Penguins Tip-Tap Past Bond
The holiday season's first and only major box office showdown was a near draw. The counter-programming of the family-oriented Happy Feet against the action-driven Casino Royale yielded two openings over $40 million. Overall, though, the weekend was the least attended pre-Thanksgiving frame in eight years and lagged 19 percent behind last year when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire debuted to $102.7 million.

Happy Feet waddled to $41.5 million from around 5,600 screens at 3,804 sites, including around $2.4 million from 79 IMAX sites. The $100 million penguin musical was by far distributor Warner Bros.' highest-grossing debut in the animation genre, and, among computer-generated fare, it was slightly higher than Chicken Little and Over the Hedge but far below Pixar league or the Ice Age movies. Warner reported that kids comprised 40 percent of the audience and that adults skewed male.

With a glut of releases this year, computer animation is in a rut, so much so that $40 million seems like a great start when prior to 2006 it was below average. Happy Feet stood out amidst the wasteland of CG critters with its striking and massive marketing campaign of penguins performing musical numbers, though the presentation was light on story. A hot commodity in 2005 between March of the Penguins and a supporting role in Madagascar, penguins hadn't been the subject of a CG feature before.

Meanwhile, Casino Royale rolled $40.8 million from 5,100 screens at 3,434 locations, the James Bond franchise still sharp after a four-year hiatus and change in personnel and direction. The $150 million 21st official Bond featured Daniel Craig's "blunt instrument," as Judi Dench refers to him in the trailer, replacing Pierce Brosnan's debonair version. Distributor Sony said that the audience was 55 percent male and 57 percent over 25.

Casino Royale sold roughly as many tickets as Brosnan's first, GoldenEye, did at 2,667 theaters on the same weekend in 1995. GoldenEye, though, had more of an uphill battle, coming six years after the franchise fizzled with License to Kill. Each subsequent Brosnan Bond grossed more than its predecessor, culminating in his final picture, Die Another Day, scoring a franchise high $47.7 million opening, which would equal over $53 million today adjusted for ticket price inflation. Craig's next go at Bond is scheduled for Nov. 7, 2008.

With the onset of Happy Feet and Casino Royale, wide holdovers wilted 58 percent on average. Without a significant expansion, Borat collapsed 48 percent to $14.6 million, lifting its total to $90.8 million in 17 days.

In its third weekend, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause fell 51 percent to $8.3 million, steeper than The Santa Clause 2's 39 percent at the same point. The Christmas-themed sequel's $51.7 million in 17 days trails its predecessor by over $30 million. Flushed Away felt the brunt of the penguins the most, sinking 60 percent to $6.6 million for $48.6 million in 17 days.

After Dark's Horror Fest: 8 Films to Die For afflicted 488 locations in Freestyle Releasing's special event of horror, running three different movies each night of the weekend (totaling nine despite the title as {lnk43701}Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror{/lnk} was added to Sunday as a bonus). The result was a decent $2.3 million, and the festival runs through Tuesday.

Universal Pictures' Let's Go to Prison and Fox Searchlight's Fast Food Nation flopped with respective openings of $2.2 million at 1,495 theaters and $410,804 at 321.

In limited release before hitting over 600 theaters on Wednesday, For Your Consideration garnered $372,012 at 23 theaters, a relatively weaker start than Christopher Guest's previous mockumentaries, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. Ensemble drama Bobby rated no more than satisfactory at two venues, booking $69,039 before it goes wide on Thursday at about 1,650 sites.


• Review - Happy Feet

• Review - Casino Royale

• 11/21/05 - Harry Potter's 'Goblet' Runneth Over with Cash

• 7/25/05 - 'Penguins' Gain Warm Reception


Weekend Box Office Results

• Computer Animation

• Spy Movies

• James Bond Franchise

NOTE: This report was originally written on Sunday, Nov. 19 and was revised on Monday, Nov. 20 with actual grosses.