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.