News

Superheroes Slay Santa: 'Incredibles' Tops 'Polar' 2-to-1

by Brandon Gray
November 15, 2004

Superheroes proved more powerful than a locomotive.

The Incredibles captured a mighty $50.3 million, according to studio estimates, easing a mere 29%—the smallest second weekend drop ever for a movie that opened to around $70 million or more. The $92 million computer-animated feature beat Finding Nemo's $46.6 million as the top second weekend in distributor Buena Vista's history and ranks No. 7 among all movies.

Pixar's superhero adventure-comedy has amassed $143.3 million in 10 days, nearly matching their Finding Nemo at the same point and tracking 17% ahead of their last November release, Monsters, Inc. from 2001. Those two pictures ultimately grossed $339.7 million and $255.9 million respectively.

Warner Bros.' The Polar Express delivered $23.3 million from around 7,000 screens across 3,650 theaters and has unwrapped $30.6 million since Wednesday. Based on the popular 1986 children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, the ambitious computer-animated Christmas movie marked the third collaboration between director Robert Zemeckis and star Tom Hanks (who plays six roles) after the unusual blockbuster success they enjoyed with Forrest Gump and Cast Away.

"Our audience is predominantly families," Warner Bros.' executive VP and general sales manager of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein told Box Office Mojo. "We're just starting to get into the season and there should be minimal drops as we approach Christmas."

Christmas movies released in early November often have long legs. Making five times the opening weekend is not uncommon as Elf and The Santa Clause 2 demonstrated in recent years, but only four pictures about Christmas have ever grossed more than $100 million. The Polar Express cost a whopping $165 million to make (and reportedly another $125 million to market worldwide), though Warner Bros. split the budget with real estate heir Steve Bing.

While The Incredibles' momentum contributed to a relatively soft debut, The Polar Express emphasized the wonder of its technique—the unique performance capture animation—over the story, a strategy that almost invariably leads to disappointment as Tron, Final Fantasy and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow found in the past. What's more, the human characters are so real yet not real that many potential moviegoers were creeped out. Pixar was aware of that problem, hence their more cartoon-ish humans in The Incredibles.

Bottom line, The Incredibles suggested empowered characters actively going on an adventure, while The Polar Express appeared to feature kids passively taken on a ride. Whereas The Incredibles was bright and comedic, The Polar Express was dark and serious. The former always wins at the multiplex.

The Polar Express marked the first movie to open in IMAX 3D at the same time as its regular 35mm release. From 59 IMAX venues or 1.6% of its overall 3,650 theaters, it culled $2.9 million since Wednesday—a record IMAX start for a simultaneous release—or 9.5% of its $30.6 million overall total.

After nary a peep from Warner Bros. since August, the studio boasts an aggressive holiday slate. After its opening salvo of The Polar Express, comes the Oliver Stone epic Alexander at around 2,300 theaters on Nov. 24, the all-star Ocean's Twelve at well over 3,000 on Dec. 10, Clint Eastwood's boxing drama Million Dollar Baby in Los Angeles and New York City on Dec. 17 (to qualify for the Academy Awards) and Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera at 600 on Dec. 22 (before going very wide on Jan. 21).

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason bagged $8.7 million from 530 theaters in the top 100 markets, averaging a healthy $16,705 per site. Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth reprise their roles from the 2001 romantic comedy that opened to $10.7 million at 1,611 theaters on its way to a $71.5 million total. A hit stateside, the Working Title production was a blockbuster overseas where it made another $208.7 million, and the sequel appears to be following a similar pattern as it additionally raked in a smashing $26.6 million from six international openings.

Distributor Universal's exit polling indicated that the "first movie" was the top reason people went to see sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, followed by the "humor" and Zellweger. Moviegoers were overwhelmingly female (74%), 60% of which said they saw the first movie. The picture skewed older as 60% were over the age of 30. Universal aimed mostly for females under 30, and 73% of that demographic would "definitely recommend" it (against a norm of 55%).

Two weeks ago, Universal suddenly shifted Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason's release date from Nov. 19 to a limited start on Nov. 12 to help build buzz and take advantage of a marketplace with light competition for adult women. The studio employed a similar strategy with another Working Title-produced romantic comedy Love Actually last November. Also featuring Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, it bowed to $6.9 million at 576 theaters, averaging $11,955 per site en route to $59.5 million. That picture peaked at 1,714 venues, while Universal will be more aggressive with Bridget Jones, expanding it to about 2,300 theaters on Nov. 19.

After the Sunset lifted $11.1 million from 2,819 theaters. The $60 million Pierce Brosnan-Salma Hayek caper appealed mostly to those over 30 (54%) and there was a near even split between genders. Distributor New Line mounted a tantalizing trailer and held successful sneak previews last weekend, but the genre is not prone to massive openings and the picture wasn't distinctive enough to stand out in the marketplace.

Brosnan's last heist picture, The Thomas Crown Affair co-starring Rene Russo, took $14.6 million out of the gate in 1999 on track to $69.3 million. The genre is becoming a staple for Brosnan as a sequel to that remake is in the works. Following his final appearance as the well-groomed James Bond in Die Another Day, though, Brosnan has opted for scruffiness in After the Sunset and Laws of Attraction, which turned off moviegoers last spring.

Seed of Chucky spawned $8.8 million at 2,061 theaters. The $12 million horror comedy—the second release from Focus Features' genre division Rogue Pictures after Shaun of the Dead—drew more females than expected as exit polling indicated they made up 46% of the audience, and young adults were the majority.

The killer doll's fifth appearance since his 1988 debut Child's Play marks a step backward after Bride of Chucky recharged the franchise in 1998 with an $11.8 million opening and $32.4 million total. Too much time passed to keep the momentum going, but even more damning for Seed of Chucky was its insular, Hollywood humor and not enough horror.

The top 12 pictures grossed an estimated $135.9 million, up 11% from the $122.1 million on the same frame last year when Elf and Master and Commander led the way.

In limited action, Fox Searchlight exposed Kinsey for the first time. The $11 million biopic on groundbreaking sex researcher Alfred Kinsey aroused an estimated $169,038 from five theaters in Los Angeles and New York City, averaging a potent $33,808 per site. Already stirring controversy from conservative groups, it will penetrate 13 more cities on Nov. 19, expanding to 36 venues, and another 18 cities on Nov. 24, growing to 150-200 runs, before reaching national release on Dec. 17.

Another biopic, Finding Neverland, also landed in Los Angeles and New York City and grabbed $220,524 from eight theaters, averaging a solid $27,566 per site. Miramax' $25 million production about Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, portrayed by Johnny Depp, flies off to over 60 locations on Nov. 19 and goes into nationwide release on Nov. 24 in time for Thanksgiving.

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