'Epic,' 'Aces' Smoke Oscar
Two lowbrow pictures, Epic Movie and Smokin' Aces, topped the weekend box office, overshadowing the highfalutin ones nominated for Academy Awards. Overall business dipped six percent from the same frame last year when Big Momma's House 2 dominated.

Epic Movie, 20th Century Fox's scatological imitation of scenes from random recent movies, bagged a decent $18.6 million at 2,801 theaters. The opening had the same scope as its predecessor Date Movie, which quickly fizzled and ended up with $48.5 million. In its marketing, Epic Movie's main target was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and it also referenced Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Pirates of the Caribbean, Superman Returns and Snakes on a Plane among others.

Relatively more successful was Smokin' Aces, which opened above the norm of its sub-genre. Universal Pictures' $17 million action crime picture loaded $14.6 million at 2,218 locations, exceeding such recent crime titles as Crank, Lucky Number Slevin and Domino. The advertising conveyed a simple premise—motley hit men vying to take out a sleazy mob snitch—and promised a relentless action rush, something the market lacked. Universal's exit polling indicated that 59 percent of the audience was male and 57 percent was over 25 years old.

The newly Oscar-nominated movies saw modest increases for the most part, despite significant expansions. The Best Picture nominee that was the biggest audience favorite prior to the nominations, though, was also the one to benefit the most after the nominations. The Departed re-launched at 1,453 venues and scored $3.4 million for $125.2 million in 115 days.

The Oscar effect is generally overrated and is more supplementary than make-or-break for a picture. If the movie itself is unappealing, awards alone aren't going to turn it around. That's why both Babel and Letters from Iwo Jima remained unpopular.

Failing to garner a Best Picture nomination, Dreamgirls decreased 16 percent to $6.7 million, despite another major expansion. The drop was reminiscent of Cold Mountain three years ago. That picture was fairly popular at the box office and a purported shoo-in like Dreamgirls, but settled for a number of lesser nominations instead and fell 19 percent. Dreamgirls can take consolation in a likely $100 million plus gross when it closes, something the Best Picture nominees other than Departed will never achieve.

Meanwhile, Night at the Museum, which wasn't nominated for any Oscars, eased 20 percent to $9.6 million for $216.8 million in 38 days and is on track to become the third-highest grossing picture from 2006 at least.

Also opening, Catch and Release snared $7.7 million at 1,622 locations. The $25 million romantic comedy-drama debuted in the vicinity of such similar pictures as A Lot Like Love and Jersey Girl. Distributor Sony reported that 75 percent of moviegoers were female and 58 percent were over 25.

The weekend's other new wide release, MGM-distributed Blood and Chocolate, flopped with a scant $2.1 million at 1,200 sites. The marketing presented the werewolf romance as a serious An American Werewolf in Paris, topped off with the howler in the title, the incongruous and unexplained "Chocolate."


• Review - Catch and Release

2/6/06 - 'Stranger' Dialed Up, Oscar Noms Flounder

• 1/30/06 - 'Big Momma' Jams (Same Weekend, 2006)

• 1/31/05 - 'Hide and Seek' Comes Out on Top (Same Weekend, 2005)

• 1/31/05 - 'Aviator,' 'Baby' Get Best Picture Boost


Weekend Box Office Results

• Oscar: Full List of Nominees and Grosses

• Spoofs

• Hit Men Movies

• Werewolf Movies

NOTE: This report was originally written on Sunday, Jan. 28 and was revised on Monday, Jan. 29 with actual grosses.