movie I haven't seen, right Admiral?

Dec 17 - 06:20 AM

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