"We're over $10 million ahead of where some people had predicted us," said Buena Vista's president of distribution, Chuck Viane. "Considering I have Siberian huskies, I'm partial to this movie, but I think it appeals to anyone who is an animal lover. You haven't seen anything like this in a long time. Part of it was that this was a throwback to the old fashioned movies and the way things used to be done."
Enthusiastically dubbed "The Most Amazing Story of Survival, Friendship, and Adventure Ever Told" and "Inspired by a True Story," the Antarctic adventure led by Paul Walker drew a broad audience—44 percent of which was "non-family," Buena Vista's exit polling indicated—and the picture earned an "A" from CinemaScore, a company that polls the opinions of opening night moviegoers. Viane noted that the 838 sneak previews on Feb. 4 played to 82 percent capacity.
Eight Below's opening was comparable to Snow Dogs, Buena Vista's 2002 family comedy also featuring sled dogs, and the studio has tapped similar subject matter in the past with White Fang, Iron Will and the Homeward Bound movies. Among realistic animal pictures, Eight Below had the biggest bow on record, and audience appetite for another South Pole expedition may have been whetted by last year's surprise hit, March of the Penguins.
In general, movies targeting families flourished over the weekend, accounting for half of the top 12 pictures' business. In addition to Eight Below, The Pink Panther and Curious George scooped up potent second weekend grosses of $20.9 million and $15.4 million, respectively.
Bereft of romantic comedies timed around Valentine's Day, moviegoers had to make do with Date Movie, which randomly imitates and exaggerates scenes from a variety of recent movies in the tradition of the Scary Movie series and Not Another Teen Movie among other uninspired spoofs. The under-$20 million comedy skewered $21.8 million at 2,896 theaters in second place for the long weekend.
Fox aimed Date Movie squarely at teenagers and young adults, the audience that also fuels the horror genre—they pushed Date Movie to No. 1 on Friday, but Eight Below pulled ahead on Saturday and through the rest of the long weekend. According to Fox's exit polling, 79 percent of Date Movie's audience was under 25 years old, while 54 percent was female.
The weekend's other new wide release, Freedomland, failed due to a confused marketing campaign, snapping distributor Sony's winning streak that included three No. 1 titles in a row, Underworld: Evolution, When a Stranger Calls and The Pink Panther.
The nebulous thriller featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore dug up a paltry $6.7 million at 2,361 sites over the long weekend. Sony's exit surveys suggested that 55 percent of the audience was female, and 53 percent was under 35.
From the advertisements, it was unclear what Freedomland was about, aside from a bit of shouting involving a missing child. The trailer made matters murkier with the addition of racial strife and hints of a haunted house, perhaps in a bid to recall Sony and Moore's supernatural hit, The Forgotten.
Overall weekend box office was slightly less than last year, which featured Hitch's second outing and the opening of Constantine.
• 2/13/06 - 'Pink Panther' Slinks Past 'Destination'
• 2/22/05 - 'Hitch' Hooks Top Spot Again
• 2/22/05 - 'Constantine' Smokes in Debut
• Review - Eight Below
• All Time President's Day Openings
• Dog Movies
• 3-day Weekend Box Office Results
•4-day Weekend Box Office Results
NOTE: This report was originally written on Monday, Feb. 20 and was revised on Tuesday, Feb. 21 with actual grosses.