Sunday, November 30, 2008

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: Four American Christmases and an Australian Turkey

Ah, Thanksgiving. You can always count on this special holiday, even in times of crushing economic woe, to reinvigorate the marketplace and get people spending again. It just makes me feel so warm inside. After all, there are now less than 30 days until the mother of all holidays. You can avoid putting up the lights or block out the holiday tunes at the mall but Christmas has hit the theatres. In fact, four Christmases have hit.

FOUR CHRISTMASES opened behind last week’s champ, TWILIGHT, on Wednesday, when it and a number of other releases entered the marketplace to capitalize on the holiday. It quickly took over on Thursday and led through the weekend for a $31 million debut and a $46 million five-day take. The critically-panned feature is Witherspoon’s return to comedy and a blatant attempt to recapture America’s hearts and it is Vince Vaughan’s second holiday feature in a row in his apparent course to be America’s family man. As obvious the choice is, FOUR CHRISTMASES has opened better than anything either has put out in ages so I’m sure the eggnog is flowing freely by the fire for these two this weekend – that is if they didn’t hate each other. I’m just telling you what I heard.

The next three positions in the Top 5 went to holdovers, which meant that the week’s two other wide releases had to settle for much less prestigious debuts. Baz Luhrmann returned to theatres for the first time since his 2001 Best Picture nominee, MOULIN ROUGE! with AUSTRALIA, a $120 million epic love story. Expensive epic disaster sounds more appropriate right now. This was considered to be a major box-office and award season contender and now it looks like it could end up being neither. Earning a modest but respectable $5,600 per screen average would ordinarily be a solid start but this costly mess needed a grand slam debut to recoup its costs. The fact that critics are split on it certainly didn’t help matters much and without award season kudos, Luhrmann won’t be getting any second helpings. Meanwhile, the TRANSPORTER series starring Jason Statham went back for thirds. The third and likely last installment brought in about $8 million less than its predecessor did in its opening frame. Even TRANSPORTER 3’s five-day take didn’t match the $20 million debut of TRANSPORTER 3. Still, the franchise is relatively cheap to produce so Jason Statham is still sitting pretty at the head of the B-list celebrity action stars table.

There was much to be thankful for if you almost any other movie in the Top 10. As expected (and desperately wished for by the Disney people), BOLT improved upon last week’s take and inched up a notch to the number two spot. Bond’s QUANTUM OF SOLACE saw a slight decline of just 27% as good working folk who had not had a chance to catch their favorite international spy finally made their way out to catch him. The cuddly if not irritating animals of MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA caught another wave of kids out of school for the break and only slipped off a scant 7%. And ROLE MODELS continued to make good on its strong word of mouth, dropping off just 28%. The most troubling stumble was also somewhat expected as the front heavy TWILIGHT plummeted over 62% in its second week. Still, $120 million is 10 days is a bloody mouthful.

Sure it’s great that a little film like THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS can spend two consecutive weeks in the Top 10, even improving in its second week. But it’s hard to take too much notice when two other even smaller releases are producing mind boggling numbers. Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is becoming a surprise Best Picture contender and is stuck just outside the Top 10 for a second week at number eleven. On just 49 screens, SLUMDOG pulled in an average of almost $28K for a grand total of $3.6 million. All this before it has even gone wide. One other film though shut it out from the Top 10 it is gunning for so badly and that film is MILK. The buzz on this one is almost deafening and considering the controversial vote on Proposition 8 earlier this month in California, MILK, a biography of the first openly gay American politician, Harvey Milk, could not be more topical. Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn will likely see many reasons to celebrate as the weeks ahead unravel but whether they can reach BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN numbers remains to be seen.

NEXT WEEK: One needs at least one week to recover from this much consumption. This would explain why next week is pretty quiet. The widest release is the new PUNISHER movie (huh?). Aside from that, there are a couple of mid-size releases, CADILLAC RECORDS and NOBEL SON. At least the art house crowd can get excited over FROST / NIXON but it seems pickings will be slim so eat up now.

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