Weekend: 26th - 29th January
While the media and movie analysts have been busying themselves with anything and everything awards, the box office took a vastly different slant over the weekend as audiences who've packed arthouse theatres and other mainstream Oscar fare were outnumbered by patronage for Big Momma's House 2. If it hadn't done so sufficiently beforehand, the Fox sequel cemented and re-justified its reasons for existence launching with power on top of the charts. Collecting $1.99m, the Martin Lawrence sequel to the surprise 2000 hit scored a house-sized Average of $10,496 from its mid-sized 190 screens. Including some pre-weekend sneaks, Big Momma's House 2's total stands at $2.16m.
The opening came in just a few dollars under last weekend's newbie Underworld: Evolution, ranking as the 25th largest opener for the month of January, one slot behind that film. As the fourth-best for The Year so far, its $1.99m opening left it $5,731 - or half a screen - short of the $2m club. The opening comes in a handy 27% better* than the $1.57m that Big Momma's House managed in September of 2000. Although that flick opened in second place, the film held on so well that it reached the number one position in its third weekend with a $1.03m haul, jumping 6% and eventually topped out with $7.98m. The opening is a notch higher than the $1.81m that Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo managed in September last year and is just under the $2.02m that Fox flick Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde made in 2003. Those features ended up with respective totals of $5.44m and $6.27m. Will Momma's House 2 drop quick or will it hold as well enough to reach the first films total?
Compared to the U.S. pace, Big Momma's House 2's opening weekend comes in 28% down on the great U.S. launch and at the end of the weekend stands 22% behind, thanks to those sneaks. That opening margin is somewhat kinder* than the 39% smaller* bow that Big Momma's House opened with in 2000. Holding power was a little better locally - although it was still great in the U.S. too - finishing up 32% behind*. The opening a league better than the 65% smaller* opening of the Murphy fat-suit-sequel Nutty 2: The Klumps, which ended 55% behind*. Compared to my opening-weekend forecast, Big Momma's House 2's $1.99m launch came in only 65% accurate to my $1.3m prediction.
Not too far behind in its second-position launch was the Steven Spielberg-directed film which draws its inspiration from the Mossad-sanctioned assassinations that followed the 1972 Olympic massacre of 11 Israeli athletes, Munich. Starring Eric Bana, the film opened with $1.78m in position, a fair opening considering the breadth of current competition and that it hadn't achieved dynamite figures in the U.S., but nor had Geisha before its local opening. Opening on 211 Screens - the highest of the new openers - Munich averaged $8,479, just under the second weekend average of that aforementioned Japanese-themed flick. Counting in pre-weekend screenings, Munich has $1.80m in the vault.
The opening for Munich comes in slightly under, although virtually on par with fellow January openers Chicago, Cold Mountain and February flick The Aviator, each of which bowed to figures of around $1.85m. They closed with finals of $19.0m, $7.43m and $8.64m. It's clear from this early perspective that Munich won't be crossing $10m in Australia let alone going on to track next to the likes of the Zeta-Jones winner. The Aviator won five awards, mostly technical but gave a nod to Blanchett, which may have given it second wind, while Mountain's slim take of one supporting actress award meant a quicker decline. While it may be a bit rich to suggest that their final box office totals had only to do with how many awards each film won, it does play a tangible part.
The debut for Munich ranks as director Spielberg's ninth-best opening in Australia, a couple of notches above his 2001 yawner A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. That film, together with 2004's The Terminal ($1.27m opening) are his two recent efforts which failed to reach $5m in Australia. For actor Eric Bana, Munich is his fourth-best opening in front of the $1.26m of his local offering Chopper which ended with $5.79m. Almost debuting on par with the $1.92m final of the disposable local entry The Nugget, Bana's only other film not to cross $10m here is 2003's The Hulk, which made $9.65m.
Compared to the U.S. pace, Munich's Australian opening comes in 136% better* here, with that comparison based on the first local weekend and the third in the U.S. - the first wide weekend. At the close of the weekend, Munich is tracking 29% behind*. It's always a juggling act to balance the comparison* of a film when the release pattern is so very different between countries, although differences become less pronounced after a few weeks. Ultimately however, it's the comparison at close of play that reflects any real strength for these films which suffer such a skewed release. Compared to my opening-weekend forecast, Munich's $1.78m launch came in 96% accurate to my $1.7m prediction.
Last weekend's champion Memoirs of a Geisha held its own in weekend two. Despite two new Oscar contenders entering the market and the film itself missing out an any major awards categories, the Rob Marshall-helmed picture was off a decent 39% in its second frame. The Roadshow picture collected $1.66m through the weekend and has upped its 2006 total to $5.78m, vaulting ahead of The Producers and The Family Stone.
Still averaging quite well in its second weekend with $8,498, Memoirs of a Geisha is now tracking 5% down on 2002's Minority Report after having opened with a dollar-for-dollar amount last weekend. There's not too many films that have opened above $2.5m and not made it to $10m in Australia. Along Came Polly was one of them. After two weeks, Geisha is tracking 12% ahead after opening 9% ahead, a small but encouraging level of growth which suggests a final above the Stiller-Aniston fuelled $9.1m final. That would put it ahead of Finding Neverland's $8.0m with an eye for Cocolate's $10.06m. Compared to the U.S. pace, Memoirs of a Geisha is now tracking a smidge down at 105% ahead*, reduced from last weekend's 187% lead.
For all the praise lavished upon Big Momma's House 2 for its fine opening and the decent returns that Munich managed, it was Brokeback Mountain that opened over the weekend to near record numbers. Launching in fourth position, such a ranking wouldn't normally be something to broadcast, but collecting $1.57m from just 48 screens, Brokeback Mountain's debut was one of the all-time finest that this country has seen. The Roadshow film, given a limited release in select cinemas around the country, drew a downright amazing per-theatre Average of $32,976, which, when you exclude IMAX, the Warren Miller films and those opening on more than a single-figure count of screens, is the second-best on record. That might seem like a few conditions set in which to favour Brokeback Mountain's average, so let's look as this in more detail.
Back in 1991, New Vision's Hardware collected $178,466 from a single screen, unarguably the best opening average of all time in Australia. In 1983, Gandhi opened on 3 screens to a $34,041 average, while outside of IMAX and the Miller films, the all-time second-best average stands with the 1987 film The Last Emperor, which opened on 2 screens to a $47,116 average. The Warren Miller films have scored Averages throughout those marks, always opening on a travelling screen for numbers ranging from $56k to $130k on their single screen debuts - damn fine draws in their own right and which deserve their commendations. However, all of these openings can be agreed are very limited, having opened on just three screens or less. Next down is the blockbuster The Two Towers, which by rights holds the best wide-release average of all-time, with $33,384. Brokeback Mountain can be argued did not see a wide release, but it did open on more than just a single figure count. Given that, Brokeback Mountain's average of $32,796 gives it a fairly strong claim to the second-best opening-average of all-time in Australia, albeit with an asterisk or two.
Starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, the story in which two cowboys find a love with each that lasts for years after their first fateful summer herding sheep, positioned itself at number 45 on the January openers chart, similar to the $1.61m of last year's Closer. Indeed, count in the sneaks that Brokeback Mountain had and it current stands at $1.61m itself. That film closed to $5.91m, something that this year's awards leader will easily trounce, but where is it headed? Can it reach the heights of previous Oscar-winning films like Chicago and American Beauty, each of which finished next door to $19m? Or will it earn a more subdued Shakespeare in Love or Traffic-like $12m? At this stage, given its unorthodox release in which its screen count was artificially and purposely distorted from the obvious wide-release that interest in the film demanded, it's very difficult to gauge. While it seems a certain contender for $10m based on its cracking average, it could very well have satisfied a large portion of its market in the locations that it did open in.
Compared to the U.S. pace, Brokeback Mountain's opening weekend frame comes in 175% ahead*. This compares the first weekend frame in Australia against the fifth weekend in the U.S. when it expanded to 483 screens. With five weeks of solid limited release in the U.S. kitty, Australia is tracking 28% behind*, although expect that to change. When Brokeback Mountain bowed in the U.S. it collected a sweet $US109,485 from its 5 screens, a record average. Expanding up to 69 screens the weekend after saw it net a still-hot $36,354, not all that dissimilar to the local opening average. Compared to my opening-weekend forecast, Brokeback Mountain's launch of $1.57m was too good for my $1m prediction, which ended up only 64% accurate.
Still earning solid figures through weekend three was the family flick Nanny McPhee (I've been waiting for the opportunity to write that). The Emma Thompson-starring flick was down only 36% through the frame for a $1.03m haul. That brings the mid-January opener up to $7.08m in Australia and the third-best earner of the The Year so far.
The very respectable total for the UIP/Universal release is now tracking 18% ahead of last year's surprise January hit Racing Stripes, which finished with $8.65m. The zebra flick earned only another $1.1m all up after Jan 30th, when it tumbled 59%, but with Nanny McPhee a younger film by a week, perhaps it can add another $1.5m or even $2m. It'll probably fall to fast to reach $10m now that its target market are at school. Nanny McPhee opened in the U.S. last weekend. Although the $1.75m local launch still came in 21% ahead* in Australia.
- Elsewhere in the charts, Underworld: Evolution fell by an expected 50% to $1.01m. That right on track with the 51% second-weekend fall of the original which made $0.92 through this same weekend two years ago. Evolution's current $3.86m total stands 8% ahead of the 2003 Underworld. Compared to the U.S. pace, it's now tracking 13% down* after an 11% weaker* second weekend. Underworld was a better 4% down* after its second weekend.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is still clawing its way towards 2005 honours, collected $0.97m for the frame for a $33.53m total. But with school back in, does it have enough magic left to pass Sith's $35.45 and Potter's $35.27 - a total which will pass Sith any day now to rank as 2005's new top dog. Compared to the U.S. pace, Narnia is now tracking 35% ahead*, down from 46%. Margins will continue to erode too, as the film sinks quicker locally.
- Keeping Mum opened with $0.96m in eighth position. The Maggie Smith and Rowan Atkinson film opened on 190 screens for a fair $5,063 average, not great but ok. The Icon release stands a good chance at respectable holding power too.
- Chicken Little lost 49% of its audience through the weekend for an $0.56m weekend. The BVI flick has earned quite well through January, with $12.89 earned. Does it have enough speed left to blag its way past the $13.8 and $13.7m of Robots and Dinosaur? After five weeks Chicken Little stands 4% ahead* of the U.S. pace, up from a 1% smaller total last weekend.
- See weekend coming for Walk The Line's figures and opening forecast.
Weekend Coming: 2nd - 5th February 2006
After a handsome start for a couple of awards contenders last weekend, we've another two out vying for pre-announcement and ceremony coin, with last weekend's preview success Walk The Line easily pegged as the popular choice. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, Walk The Line is a biographical drama of country music star Johnny Cash. Directed by James Mangold (Identity, Girl, Interrupted), Walk The Line's story follows Cash's rise to fame, supported by his head-strong better half June Carter, to the ranks of the recording elite. With a career that lasted almost 50 years, the movie focuses on his early days in the 50's and 60's.
Released in the U.S. in mid-November, Walk The Line is proven to be one of the more solid of the awards contenders, passing the $US100m mark two weeks. Opening with $US22.3m, the film is now at $US106m after 11 weeks since enjoying an awards-fuelled uptick in theatres and receipts. Produced for a lowly $US28m, the Fox flick stands a very tidy earner for the studio. After opening on par with last year's Ladder 49, Walk The Line has held very well and counts as his fifth $US100m film. It'll stands to pass the $US114.1m of Phoenix's The Village in a week or two and will finish somewhere behind the $US187.7m of Gladiator on the $US228m of Signs. After opening a touch stronger than the $US20.4m and $US22.2m of her Legally Blonde films, Walk The Line has done for Witherspoon what they couldn't, becoming her second $US100m film and rejuvenating her resume after a soft showing from Just Like Heaven, which opened to $US16.4m and raised $US48.3m. Walk The Line even looks to be a chance to pass the $US127.2m that she netted in 2002 through Sweet Home Alabama.
Previewing last weekend to a great $0.51m, Walk The Line is searching for a good opening this weekend, with a great shot at number one. Competition is strong though. Last weekend's new one-and-two should see declines and free up the ranks, but Brokeback Mountain retaining some degree of its devastating theatre average would threaten the top spot if it were granted a decent expansion. For Phoenix, his last film Ladder 49 opened with $1.66m, 26% down*, and collected $6.02m here, or 19% down* on the final U.S. pace. Can Walk The Line become both Phoenix and Witherspoon's fourth $2m plus opener in Australia and their third $10m film? There's just been so many Oscar contenders of previous years that have bowed through January and February between $1.5m and $1.9m that suggesting that Walk The Line will do anything in excess of that mark seems silly. Indeed, that was that same logic used in assuming that Geisha would be stuck below a $2m launch too. I can't see it having that much more pull than Munich had this last weekend, with Walk The Line due to play a crowd worth $1.7m this opening weekend.
Also opening this weekend, although with a reduced chance of the welcomed financial rewards that January has been offering so far is the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress contender North Country. Starring Charlize Theron and Frances McDormond - who will both also be seen in this March's Aeon Flux - North Country was directed by New Zealander Niko Caro, who also helmed Whale Rider. The story is based on the landmark 1984 Jenson vs. Eleventh Mines sexual harassment lawsuit, in which a female employee of a mining company who suffered lengthy abuse, took them to court and won her case for fairer conditions. Adapted from the Clara Bingham book by Michael Seitman, North Country's characters are a fictional version of those detailed in the book.
Distributed by Warner Bros. in the U.S., North Country opened in the U.S. over three months ago, in late October with a very soft $US6.4m. The relatively cheap $US35m production failed to cause any real stir in the mainstream audience, suffering some high declines and slashing its theatre count to next to none by weekend five. Having argued for $US18.4m in 12 weeks, only an awards win for Theron would give it a chance to pass $US20m. The gross doesn't even match the horrid $US25.8m that her sci-fi dud Aoen Flux self-detonated with and is just under half the $US34.4m of her 2003 awards winner Monster. North Country has now produced a similar gross to the Oscar no-show The Producers, which is near death at $US18.9m.
North Country arrives this weekend in Australia as the clear shadow to a host of other possible awards winners. Back in 2004, the buzz-worthy Monster opened to $487k from a slim 45 screens. The Icon release ended up with $3.00m in Australia, down* 13% on the serial killer story's U.S. pace. North Country is arguably a less U.S.-focused film than Monster was, given its society-neutral topic of sexual discrimination, with both follow a history-setting subject. Can North Country do better than Monster managed? Is there a reason for Warner Bros. to give North Country a limited release? North Country is going wide in Australia and will be trying to up the anti in Australia as The Producers managed. That flick opened to $1.34m in Australia and has $3.84m in three weeks. In favourable conditions, North Country could successfully negotiate $0.7m this weekend.
Also opening is the horror dud The Fog. This is an interesting release, with the horror genre having suffered some of the worst local-distributor dumps of last year. U.S. number one hit Boogeyman was barely given a screen count, while other U.S. underperformers were given similar treatment. If there's a horror film that matches that latter description, then it'd be The Fog. Starring Tom Welling and former 'Lost' cast member Maggie Grace, The Fog is a remake of the 1980 John Carpenter original. Directed by Rupert Wainwright, (Stigmata), The Fog takes place in a sleepy sea-side town, where a deep fog - containing various badness - rolls in and causes havoc for the town's residents.
The Fog opened in the U.S. in October to a mild $US11.8m. The Sony film was a soft opener given the strength that other horror and suspense films had shown throughout 2005. Produced for $US18m, the film died quickly and has closed shop with $US29.5m. The final tally was similar to the $US25.5m of July's Dark Water, the $US32.1m of May's fellow remake The House of Wax and the $32.6m of 2003's Darkness Falls.
The chances of the film doing anything approaching good are next to none. Welling and Grace both have only limited TV appeal and can'r be considered draws in any way. Looking at those films that earned a similar amount in the U.S., last year's Dark Water opened to just $223k, whilst The House of Wax bowed with $0.77m. They each closed with vastly different final totals of $463k and $1.96m in Australia. Somewhere in the middle, and probably where The Fog will be aiming to bow is the $424k opening and $1.01m final of 2003's Darkness Falls. The Fog is looking for $0.5m this weekend.
* Based on a US index of 10/1 with currency, ticket prices, population and cinema visits per head.
^ Based on a UK index of 2.1/1 with currency, ticket prices, population and cinema visits per head.
The Top 20 Films
Written By Paul Boschen
© 1997-Present MovieMarshal