Director Ron Howard's $88 million Depression-era drama starring Russell Crowe as boxer James J. Braddock got off to a wobbly start, delivering $18.3 million at 2,812 venues in fourth place. Based on industry expectations, the opening bout was as disappointing as The Terminal, last June's major adult-appealing picture from director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks that debuted to $19.1 million en route to $77.9 million.
"I have to say we were hoping it would be much better," Universal's head of distribution, Nikki Rocco, told Box Office Mojo. "But, with overall business down 30 percent from last year [for this weekend], we still feel that based on the exits, Cinderella Man will be around for a long time and perform to our expectations."
According to Universal's exit polling, 67 percent of moviegoers were over 35 years old and 53 percent were female, while 98 percent rated the picture "excellent" or "very good." The findings of opening night pollster CinemaScore corroborate this—Cinderella Man garnered an A+ from all demographic quadrants.
Cinderella Man was positioned as the next Seabiscuit, another Depression sports drama that Universal released in July 2003. Based on the best-selling non-fiction book, the horse-racing saga made $20.9 million out of the gate at 1,989 theaters on its way to $120.3 million. Cinderella Man's marketing tried to capture the same heartfelt and nostalgic spirit, right down to its slogan: "When a country was on its knees, he brought America to its feet," compared to Seabiscuit's "The hopes of a nation rode on a long shot."
Advertising for Cinderella Man, however, was short on the visceral thrill of its sport, which Seabiscuit did convey, and it lacked moments of humor or other excitement. Instead, the trailer pounded viewers with how the downtrodden nation was pinning its hopes on the underdog Braddock, making the picture look ponderous. It was rooting for itself so much that it didn't need an audience.
Before there's a requiem for a heavyweight, period sports pictures are not prone to spectacular openings, often hanging in there to find an audience down the road. The genre's only bows bigger than Cinderella Man's were for Remember the Titans, Seabiscuit, Friday Night Lights and Miracle.
If anyone could have opened a picture like this, Russell Crowe seemed like the man—his biggest hits being period dramas. Crowds cheered him on as he defied an empire in Gladiator, and he helped steer Master and Commander and his previous collaboration with Mr. Howard, A Beautiful Mind, to numbers far beyond the norm for their subject matters. In studio polling, more than two thirds of moviegoers named Mr. Crowe as the top reason they saw Cinderella Man, followed by its former child star director.
With $28.1 million, Madagascar became the king of the box office jungle in its second weekend. Down 40 percent, DreamWorks' computer-animated feature has earned $100.4 million in 10 days, and it could finish in the range of Ice Age though well below past May releases Shrek and Finding Nemo. The genre tends to hold better than other blockbusters, which is why Madagascar overcame The Longest Yard and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.
As the only broad comedy playing, The Longest Yard fell 45 percent to $26.1 million and has tackled $95.8 million in ten days. The football remake is in line to be star Adam Sandler's highest grossing picture since Big Daddy in 1999.
Revenge of the Sith was overthrown in rank, but conquered another record. George Lucas' digital epic declined 55 percent to $25.1 million, holding slightly better than predecessor Attack of the Clones did at the same point. On its 17th day of release, Sith became the fastest movie ever to cross the $300 million mark, and, with $307.9 million in 18 days, it stands as the 19th highest grossing picture of all time—to pass both Return of the Jedi and Clones by no later than its 20th day.
Warner Bros.' The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was a good fit for girls, but didn't bust the seams of its niche. Based on the popular novel of the same name by Ann Brashares, the coming-of-age tale collected $9.8 million at 2,583 locations for $13.6 million since its Wednesday debut.
Skateboarding took a backseat to boxing and football as Lords of Dogtown wiped out. Based on the Venice, California surfers that altered skateboarding in the 1970's, the adaptation of the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys bagged $5.6 million at 1,865 sites. Distributor Sony's exit polling indicated that 67 percent of the audience was under 21 years old, 54 percent was male, and 82 percent rated the picture "excellent" or "very good." Movies about skateboarding and similar activities frequently disappoint at the box office, from Gleaming the Cube to Grind.
With no new event pictures in the market, Madagascar was tops more by default than anything else. The first weekend of June last year saw the $93.3 million debut of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, leading to this weekend's $131 million of overall business being down 30 percent by comparison.
• Review: 'Cinderella Man'
• Review: 'The Terminal'
• Review: 'Seabiscuit'
• Review: 'Apollo 13'
• Feature: Measuring the Apollo Missions
• Genre: Period Sports
• Genre: Boxing
• Weekend Box Office Chart
NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, June 5 and was updated on Monday, June 6 with actual grosses.