'Sahara' an Oasis in Box Office Desert
It's fitting that in an arid market the top movie would be called Sahara. At $87 million, overall weekend business was the weakest of the year and lower than any frame last April.

Sahara, a $130 million adventure based on the Clive Cussler novel of the same name, excavated $18.1 million from around 4,000 screens at 3,154 theaters, dusting fears of the next The Flight of the Phoenix but still out of National Treasure's league. The opening was comparable to the $18.8 million of last spring's similarly desert-set Hidalgo, which finished its run at $67.3 million. Distributor Paramount's exit polling indicated that Sahara's audience was 64 percent over 25 years old and 51 percent male.

Paramount's head of distribution Wayne Lewellen credited the extensive promotion by star Matthew McConaughey and cast for Sahara's debut. "The picture played particularly well in the middle of the country, and that reflected the touring that McConaughey did," Lewellen told Box Office Mojo. "This turned out to be a good weekend as far as competition is concerned. We figured Fever Pitch would play younger."

The Sahara trailer seemed inspired by National Treasure, especially with its set up involving the hunt for historically-linked treasure, and Sahara benefited from being the first adventure since that recent, crowd-pleasing Jerry Bruckheimer-produced picture. Though a consistently popular genre from Paramount's Raiders of the Lost Ark to Tomb Raider, it still surprises with successes like Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure and is often good for mid-range returns—examples including Shanghai Knights, The Time Machine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and likely Sahara.

For the Anschutz Film Group, which made Sahara through its Bristol Bay brand, the movie is a step up from their previous, costly stab at adventure, Around the World in 80 Days, which, produced for $110 million under the WaldenMedia label, grossed $65 million in its entire worldwide run. Sahara also marks the fourth successful launch in a row for Paramount, a hired gun in this instance, after The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events and Coach Carter. The studio's next picture will be the Adam Sandler football comedy The Longest Yard, which Lewellen hopes to release at close to 4,000 theaters on May 27.

Not many were hot for Fever Pitch, which loaded $12.4 million at 3,267 bases. The romantic comedy featuring Drew Barrymore dealing with a Boston Red Sox-obsessed Jimmy Fallon cost $30 million to make and, according to distributor 20th Century Fox's exit polling, played mostly female (58 percent) and to people under 25 (55 percent).

Barrymore previously found romantic comedy success with Saturday Night Live alumnus Sandler in The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, but chemistry was lacking with former SNL player Fallon, whose persona on the show was like a cross between Sandler and Mike Myers—in part, because the marketing emphasized what was keeping the characters apart (Red Sox) without establishing a connection between them in the first place.

Baseball-themed pictures generally don't open strongly—the biggest debut still is The Rookie's $16.0 million from 2002. Fever Pitch was also less unique than Sahara in a market rife with female-appealing comedies like Beauty Shop, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous and Guess Who.

Sin City sank 51 percent to $14.2 million, a drop comparable to the second weekend of last April's Hellboy but stronger than Kill Bill Vol. 2. Director Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's $40 million comic book adaptation has collected $50.8 million in 10 days.

On its 38th day of release, The Pacifier became the third picture of the year to cross the century mark after Hitch and Robots. For the weekend, the Vin Diesel comedy packed $3.1 million, down 46 percent, bringing its total to $100.6 million.

In limited release, the aggressively promoted Kung Fu Hustle rang up a promising $269,225 at seven locations, averaging $38,460 per site. Distributor Sony Pictures Classics will roll out the action comedy from Shaolin Soccer's Stephen Chow to over 2,000 theaters on April 22. Prior to its American launch, the picture grabbed over $66 million in Asia.


Weekend Box Office Chart

• Review: 'Sahara'

• Review: 'The Pacifier'

• Review: 'Hidalgo'

11/22/04 - 'National Treasure,' 'SpongeBob' Clean Up

12/6/04 - 'Natonal Treasure,' 'Polar Express' Measure Up

5/18/03 - 'Atlas Shrugged:' Who is James Hart?

NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, April 10 and was updated on Monday, April 11 with actual grosses.