Though not quite a phenomenon, the $52 million-grossing Underworld built a sufficient fanbase on home video and cable to beget a bigger sequel theatrically. Understanding that the franchise is more action and fantasy than it is horror, Underworld: Evolution's marketing promised more of what people remember from its predecessor and focused almost entirely on Kate Beckinsale's action vampire heroine. Sony's exit polling indicated that 55 percent of Evolution's audience was male, and 54 percent was under 25 years old.
Underworld: Evolution's bump-up in opening weekend was comparable to the Resident Evil movies, another action horror series released by Screen Gems and with similar nomenclature for the sequel. Resident Evil grabbed $17.7 million out of the gate, while Resident Evil: Apocalypse nabbed $23 million and ultimately out-grossed its predecessor by 28 percent.
With Underworld: Evolution's opening and solid holds for other pictures, overall business was up 23 percent from the same frame last year, when Are We There Yet? was No. 1.
Also debuting, End of the Spear, pierced 1,163 theaters and reaped a modest $4.3 million. The $10 million Christian adventure drama based on the true story of five missionaries murdered by an Ecuadorian tribe was distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures—the independent company formerly known as RS Entertainment, which last released Luther in 2003—on a prints and advertising budget of $12 million.
"The opening's about where we thought it would be," said Rocky Mountain principal Ron Rogers. "We were looking for $7 to $8 million for the first week, but I think the producer had expectations of $10 to $20 million. We had some really high numbers and some really low numbers, so we'll move prints around." Rogers pointed out that End of the Spear was strongest in the Midwest and the South, but soft in the Northeast and the inner cities, and the plan is to slowly roll the picture into unreached parts of the country over the next six months.
Rogers noted that a grass roots campaign was employed to get the word out on End of the Spear, including 30,000 DVDs sent to Christian groups and over 300 screenings since June. "We were everywhere screening this picture," Rogers said. "For the Christian core audience, it's as moving as The Passion of the Christ was."
Another picture about making contact with natives, The New World, did less business than End of the Spear, despite being a prestige project from New Line Cinema. Landing at 811 sites after a two-week Academy Awards-qualifying run last year, The New World captured a barren $4 million, despite director Terence Malick reportedly sheering about 15 minutes from the movie's original 150 minute runtime. The exploration sub-genre is often ignored in theaters, and The New World's opening was comparable to the Christopher Columbus pictures of 1992.
Holdovers experienced better-than-expected drops, including second-weekend titles Glory Road, Last Holiday and especially Hoodwinked. The Weinstein Company's fractured fairy tale eased 16 percent to $10.4 million after adding 608 theaters for a total of 3,002.
Capitalizing on increased exposure from the Golden Globe awards, Brokeback Mountain galloped into 1,196 venues, up 513 from last weekend, and saw business grow 28 percent to $7.4 million. The cowboy love story was No. 1 from Tuesday to Thursday, and it had its highest weekend rank yet at No. 5. With $41.7 million in the till, key Oscar nominations and further expansions could propel the picture past $100 million.
Another major Oscar contender, Walk the Line, crossed the $100 million mark on Saturday, its 65th day of release. Also enjoying Golden Globe coverage and a subsequent expansion, the Johnny Cash biographical drama spiked 73 percent over the weekend to $3.1 million at 1,125 theaters.
Together, Brokeback Mountain and Walk the Line had among the biggest post-Golden Globes jumps on record. Historically, the Globes effect is negligible, with business frequently dropping after best picture wins, and both movies' up-ticks were just as likely caused by increased advertising, expansions and the general scuttlebutt.
• 1/18/06 - Close-Up: Selling 'Brokeback Mountain'
• 1/24/05 - 'Are We There Yet?' Rolls in at No. 1
• Review: Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
• All Time - Top January Openings
• Gay & Lesbian Movies
• Christian Movies
• Weekend Box Office Results
NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, Jan. 22 and was revised on Monday, Jan. 23 with actual grosses.