Box Office Guru Wrapup: Bee Movie Jumps Into #1 Spot

Insects and gangsters switch places.

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Three new releases failed to steal attention away from last weekend's top two films which continued to rule the North American box office swapping chart positions in the process. Jerry Seinfeld's animated hit Bee Movie enjoyed the better hold and jumped into first place while the Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe crime drama American Gangster suffered a moderate decline and claimed the runnerup position. Ticket buyers have spent nearly $153M on the duo over the past ten days. Among newcomers, the Christmas comedy Fred Claus starring Vince Vaughn generated respectable results while Tom Cruise suffered his worst opening in twenty-one years with the political drama Lions for Lambs which finshed a weak fourth for the frame. The overall marketplace struggled once again as for the first time in five years, a November top ten failed to break the $100M mark.

Paramount and DreamWorks missed out on a top spot debut last weekend with their new toon Bee Movie, but this time they managed to grab the number one slot. The PG-rated film slipped 32% and collected an estimated $26M boosting the ten-day tally to a robust $72.2M. Though a good hold, especially with the opening of rival family flick Fred Claus, the decline was somewhat larger than the drops of other recent animated kidpics that bowed on the first weekend of November. Last year, Flushed Away dipped by only 12%, 2005's Chicken Little slid just 21%, and 2004's The Incredibles dropped 29%. The Veterans Day holiday was observed on a Friday last year giving a large number of school children a day off which helped deliver the sensational hold of Flushed. This year, the holiday will be observed on Monday when Bee is still expected to score solid results. Look for the insect pic to reach the neighborhood of $120M domestically with international prospects also looking rosy.

Dropping an understandable 44% to second place was former champ American Gangster with an estimated $24.3M in its sophomore frame. After only ten days, Universal has shot up a remarkable $80.7M and has already surpassed the total grosses of most of Washington's previous films. Gangster currently ranks as the fifth biggest Denzel pic ever behind Remember the Titans ($115.6M), The Pelican Brief ($100.8M), Crimson Tide ($91.4M), and Inside Man ($88.5M). The Ridley Scott-directed drama also stands as the fourth highest grossing film in Russell Crowe's career after Gladiator ($187.7M), A Beautiful Mind ($170.7M), and Master and Commander ($93.9M). At its current pace, American Gangster should find its way to $130-140M from North America making it the studio's third biggest hit of 2007 after The Bourne Ultimatum and Knocked Up. End-of-year awards attention could send it higher though.

Opening in third place was the Christmas comedy Fred Claus which took in an estimated $19.2M from an ultrawide release in 3,603 locations. Averaging a mediocre $5,336 per site, the PG-rated flick about Santa's older brother stars Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti and played to a family audience. The Warner Bros. release is one of only two films this year to launch in more than 3,500 theaters and fail to gross at least $30M on opening weekend. The other was the animated penguin pic Surf's Up which debuted to $17.6M in June. Instead, Fred performed in line with last November's yuletide laugher The Santa Clause 3 which bowed to $19.5M on its way to a $84.5M final.

Tom Cruise suffered one of the worst opening weekends of his career with the poor turnout for his political drama Lions for Lambs which stumbled into fourth place with an estimated $6.7M. The R-rated pic also stars Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Lions averaged a feeble $3,029 from 2,215 theaters and was panned by most critics. Despite the starpower, bad reviews and the subject matter which dealt with war in the Middle East helped to repel paying customers.

Excluding 1999's Magnolia in which Cruise had a supporting role, Lions attracted the smallest debut for the actor since Ridley Scott's Legend which opened with just $4.3M in 1986. It also ended the star's streak of thirteen consecutive number one openings over fifteen years and is guaranteed to stop his industry-leading streak of seven straight years of having $100M+ grossers. The Redford project marked the first film for United Artists which is now run by Cruise and producing partner Paula Wagner. Parent company MGM took distribution duties in North America with Fox handling the release in the rest of the world where the film also launched this weekend to mixed results.