Strong openings for "The Mexican" and "See Spot Run" sent "Hannibal" south of the box office border after three weeks in first place.
DreamWorks' R-rated drama "The Mexican" kicked off to a record-setting estimated $20.3 million at 2,951 theaters ($6,879 per theater). Its powerful box office punch proved audiences cared more about Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts' superstar luster than the film's lackluster reviews.
"The Mexican" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
"For the first week in March, this is the biggest opening ever," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning, noting that it beats the $17.2 million opening for "The Hunt For Red October" when it surfaced on March 2, 1990. "It's one of the bigger March openings. Last year, on March 17, 'Erin Brockovich' did $28.1 million."
"It could be a little better than this (estimate), but there's a storm moving into the Northeast so we dropped the Sunday estimate," Tharp said, noting that this morning some Hollywood handicappers were estimating an even bigger opening weekend. "I don't know what the impact (of the snowstorm) is going to be."
The film's reviews, Tharp commented, "were mixed. There were some good ones and some not so good. But I think it is a credit to the star power of those two, plus James Gandolfini is well known. I think that people who saw the movie liked it. Part of the issue with the critics is that your expectations are one thing when you see a Julia Roberts movie and this is totally different. A little quirky, maybe, for some of the critics."
"Mexican" reportedly was made for only about $40 million, with both of its superstars taking much less than their usual salaries.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, "Mexican" stars Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.
Warner Bros.' G-rated family appeal comedy "See Spot Run" from Village Roadshow Pictures was running hard in second place, opening to a frisky estimated $10.2 million at 2,656 theaters ($3,840 per theater).
An additional draw for family audiences was the fact that Warners advertised that it is showing with "Spot" the first trailer for its much-awaited "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," opening this November.
"'Spot' has run well. He ate 'Hannibal' today," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "The exits are great. It's not an expensive movie. So it's all very, very good news."
Reportedly made for only about $15 million, "Spot" should be profitable in theaters and then have big potential in home video thanks to its family appeal.
Fellman was waiting to receive Saturday's exit poll data, but said it should be in line with Friday's research, which found "it was 96% in the top two boxes (excellent and very good) and the definite recommend was 86%. So it looks great. Word of mouth is terrific. That's why we had such a great Saturday. And we'll have a great Sunday, as well, because the weather's helping us. It's not snowing (on the East Coast yet). It's going to snow tonight. The reactions starting with our sneaks (last Sunday) were great, so it led to a solid opening.
"And we put the 'Harry Potter' trailer on it and advertised it, so it certainly was added value for the family. It just helped brand the movie (as family entertainment) the way we wanted to brand it. Reaction to the trailer was just spectacular, so we're very, very excited about that. That's a monster movie for us and it will be a great franchise for the company."
Directed by John Whitesel, "Run" stars David Arquette.
MGM and Universal's R-rated thriller "Hannibal" fell two pegs to third place in its fourth week with a less mouthwatering estimated $10.05 million (-36%) at 3,272 theaters (-20 theaters; $3,072 per theater). Its cume is approximately $142.8 million, heading for $175 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis and Ridley Scott, "Hannibal" stars Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore.
"We're happy," MGM worldwide distribution president Larry Gleason said Sunday morning.
Gleason pointed out that MGM's next release, the PG-13-rated comedy "Heartbreakers" from David Entertainment is being screened Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. for exhibitors attending the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas and will then receive a double sneak before its March 23 opening. The picture is generating an advance buzz as a potential spring sleeper hit.
"It's going to be the first screening to kick off ShoWest," Gleason said. "Then we have a preview this Saturday night (March 10) at 700 theaters and then we're planning to (sneak it at) 1,000 theaters the following Saturday (March 17)."
Directed by David Mirkin and produced by John Davis and Irving Ong, "Heartbreakers" stars Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee, Jeffrey Jones and Gene Hackman.
Paramount's PG-13-rated comedy "Down to Earth" slid two slots to fourth place in its third week with a still solid estimated $8.0 million (-29%) at 2,521 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,173 per theater). Its cume is approximately $44.1 million.
Directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, "Earth" stars Chris Rock.
Sony Pictures Classics' Oscar-contending, PG-13-rated action adventure "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" held on to fifth place in its 13th week with an energetic estimated $4.93 million (-25%) at 1,751 theaters (+2 theaters; $2,817 per theater). Its cume is approximately $88.7 million.
"Tiger" is nominated for 10 Oscars, including best picture, best foreign language film and best director.
Directed by Ang Lee, "Dragon" stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat.
"I feel that we're still on track to reach that $100 million mark before the Oscars, which would be stupendous," Sony Pictures Classics sales vice president Tom Prassis said Sunday morning.
USA Films' R-rated, Oscar-contending drama "Traffic" held on to sixth place in its 10th week with a still impressive estimated $4.51 million (-13%) at 1,617 theaters (-138 theaters; $2,788 per theater). Its cume is approximately $92.3 million.
"Traffic" is nominated for five Oscars, including best picture and best director.
"It's down 13%, an amazing hold against 'The Mexican,' no less," USA distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning. "And 'Chocolat' and 'Crouching Tiger' had good holds, too. I think it's (the result of) a couple of things. It's that overbearing interest that America has in the Academy Awards. There's no doubt about it. People are already (making a point of seeing the best picture nominees).
"The benefit of this year's lack of competition among the five best picture group is really (helping) 'Crouching Tiger,' 'Chocolat' and us, since 'Gladiator' and 'Erin Brockovich' really aren't out there. So we have more pie (to carve up between the three nominees who are now in wide release).
"The other thing that I think is very beneficial, as well, is when you look at the list (of new films in the marketplace) -- with all due respect to my competition -- most of the films out there are relatively uninteresting. So people are looking for other choices. You're seeing considerable drops in the commercial pictures going on week after week. So the hole in the market has benefited us, as well."
Foley expects continued strong business for "Traffic" as well as for "Chocolat" and "Crouching Tiger" as the Oscars approach. "As you get down to the Academy Awards, with that momentum ever increasing and grabbing the attention of the public, it's free advertising for us that will motivate people to see these films before the (Oscars are announced March 25). So we're just going to grow further.
"This weekend, we should have had a bigger drop because you're g tting closer (to the Oscars). This puts us in perfect position for business. Depending on how the picture sustains itself next week, we could hit $100 million the week of March 16 or the week of March 23. I had different drops (projected) for the picture, different scenarios that were 65% or 75% of the week prior, and it's actually like 25% or 35% drops. So over the last couple of weeks my hundred million mark was actually drifting down into the beginning of April or the week after the Academy Awards. But as the film has sustained these great holds in the marketplace and the drops are so diminished, I'm now looking at hitting $100 million as early as the week of March 16. And remember this -- the sooner you hit $100 million, the more you go over it. There's more gross (to be made)."
With "Traffic" now at about $92.3 million in domestic theaters, its international business to date brings its worldwide cume to about $115 million, Foley said.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, "Traffic" stars Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Miramax's PG-13-rated, Oscar-contending romantic comedy drama "Chocolat" rose one rung to seventh place in its 12th week with a still tempting estimated $4.2 million (-12%) at 1,857 theaters (+13 theaters; $2,261 per theater). Its cume is approximately $45.7 million.
"Chocolat" is nominated for five Oscars, including best picture.
"It's great," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning. "Probably by the time of the Oscars, we'll be close to $60 million, which is ahead of where 'Cider House Rules' ended its run. We haven't dropped more than 15% on any given week.
"People love the movie. It's an audience pleaser. Somebody said (to me last night), 'The thing about 'Chocolat' is that with all these other movies I've been seeing, everyone's dying at the end. With 'Chocolat,' at least, you go, you have fun, you leave with a smile on your face.' They said, it's a movie you can recommend to anybody. And I think that's what it is. It's a movie for everybody. It's entertaining. You have a good time."
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, "Chocolat" stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp.
Buena Vista/Disney's G-rated animated feature "Recess: School's Out" fell four notches to eighth place in its third week with a less lively estimated $3.9 million (-43%) at 2,503 theaters (-127 theaters; $1,570 per theater). Its cume is approximately $27.6 million.
Directed by Chuck Sheetz, "Recess" was produced by Sheetz and Stephen Swofford and executive produced and created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere.
Franchise Pictures' (via its distribution deal with Warner Bros.) R-rated drama "3000 Miles To Graceland" plunged six slots in its second week to ninth place, with a chilly estimated $3.05 million (-57%) at 2,545 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,196 per theater). Its cume is approximately $12.2 million.
Directed by Demian Lichtenstein, "Graceland" stars Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner.
Warner Bros. has no financial investment in "Graceland," which it is releasing for Franchise for a distribution fee.
Rounding out the Top Ten this week was Warner Bros. and Bel-Air Entertainment's PG-13-rated romantic drama "Sweet November," down three slots in its third week with a quiet estimated $2.46 million (-52%) at 2,037 theaters (-231 theaters; $1,205 per theater). Its cume is approximately $21.6 million.
Directed by Pat O'Connor, "November" stars Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron.
OTHER OPENINGS Universal Focus' opening of its R-rated thriller "The Caveman's Valentine" arrived to a calm estimated $0.12 million at 16 theaters ($7,745 per theater).
Directed by Kasi Lemmons, "Valentine" stars Samuel L. Jackson.
USA Films' R-rated reality TV satire "Series 7" kicked off to a very encouraging estimated $30,000 at two theaters ($15,094 per theater).
Written and directed by Daniel Minahan, "Series" stars Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald, Mary Louise Burke, Richard Venture, Michael Kaycheck and Merrit Wever.
SNEAK PREVIEWS There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, this weekend saw
Sony Pictures Classics go wider with its R-rated drama "Pollock," grossing in its fourth week an encouraging estimated $0.75 million at 104 theaters (+72 theaters; $7,234 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.8 million.
"Pollock" received Oscar nominations for best actor (Ed Harris) and best supporting actress (Marcia Gay Harden).
Directed by Ed Harris, "Pollock" stars Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden.
"We're very pleased with that," Sony Pictures Classics sales vice president Tom Prassis said Sunday morning, adding that next week the film will add "substantially more" runs.
USA Films' PG-rated drama "In the Mood For Love" continued to expand in its fifth week with a still encouraging estimated $0.29 million at 64 theaters (+14 theaters; $4,495 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.3 million.
Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai, "Love" stars Tony Leung and Maggie Chung.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $83.79 million, up about 9.53% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $76.5 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up a marginal 0.05% from last weekend this year when key films did $83.75 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' third week of "The Whole Nine Yards" was first with $7.17 million at 2,793 theaters ($2,569 per theater); and Paramount's opening week of "The Next Best Thing" was second with $5.87 million at 2,007 theaters ($2,925 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $13.1 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $30.5 million.