Despite a plethora of new releases, overall business for the past two weekends has been down relative to last year, when fewer but more appealing movies opened (Shark Tale, Ladder 49, Friday Night Lights).
The feature-length debut of British production house Aardman Animation's Wallace and Gromit uprooted $16 million from an ultra-wide 3,645 locations. The opening was below Aardman's last movie, Chicken Run, that delivered a $17.5 million start from 2,491 venues five years ago. DreamWorks distributed both clay-animated pictures and paid $45 million for the rights to Wallace, which also had a smaller bow than the studio's previous October animated features, the computer-generated Shark Tale and Antz.
DreamWorks' head of distribution, Jim Tharp, said that industry tracking had Wallace and Gromit pegged at about $14 million and credited the picture's excellent reviews for the difference. The studio's exit polling for Saturday matinees suggested that 68 percent of the audience was family, 52 was female, and, curiously, 75 percent was over 25 years old. "Young kids were about a third, parents were about a third, and then the rest was the general audience," Tharp noted, explaining the unusually high adult ratio.
Focusing on character-oriented humor and a vegetable-snatching, village-set plot, Wallace and Gromit lacked the scope that animated features often use to attract viewers on opening weekend. The characters aren't as well known in the United States as they are in the United Kingdom, and it's been ten years since the prime of their Academy Award-winning animated shorts. Seen more as a British comedy than the animated event its distribution pattern suggests, Wallace and Gromit's opening was healthy.
Audiences flocked to The Gospel to the tune of $7.5 million at 969 locations. Distributed by Sony's niche division, Screen Gems, the church drama cost $4 million to make and another $7 million to market and release. Sony's research indicated that 85 percent of moviegoers were black, 70 percent were female, and 70 percent were over 25.
Though not as surprising as Diary of a Mad Black Woman and You Got Served, The Gospel seemed to spring from nowhere, behaving like the opposite of The Fighting Temptations, a high profile, gospel-themed movie that floundered two years ago.
Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper was still disappointed. "In my heart of hearts, and down deep in my bones, I expected $10 million to $12 million," he enthused. "I thought it would be bigger because all the things seemed to be coming together. It was a story that needed to be told and for a community that was underserved. It was a love project. And I'm not even Christian."
The legacy of The Passion of the Christ may not be more biblical dramas from Hollywood, but in how Christians are courted. Christian groups played a major role in The Gospel's success as well as Screen Gems' last movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Culpepper, though, insisted that Christians weren't specifically enlisted.
"There was a grass roots thing, because the people who made the movie were all involved in churches," Culpepper explained. "We went to Christians like we always do. It's just that this time we had a movie that appealed to them. Our stuff is always targeted. Whose our demo, what do they generally watch? If you have a black movie, you will tend to buy more basketball or Oprah. [For The Gospel], we bought more family programs and gospel radio stations, but we also had it on BET, MTV and hip hop stations."
In Her Shoes stumbled to $10 million at 2,808 theaters, despite industry predictions that had it a contender for No. 1. The tale of two sisters starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette joins a heap of under-performing relationship dramas, including past October releases Riding in Cars with Boys and The Story of Us. The audience was 70 percent female according to distributor 20th Century Fox's exit polling.
Looking like a low stakes Wall Street, Two for the Money booked $8.7 million at 2,391 sites. The $35 million sports betting drama with Mathew McConaughey as the hot shot and Al Pacino as the dubious mentor drew an audience that was 66 percent over 30 and 51 percent male, according to distributor Universal Pictures' exit polling. Pacino was cited as, by far, the main reason people saw the picture, with McConaughey at a distant second. Most of Pacino's recent commercial successes have been in the mentor capacity, including The Recruit</ b>, Any Given Sunday, The Devil's Advocate and Donnie Brasco.
Also opening to mediocre business was Waiting…. Lions Gate's $3 million gross-out comedy coughed up $6 million at 1,652 spots, selling about as many tickets as the 1999 work place comedy, Office Space, did on its opening weekend.
In limited release, Good Night, and Good Luck. uncovered $421,446 at 11 venues in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C. George Clooney's period drama about 1950s television journalist Edward R. Murrow averaged a promising $38,313 per theater, and distributor Warner Independent Pictures said it would expand the picture to about 200 theaters on Oct. 21 and then to around 500 on Nov. 4.
Among holdovers, Flightplan had the lowest loss of altitude of all wide releases, down 27 percent to $10.8 million. In 17 days, the Jodie Foster thriller has grabbed $60.9 million and has the traction to become the top grossing picture of the season thus far.
Serenity rustled up $5.4 million in its second weekend for a 10-day tally of $18 million. The $39 million space western's 47 percent drop was precipitous but solid for the genre—such similar pictures as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Chronicles of Riddick each had greater falls. However, they were generating much more business, and, at its current pace, Serenity is aiming for a final haul of around $28 million.
• 9/26/05 - 'Flightplan,' 'Corpse Bride' Give Rise to Lively Weekend
• 9/12/05 - 'Exorcism' Torments Top Spot
• 2/28/05 - 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' Comes Out Swinging at No. 1
• 10/12/04 - 'Friday Night Lights' Shows Its Mojo
• Review - Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
• DreamWorks Animation
• Weekend Box Office Results