'In Good Company' Profits, 'Elektra' Tragic
As Coach Carter cleaned up over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, Elektra and Racing Stripes were out of the gates at over 3,000 theaters each and In Good Company and House of Flying Daggers unfolded nationally.

Successfully expanding into wide release, In Good Company acquired $14.3 million at a modest 1,566 locations ($16.6 million for the four-day weekend), ranking third behind Coach Carter and Meet the Fockers. The corporate comedy starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace and Scarlett Johansson had opened at three theaters on Dec. 29, generating a potent half a million dollars in 16 days. The audience heavily skewed female at 67%, according to distributor Universal's exit polling, and 59% were over the age of 30.

"We set this picture up so that it would perform based on word of mouth," Universal's head of distribution Nikki Rocco told Box Office Mojo. "You platform it out and go wide and hold your breath. It's really gratifying to make a decision and see it become successful."

"It was different from anything out there," said Rocco on why In Good Company struck a chord. "The subject matter hits home. People in the corporate world know what it's like to be taken over and have new people to train." She also credited the cast and writer-director Paul Weitz, who outperformed his own About a Boy by the same studio.

The surprising strength of In Good Company can also be attributed to the marketing campaign, which conveyed the premise of Dennis Quaid's head of ad sales being downsized in favor of a man half his age (Topher Grace) but also promised a warm, coming-of-age romantic comedy. The trailer prominently featured Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill," which was also used for Big Fish—a similarly appealing movie that also made about $14 million in its expansion last January.

As Paramount recaptured prior success with Coach Carter's proven formula, Warner Bros. used another with Racing Stripes—animal antics for the entire family that served Snow Dogs and Kangaroo Jack well on MLK weekends past.

Racing Stripes notched a solid $13.9 million at 3,185 theaters over the three-day weekend—in the range of such other farm-centric family fare as Home on the Range and Secondhand Lions. The zebra-that-thinks-he's-a-horse underdog story's $18.9 million four-day opening came in below Disney's Snow Dogs's $23.7 million in 2002 and Warner Bros.' own Kangaroo Jack's $21.9 million in 2003.

Though they were not talking animal movies, the ads for both Snow Dogs and Kangaroo Jack exploited brief hallucination sequences where the respective kangaroo and sled dogs spoke, making people who hadn't seen them think they were talking animal movies. Chock full of loquacious critters, Racing Stripes wasn't as misleading. Since it's not an action comedy that would presumably appeal to boys—like Snow Dogs or Kangaroo Jack did—the marketing pumped up the roles of the pop culture-referencing flies Buzz and Scuzz (voiced by Steve Harvey and David Spade). It reeked of bandwagoning.

Bombing becomes Elektra as the Daredevil spin-off bowed to $12.8 million at 3,204 theaters. That marks the weakest debut for a Marvel Comics adaptation during the franchise's recent movie renaissance—lower than Blade: Trinity's $16.1 million and The Punisher's $13.8 million. The movie also draws comparison to Batman spin-off Catwoman, which debuted to $16.7 million last year en route to $40.2 million.

For the four-day weekend, Elektra captured $14.8 million, less then one third of Daredevil's $45.0 million four-day opening over President's Day weekend 2003. Audiences had a mixed reaction to Daredevil, which lacked legs on its way to $102.5 million, and that may have muted Elektra.

Ultimately, Elektra was strictly for comic book and Jennifer Garner fans. The marketing lacked the context to make people care, coming off as a bland cross between X-Men and Kill Bill. Action heroine movies tend to do better when they don't fetishize the lead—the sai blade-wielding Garner slinked around in her red suit with the tagline "Looks Can Kill"—and when they have other aspects to lure audiences, such as a strong premise or popular source material.

Garner, in general, has suffered from having more media exposure than her current level of star power merits. Audiences did not embrace her first headlining role 13 Going on 30 in large numbers, despite far more publicity than pictures of the same scale get. Elektra also had to compete with the return of Garner's action television series Alias.

It wasn't a good weekend for action heroines in general. House of Flying Daggers, starring Ziyi Zhang from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, had its wires cut in national expansion. The martial arts opus from China leaped into 1,189 theaters yet snatched $2.3 million over the four-day weekend.

Released by Sony Pictures Classics to mimic the platform release of the distributor's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon four years ago, director Yimou Zhang's House of Flying Daggers has fallen far short, much of its thunder no doubt stolen by last summer's hit Hero, also directed by Yimou and featuring Ziyi Zhang. Crouching Tiger raked in $9.5 million from just 693 theaters on its MLK weekend expansion in 2001 and went on to earn $128.1 million in total. House has reached $7.5 million since its Dec. 3 release.


'Coach Carter' Delivers $29M Win...


Weekend Box Office Chart

Review: 'In Good Company'

• Review: 'Coach Carter'