'American Gangster' No. 1 with a Bullet
Despite the box office's worst fall season for attendance in over a decade, the holidays kicked off with two sizable openings from American Gangster and Bee Movie, demonstrating again how the appeal of the movies themselves drives the market more than any other factor, including quantity, which fall had in spades. Hollywood's mostly dreary lot of autumn pictures led to six down weeks in a row, but this weekend's business perked up slightly compared to last year.

American Gangster racked up $43.6 million on approximately 5,300 screens at 3,054 theaters, while Bee Movie collected $38 million on around 6,100 screens at 3,928 theaters. Gangster packed a more impressive punch than its $5.5 million lead on Bee Movie would suggest.

High profile crime dramas bolstered by star power like American Gangster have been a consistent draw over the years, though they rarely reach blockbuster levels. Gangster marks the first crime saga to crack $30 million on its opening weekend, blasting past titles like Sin City and The Departed for top honors in the genre. In addition, Gangster delivered career best starts for lead actors Denzel Washington (well ahead of Inside Man) and Russell Crowe (higher than Gladiator).

In its marketing, American Gangster replicated the bravado audiences have appreciated in past gangster pictures, like New Jack City and Scarface (1983). Its black and white poster was even similar to Scarface's. Combining that quality with true crime and Seventies era trappings as well as Mr. Washington and Mr. Crowe in roles fitting their popular personas led to a broad appeal among mostly adults. Distributor Universal Pictures' exit polling indicated that American Gangster's audience was 53 percent female and skewed older with two thirds over 30 years old, while a quarter was 50 and over.

While honey didn't exactly equal loads of money, DreamWorks' Bee Movie had the sixth highest-grossing start not to reach No. 1 on the weekend chart. The computer-animated comedy was former television star Jerry Seinfeld's first major foray onto the big screen. While it may have seemed odd for Seinfeld to do a family movie, his brand of humor was a fit for DreamWorks Animation, which has built itself on self-conscious, pop-cultured, innuendo-laced titles like the Shrek movies, Madagascar and Shark Tale.

With the raft of "making of"-style promotions that Seinfeld pushed in trailers and television shorts, Bee Movie may have been too self-conscious as the picture's opening was less than average among major computer-animated movies and it sold fewer tickets than Chicken Little on the same frame in 2005. Aside from the insider ads, Bee Movie was presented as a generic computer-animated romp, something audiences have been inundated with in recent years, sans a story to make it stand out.

Meanwhile, Martian Child beamed in a poor $3.4 million at 2,020 sites in its debut. Saw IV suffered the biggest second weekend drop of the Saw series, bleeding 67 percent to $10.3 million. While its opening weekend was not far off from Saw II and Saw III, the horror sequel's ten-day tally trails significantly at $50.4 million. On the other hand, Dan in Real Life held relatively well, down 33 percent to $7.9 million for $22.7 million in ten days.


• Review: 'American Gangster'

• 11/6/06 -
'Borat' Bombards Top Spot (Same Weekend, 2006)

• 11/7/05 - Welcome to the Cluck: 'Chicken,' 'Jarhead' Tops (Same Weekend, 2005)

• 11/8/04 - $70M Fantastic for 'Incredibles'(Same Weekend, 2004)


Weekend Box Office Results

• Top November Openings

• Top Non-No.1 Debuts

• Crime Dramas

• Computer Animation

NOTE: This report was originally written on Sunday, Nov. 4 and was revised on Monday, Nov. 5 with actual grosses.