Box Office Wrapup: Moviegoers Get Jiggy with "Happyness"

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Box office heavyweight Will Smith scored his sixth consecutive number one opening this weekend with his new rags-to-riches drama "The Pursuit of Happyness" which raced past two new kid movies to claim the top spot.

The mythical adventure "Eragon" opened well in second place while the family film "Charlotte's Web" debuted in third with a modest launch. The one-two punch of "Pursuit" and "Eragon" kicked in a combined $50.5M and for only the second time in box office history, two December films opened to over $20M each on the same weekend.



Proving once again how strong his pull is with moviegoing audiences, Smith conquered the charts with an estimated $27M bow for "The Pursuit of Happyness" which on Thursday picked up two Golden Globe nominations including one for Best Actor in the drama category. Averaging a stunning $9,467 per theater in 2,852 locations, the PG-13 film tells the real-life story of a San Francisco man and his young son who become homeless and must try to get back on their feet. The former fresh prince's real son Jaden plays his on-screen son in the uplifting, feel-good story.

With mixed reviews and no famous director or co-stars, "Pursuit" succeeded solely on the starpower of Smith and followed his last five films "Hitch," "Shark Tale," "I, Robot," "Bad Boys II," and "Men in Black II." Those five hits all opened at number one and went on to gross a jaw-dropping combined haul of $1.7 billion worldwide. With such a strong start, Will Smith should easily be able to score the tenth $100M domestic blockbuster of his career.



For Sony, "Pursuit" marked its record 13th number one opener of 2006 from a jam-packed slate of 27 releases. Sony also broke its own all-time studio box office record by crossing the $1.57 billion mark in domestic ticket sales with two full weeks still to go and three titles remaining in the top ten. The previous record was set by Sony in the "Spider-Man"-fueled year of 2002.

Opening in second place with some strength of its own was the dragon tale "Eragon" with an estimated $23.5M. Playing in 3,020 sites, the PG-rated film averaged a stellar $7,765 per theater. Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Djimon Hounsou, and Rachel Weisz star in the mythical adventure which was based on a teen author's story. Driven by special effects, "Eragon" carried a reported production cost of more than $100M. With no "Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter," or "Narnia" films this holiday season, fantasy audiences had nothing else to rally behind and so Fox took advantage of the opportunity by placing its actioner into the pre-Christmas slot. With school kids leaving for their holiday breaks in the days ahead, the dragon pic aims to soar towards the land of nine digits.



The only other time two December openers bowed to more than $20M each on the same frame was on this very weekend in 1997 when "Titanic" debuted at number one with $28.6M followed by the launch of the James Bond flick "Tomorrow Never Dies" with $25.1M. This weekend's two new releases also helped to keep the overall box office within striking distance of last year's colossal frame when "King Kong" ruled with a $50.1M opening and "Narnia" in its second weekend contributed a stellar $31.8M. Despite not having any film of the same magnitude, the marketplace this weekend had great breadth and saw the Top 20 dip only 7 percent versus last year.

Paramount got off to a slow start with its big holiday season offering for families "Charlotte's Web" which bowed to an estimated $12M from 3,566 theaters for a mild $3,372 average. Based on the popular children's book, the G-rated film stars Dakota Fanning and features voices from Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, and John Cleese. Studios never want to see an opening weekend average lower than its theater count, but Paramount is hoping that the upcoming school holidays will allow the well-reviewed film to have legs. Recent kidpics that the studio opened in mid-December went on to make six to seven times their opening weekend grosses. These include 2002's "The Wild Thornberrys" with a $6M bow on its way to $39.9M and 2001's "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" whch debuted to $13.8M and reached $80.9M. "Web," which cost over $80M to produce, hopes to follow and capture the attention of parents and their smaller children in the days and weeks ahead when they have more available time.



The penguin blockbuster "Happy Feet" followed with an estimated $8.5M, down just 34 percent, for a $149.4M sum. The Warner Bros. smash now ranks number eight among 2006 films and should climb into the top five after the holiday season. Sony's Cameron Diaz-Kate Winslet comedy "The Holiday" dropped only 36 percent in its second weekend to an estimated $8.2M pushing its ten-day cume to $25.3M. Overseas grosses for the films rose to $59.7M and $28.5M, respectively.



Last weekend's number one film "Apocalypto" tumbled down to sixth place with an estimated $7.7M. Dropping 49 percent, the Mayan adventure has grabbed $27.9M for Buena Vista in ten days but also suffered the largest decline of any film in the top ten. Fellow sophomore "Blood Diamond" fared better in its second weekend sliding only 28percent to an estimated $6.3M. Earning its star Leonardo DiCaprio one of his two Golden Globe nominations this year for Best Actor - Drama, the Warner Bros. title has mined $18.4M in ten days. "Blood Diamond" got off to a slow start, but is now showing that it could have the legs to go the distance over the holiday season.



The James Bond actioner "Casino Royale" grossed an estimated $5.7M, off 36 percent, to put its total at $137.6M for Sony. New Line's Biblical drama "The Nativity Story" once again enjoyed the smallest drop in the top ten dipping a mere 18percent to an estimated $4.7M for a $23.1M cume. The family comedy "Unaccompanied Minors" followed in the ten spot with an estimated $3.7M, off 37percent, giving Warner Bros. a poor $10.2M to date.

Opening to spectacular results, thanks in part to its $25 ticket price, was the big-budget musical "Dreamgirls" from DreamWorks and Paramount with an estimated $360,000 from only three theaters for an unprecedented $120,000 average. Winner of five Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture in the comedy/musical category, the PG-13 pic was given a special exclusive release in solo houses in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. For the extra cash, ticket buyers were given a Broadway-style experience with reserved seating and a limited-edition program book. At a more standard adult ticket price of $10, that would translate to an average of about $48,000 which is still phenomenal. The studios reported that all 21 shows over the weekend were sold out. Starring Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls" opens nationally on Christmas Day in over 800 theaters.



Also platforming this weekend was the George Clooney starrer "The Good German" which opened to an estimated $79,000 from just five locations for a solid $15,800 average. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the R-rated film co-stars Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire and follows an American war reporter's escapades in Germany.

Three films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. Denzel Washington's action thriller "Deja Vu" fell 50 percent to an estimated $3M in its fourth assignment putting the total at $57.8M. Buena Vista should find its way to the neighborhood of $65M. Opening just five days after rival action pic "Casino Royale" has proven to be a major obstacle for "Deja Vu" which will end up with less than half the gross of the better-received Bond flick.



Fox's holiday comedy "Deck the Halls" has also faced stiff competition for its target audience. The Danny DeVito pic took in an estimated $2M this weekend, down 50 percent, for a $32.9M cume. A $40M final seems likely. Disney's "The Santa Clause 3" dropped 43 percent to an estimated $1.9M giving the studio $79.8M thus far. Tim Allen and pals should reach the $85M mark, or about 40 percent below the $139.2M of "Clause 2" from four years ago.

Elsewhere below the top ten, Golden Globe nominees for Best Picture posted good numbers. Fox's "Borat," nominated for both Picture and Best Actor in the comedy/musical category, slipped 39 percent to an estimated $1.6M for a $122.8M total to date. The raunchy comedy had fallen by more than 45 percent in each of the last two weekends. Miramax's "The Queen" slipped only 22 percent to an estimated $685,000 for a $25.7M cume in its eleventh consecutive weekend in the Top 20. Fellow Best Picture nominee in the drama category "Babel," which led all films with seven total Globe nominations, saw its weekend gross inch up 7 percent to an estimated $490,000 despite losing over one-third of its theaters. Paramount Vantage has taken in $18.3M so far and hopes that the nominations will allow the ensemble film to remain a relevant box office player through the holidays.



The top ten films grossed an estimated $107.3M which was down 10 percent from last year when "King Kong" opened at number one with $50.1M; but up 13 percent from 2004 when "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" debuted in the top spot with $30.1M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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