The Prestige, featuring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as dueling magicians, drew $14.8 million from 2,500 screens at 2,281 venues. Aside from the other magician movie in the market, the unexpected hit The Illusionist, Buena Vista's reportedly $40 million thriller best compares to period thriller, From Hell, which sold somewhat fewer tickets on the same weekend in October 2001.
"I think going into the weekend we were the dark horse," said Chuck Viane, Disney's president of distribution. "We played across a number of demos. 20 percent of the audience was teens, 49 percent was 18 to 49 [years old] and we still had 30 percent above and beyond that. And I think that kind of balance allowed our movie to play all day."
Buena Vista mounted an aggressive marketing campaign for The Prestige. Though light on story and character, advertisements emphasized the mystery and the thrills, promising twists and turns and a question of who lives and dies, and that the picture was from the director of Batman Begins and Memento, Christopher Nolan.
Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers unfurled at half-mast, grossing $10.2 million from 2,500 screens at 1,876 theaters. Distributed by Paramount Pictures but produced by DreamWorks and Warner Bros., the $90 million World War 2 drama's start was well below average for a war picture, landing between The Alamo and The Thin Red Line in initial audience firepower. Paramount claimed that Flags' audience was 80 percent over 30 and 55 percent male.
"We looked at Clint Eastwood's last movies Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby," said Don Harris, Paramount's executive vice president and general sales manager. "Flags of Our Fathers was consistent with how those two movies opened [in wide release]. His movies tend to open at a decent number and hang around for a long time." Million Dollar Baby made $12.3 million at 2,010 theaters on course to $100.5 million, and Mystic River took in $10.4 million at 1,467 theaters on its way to $90.1 million, but both were different genres and both gained traction through Academy Awards nominations (and it remains to be seen whether Flags will follow suit).
Marketing for Flags of Our Fathers was less consistent than The Prestige, with vague ads attempting sentiment and patriotism while other spots pitched a generic action movie about the battle of Iwo Jima. The campaign assumed importance based on the subject matter, critics' quotes and the pedigree of Mr. Eastwood, but did not build characters to get behind, something the marketing of past ensemble war movie successes accomplished, including Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down.
Also opening, 20th Century Fox's $15 million horse drama Flicka rustled up $7.7 million at 2,877 locations, which was less than the $9.2 million that horse movie Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story mustered on the same weekend last year.
Sony's $40 million costume drama Marie Antoinette managed $5.4 million at 859 theaters, which was better than recent corseted pictures like Casanova and Vanity Fair.
The Departed and Open Season were the strongest holdovers again. That's expected of a family movie like Open Season, but The Departed has displayed greater staying power than similar hits of the past like Collateral and Training Day. Director Martin Scorsese's crime drama eased 29 percent to $13.5 million for $76.9 million in 17 days.
However, the highlight of the weekend came from a 13-year-old movie. Buena Vista re-released Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D and snared $3.3 million from 168 locations, averaging $19,505 per site. Viane sees the macabre stop-motion animated feature as a perennial and plans another re-issue for next October. "This year we had 168 theaters," said Viane. "Next year, I would expect we'll have somewhere between 700 and 1000 theaters that can play 3-D. This is the Disney version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
• Review - The Prestige
• Review - Flags of our Fathers
• 10/19/06 - Scott Holleran: Gibson Rambles, 'Nightmare' Recurs
• 9/5/06 - 'Illusionist' Impresses on Labor Day Weekend
• 10/24/05 - 'Doom' and Gloom
• Weekend Box Office Results
• Horse Movies
NOTE: This report was originally written on Sunday, Oct. 22 and was revised on Monday, Oct. 23 with actual grosses.