'Flightplan,' 'Corpse Bride' Give Rise to Lively Weekend
Not surprisingly, a woman-in-jeopardy thriller out-gunned a necrophilic animated feature in a September showdown. Both pictures' solid bows, though, contributed to the fourth up weekend in a row over 2004—all tracked movies out-grossed last year's crop by 40 percent.

Looking like Panic Room on a plane with a nod to The Lady Vanishes, Buena Vista's Flightplan logged $24.6 million at 3,424 locations.The missing-child plot recalled The Forgotten, which grabbed $21 million on the comparable weekend last year. The Fall is often fertile ground for thrills; late September suspense successes include Double Jeopardy and Don't Say a Word.

Flightplan marks star Jodie Foster's first lead role in three and a half years, when she led the similar Panic Room to a career best $30.1 million start. The movie's marketing played like a greatest hits of Miss Foster's movie persona from Contact, The Silence of the Lambs and Panic Room: a traditionally male occupation (this time, an aircraft designer who takes Die Hard-like action), intelligence, forceful emotions and a sense of one woman against the system. Her intense visage was the centerpiece of the campaign.

Buena Vista's head of distribution, Chuck Viane, credited Miss Foster for Flightplan's first class launch. "People trust her choices in movies," he said. "And our materials made the movie look every bit exciting. We over-delivered on everyone else's expectations but our own. When we picked this date, all the research we did suggested that our audience was available and ready."

According to Buena Vista's exit polling, 70 percent of the audience was between the ages of 18 to 49, and males surprisingly accounted for 49 percent of moviegoers. This genre tends to strongly skew female, exemplified by previous plane thriller, Red Eye, with its 58 percent female demographic. Flightplan's CinemaScore rating, determined by the pollster's survey of opening night moviegoers, was B+, suggesting turbulent word-of-mouth.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride unearthed $19.1 million at 3,204 engagements. That's the highest opening on record for a family-targeted movie in September and for a stop-motion animated feature, but, given the moribund state of those two categories, expectations that such a macabre family movie would top a traditional draw like Flightplan were unrealistic.

"The audience was primarily parents and kids, with almost 70 percent under 25," Warner Bros.' head of distribution, Dan Fellman, said. "Considering The Nightmare Before Christmas opened to $8.2 million [on its first weekend of wide release] and then continued on to gross $50 million, even though that was Oct. 1993, I think with our strong exits and reviews, we're going to be around for a long time."

In addition to anticipation for Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's latest collaboration hot on the heels of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a bustling limited debut inflated expectations for Corpse Bride's wide release. The picture averaged $77,633 per site at five theaters last weekend—the highest of the past two years. However, a high average for a new and hip major movie in a few Los Angeles and New York City venues is not necessarily indicative of mainstream appeal (e.g., Punch-Drunk Love and I Heart Huckabees).

Adjusted for ticket price inflation, the total gross for Tim Burton's first stop-motion spectacle, The Nightmare Before Christmas, would equal $78 million today from a peak 1,671 theaters. Corpse Bride, which reportedly cost $40 million to make, is unlikely to gross that much, given its saturation release, the quicker burn-out rates of today and the upcoming release of Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit on Oct. 7. What's more, Nightmare Before Christmas's premise—the Halloween king taking over Christmas—was more engaging than Corpse Bride's.

Bottom line, Corpse Bride is about a man marrying (albeit accidentally) a dead, rotting girl—not exactly material that creates positive buzz on the playground or among parents no matter how delightfully the decomposition is presented. The marketing campaign didn't show much else, aside from the names of the barely-heard voice cast. With its unique style and the Tim Burton brand as its main selling points, that Corpse Bride made as much as it did is arguably more impressive than Flightplan.

Roll Bounce boogied to $7.6 million at 1,625 venues. Fox Searchlight's 1970s-set roller-skating drama cost less than $20 million to make and did less than half the business of another dance-dueling picture, the present-day You Got Served.

In limited release, New Line's A History of Violence drew a potent $515,992 estimate at 14 theaters, averaging $36,856 per site. The David Cronenberg-directed drama rolls out to around 1,200 venues on Sept. 30. Oliver Twist, on the other hand, pocketed $68,447 at five locations. Sony's Charles Dickens adaptation averaged a relatively miserly $13,689 per site and will reside at about 800 theaters on Sept. 30.


• 9/19/05 - 'Just Like Heaven' No Cure for B.O. Blahs

• 8/29/05 - 'Virgin,' 'Red Eye' Fly High for Rising Actors

• 7/18/05 - 'Charlie' and the 'Crashers' Draw Golden Box Office Ticket

• Review - Flightplan


• Top September Openings

• All Time Top Per Theater Averages

Weekend Box Office Results

NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, Sept. 25 and was updated on Monday, Sept. 26 with actual grosses.