In this film based on the Newbery Award-winning children's book by Kate DiCamillo Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) is a lonely 10-year-old girl who has moved to a sluggish small town in Florida with her preacher father (Jeff Daniels). She has a tough time getting through to her dad: when he is not preaching the gospel he walks around in a haze haunted by the departure of Opal's mother many years before. But when Opal adopts Winn-Dixie named after the supermarket where she found the mutt things start to brighten up for the little girl. With her special companion by her side Opal ends up meeting some pretty interesting people in the town. They include Miss Franny (Eva Marie Saint) the local spinster librarian who spins great stories; Otis (Dave Matthews) the shy drifter working at Gertrude's Pet Shop; and Gloria (Cicely Tyson) an old blind lady living with ghosts from her past. Through Opal's sunny disposition and Winn-Dixie doggone tenaciousness they help the town find their joy and their sorrow. And at the same time they mend Opal's troubled relationship with her father. Collectively now awwww!
All the players fit snugly in this warmhearted movie especially the talented young Robb who makes her feature film debut in Winn-Dixie. It's imperative to cast an adorable child and Robb doesn't disappoint keeping things genuinely fresh with the big eyes infectious smile and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm charm. Daniels too doesn't overplay it as the wounded preacher--aptly described by Opal as a turtle--who rarely sticks his head out of his shell. Veterans Eva Marie Saint and Cicely Tyson do what they can with their stereotypical parts as the kindly spinster storyteller and kindly old wise woman respectively. But it's singer-turned-actor Dave Matthews who stands out as the drifter with a troubled past but can "sing most anything " even charming the animals in the pet shop á la the Pied Piper. His poignant performance is up there in the sentiment department.
Here we go with the children and the animals again. Wayne Wang (Maid in Manhattan The Joy Luck Club) is the latest director to take a stab at guiding those most unpredictable of actors. As he explains "Sometimes the going is slow. But then suddenly something magical happens that you couldn't possibly have planned or anticipated." It's true. There are definite moments of inspired sweetness especially between Opal and Winn-Dixie played by a Picardy Shepherd a rare breed of dog from France that has the look of a big old lovable mutt. And of course you can't go too wrong using heart-tugging material based on a beloved children's novel on par with Where the Red Fern Grows and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. That's also Because of Winn-Dixie main problem. Fans of the book will certainly love the film but overall it doesn't really offer anything new in this genre. It's the same general premise about the kid and a dog--or a horse a deer whichever animal works best--who can change the lives of those around them just from being pure of heart. Maybe it's the curmudgeon in me but Winn-Dixie just doesn't stand out among the plethora of films similar to it.
Horror was the word this weekend, both on screen and off as Hollywood suffered yet another under-performing weekend.
Columbia's R-rated horror sequel "Urban Legends: Final Cut" from Phoenix Pictures took the biggest slice of box office pie, placing first with an energetic estimated $8.8 million at 2,539 theaters ($3,466 per theater).
Insiders had anticipated a double-digit launch by "Urban." It was the third consecutive weekend in which the film placing first did not gross $10 million or more.
"The original opened to $10.5 million and went on to do $38 million. We certainly hope we can get to the $25-30 range, which would make it very profitable for us. It's a $14.6 million production cost, so we make money for sure," Sony Pictures Releasing president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
Asked about pre-weekend industry talk that "Urban" would open to over $10 million, Blake replied, "Our hoped-for figure was $10 million. I thought it would be very difficult to do any more than that, but we would have liked to have done $10 million. Look, I think 'Exorcist' didn't help our cause any, but the (core audience) for our picture is really 17-25, people who weren't born when 'The Exorcist' came out.
"I think, in a way, at least having three movies doing reasonably well invigorated the market a little bit. It was up about 15 percent from last week. We came pretty close to what we should have hoped for and, as I say, it's never bad to be Number One."
Directed by John Ottman, "Urban" stars Jennifer Morrison.
Warner Bros.' reissue of its R-rated 1973 horror classic "The Exorcist" enjoyed a livelier return than insiders had expected, taking second place with a head-spinning estimated $8.53 million at 664 theaters ($12,839 per theater). Its cume (including about $256,000 from 10 test runs that began last March 17) is approximately $8.8 million. One of those test runs in Austin, Texas, is still playing and is in its 17th week now.
Directed by William Friedkin, "Exorcist" stars Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair and Max von Sydow.
"This movie is 27 years old. It's done about $150 million to date," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning, explaining that there are no records at the studio from 27 years ago showing what it grossed in its original theatrical run. "Over the years, it's never stopped playing. People pick it up for Midnight shows and things like that. So there's always something happening with that movie."
How did the reissue come about? "I had read a People magazine story after 'The Blair Witch Project' opened. They took a poll of the scariest movie ever made and it came back 'The Exorcist' - even after 'Blair Witch.' Then Entertainment Weekly did a similar thing and it came out the same way. I called Bill Friedkin and talked to him about maybe putting in some additional footage and doing a director's cut. He felt that he had made his director's cut. It was a classic and extremely well reviewed. (But he) decided it was an interesting thought and that we should sit down and talk about it.
"So I got (writer-producer) Bill Blatty and Bill Friedkin and we sat down. I had no idea, (but) Bill Blatty had always had a version of the book and screenplay that was different from the cut that Billy Friedkin had delivered to the studio. He wanted to have more of a spiritual version. Billy had changed things a little bit. Over the years, (Blatty) had been talking to Billy about cutting the movie the way that he had envisioned his story being told. Billy never wanted to do it.
"Twenty-seven years has passed and they've had great success. I was interested in bringing it back. Billy said to me, 'The only reason I'll do it is if I can add footage and cut it the way that Blatty wanted it done. I'll do Blatty's version.' I was fine with that. Bill (Blatty) was thrilled with it and was so excited that Bill Friedkin would do it. There's never been a movie this old re-released that has had this phenomenal success."
Fellman pointed out, "Our plan on this movie was to test it, which we did in March. We had satisfactory results and looked for (the right release) date. We found the date. We went with major markets - 664 theaters. We had success this weekend, and we're going to bring in about another 400 theaters this weekend. We're going to do the balance of the country on Friday the 13th - Oct. 13. Maybe another 400-800 (theaters)."
DreamWorks' R-rated dramatic comedy "Almost " went wide in its second week, finishing third with a still-encouraging estimated $7.0 million (+202 percent) at 1,193 theaters (+1,062 theaters; $5,860 per theater). Its cume is approximately $10.3 million, heading for about $60 million in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe ("Jerry Maguire"), "Almost" stars Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Patrick Fugit, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, Noah Taylor and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
"Famous" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in over 1,000 theaters last weekend.
"I think it worked very well," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning about the film's expansion. "It's the kind of movie you have to get into the marketplace to show people (in order) for word to get out. We had a 55 percent increase from Friday to Saturday night on the movie. It plays extremely well, and word gets out very quickly now. It's still playing older. More than half the people are still over 25. We're pleased with the expansion, and we're going to continue that this weekend, adding another 400-500 runs."
Asked where it could wind up domestically, Tharp replied, "It could be in the $60 million range if it continues to hold. 'American Beauty' was a $75 million movie before it got to nominations and awards time. It ended up at $130 million. This would be slightly under that (going into the awards season). Gross-wise, it's actually running slightly ahead, but we went with a few more runs the second week than we did with 'American Beauty.'"
"Famous" is being released internationally by Sony's Columbia Pictures, which co-financed the production and will share equally with DreamWorks in its success. Columbia will kick off "Famous" in November at the London Film Festival.
Universal and Beacon Pictures' PG-13-rated comedy "Bring It On" fell one peg to fourth place in its fifth week with a still upbeat estimated $4.17 million (-18 percent) at 2,457 theaters (+30 theaters; $1,695 per theater). Its cume is approximately $55.9 million, heading for $60 million in domestic theaters.
Having an investment of only about $10 million in "Bring," Universal is already in profit on the picture.
Directed by Peyton Reed, "Bring" stars Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dusku, Jesse Bradford and Gabrielle Union.
Universal's R-rated psychological thriller "The Watcher" slid four slots to fifth place in its third week with a less exciting estimated $3.6 million (-38 percent) at 2,777 theaters (+32 theaters; $1,295 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.7 million, heading for $25-30 million in domestic theaters.
Universal reportedly picked "Watcher" up from Interlight for only $5 million, so the studio is clearly turning a profit on its investment.
Directed by Joe Charbanic, "Watcher" stars James Spader, Marisa Tomei and Keanu Reeves.
Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's R-rated action comedy "Bait" sank four rungs to sixth place in its second week with a calm estimated $3.38 million (-38 percent) at 2,352 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,435 per theater). Its cume is approximately $10.6 million.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, "Bait" stars Jamie Foxx.
USA Films' R-rated dark comedy "Nurse Betty" fell three notches to seventh place in its third week with less robust estimated $3.31 million (-26 percent) at 1,491 theaters (+22 theaters; $2,220 per theater). Its cume is approximately $18.1 million, heading for $21-25 million in domestic theaters.
"Betty" actually is owned by Universal, which acquired it as part of its takeover of PolyGram and then brought in USA to handle its domestic release.
Directed by Neil La Bute, "Betty" stars Morgan Freeman, Renee Zellweger, Chris Rock and Greg Kinnear.
DreamWorks PG-13-rated supernatural thriller "What Lies Beneath" dropped one slot to eighth place in its 10th week, still holding well with an estimated $2.2 million (-6 percent) at 1,819 theaters (-188 theaters; $1,200 per theater). Its cume is approximately $148.5 million.
"Beneath" is a co-production of DreamWorks, which is releasing it domestically, and 20th Century Fox, which is distributing it internationally.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, "Beneath" stars Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Warner Bros. PG-13 sci-fi action adventure "Space Cowboys" fell four rungs to ninth place in its eighth week with an okay estimated $2.17 million (-14 percent) at 2,170 theaters (-291 theaters; $998 per theater). Its cume is approximately $85.1 million, heading for $90-100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, "Space" stars Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Fox Searchlight Pictures' opening of its R-rated romantic comedy "Woman On Top" with a soft estimated $1.91 million at 1,085 theaters ($1,765 per theater).
Directed by Fina Torres, "Woman" stars Penelope Cruz.
"It's a little disappointing, but we knew we had a challenge," Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "In the smaller cities, it was not nearly as good. We actually had some very solid performances in some of the larger cities - New York, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco. So it was stronger in the larger cities and not as good in the more regional areas. As it turns out, because it's an international subject matter, it's a stronger big city film. It went up very nicely on Saturday night, so we're hopeful on word of mouth on this."
OTHER OPENINGS This weekend also saw the arrival of Lions Gate Films' R-rated drama "Under Suspicion" in New York and L.A., placing 26th with an okay estimated $0.11 million at 19 theaters ($6,277 per theater).
Directed by Stephen Hopkins, "Suspicion" stars Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman.
MGM's release of United Artists' PG-rated musical drama "The Fantasticks" arrived exclusively in New York, L.A. and San Francisco, placing 30th with a quiet estimated $0.024 million at 6 theaters ($4,000 per theater).
Directed byMichael Ritchie, it stars Joel Grey and Barnard Hughes.
SNEAK PREVIEWS Universal held sneaks Saturday night of its PG-13 rated comedy "Meet the Parents" at 185 theaters in the top 10-14 markets.
Details of the sneaks were not available early Sunday morning, but other distributors said they believed they were well attended based on Saturday night business for Universal's "The Watcher" and "Bring It On," the films with which the sneaks were held.
"Parents" opens Oct. 6 at 2,000-plus theaters.
Directed by Jay Roach, it stars Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller.
EXPANSIONS Lions Gate Films' R-rated drama "Urbania" went wider in its second week, placing 27th with a dull estimated $0.066 million at 14 theaters ($4,719 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.1 million.
Directed by Jon Shear, "Urbania" stars Dan Futterman and Matt Keeslar.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $56.68 million, down about 21.64 percent from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $72.35 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up about 19.69 percent from this year's previous weekend, when key films grossed $47.36 million.
Last year, Paramount's opening week of "Double Jeopardy" was first with $23.16 million at 2,547 theaters ($9,094 per theater); and Sony's second week of "Blue Streak" was second with $12.55 million at 2,735 theaters ($4,588 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $35.7 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $17.3 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES Based on business by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more), last weekend's top six distributors were:
Warner Bros. was first with six films "The Exorcist," "Bait," "Space Cowboys," "The Art Of War," "The Perfect Storm" and "The Replacements"), grossing an estimated $16.78 million or 29.6 percent of the market.
DreamWorks was second with two films ("Almost Famous" and "What Lies Beneath"), grossing an estimated $9.2 million or 16.2 percent of the market.
Universal was third with three films ("The Watcher," "Bring It On" and "Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps"), grossing an estimated $8.83 million or 15.6 percent of the market.
Sony Pictures Releasing (Columbia and TriStar) was fourth with one film ("Urban Legends: Final Cut"), grossing an estimated $8.8 million or 15.5 percent of the market.
USA Films was fifth with one film ("Nurse Betty"), grossing an estimated $3.31 million or 5.8 percent of the market.
New Line Cinema (New Line and Fine Line Features) was sixth with two films ("The Cell" and "Saving Grace"), grossing an estimated $2.3 million or 4.0 percent of the market.
ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES (11)The Cell/New Line: Theaters: 1,678 (-319) Gross: $1.65 million (-33 percent) Average per theater: $864 Cume: $57.5 million
(12)Scary Movie/Dimension Films: Theaters: 1,678 (-319) Gross: $1.33 million (-356 percent) Average per theater: $795 Cume: $154.1 million
(13)The Replacements/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,365 (-348) Gross: $1.21 million (-13 percent) Average per theater: $885 Cume: $42.6 million
(14)The Original Kings of Comedy/Paramount: Theaters: 1,082 (+42) Gross: $1.11 million (-28 percent) Average per theater: $1,025 Cume: $35.5 million
(15)Nutty Professor II: The Klumps/Universal: Theaters: 1,210 (-192) Gross: $1.07 million (-13 percent) Average per theater: $880 Cume: $119.8 million
(16)The Art of War/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,085 (-620) Gross: $0.96 million (-38 percent) Average per theater: $885 Cume: $28.9 million
(17)Duets/Buena Vista: Theaters: 583 (+2) Gross: $0.92 million (-54 percent) Average per theater: $1,580 Cume: $3.5 million
(18)Coyote Ugly/BV/Touchstone: Theaters: 883 (-221) Gross: $0.8 million (-21 percent) Average per theater: $900 Cume: $57.8 million
(19)Autumn in New York/MGM: Theaters: 1,182 (-390) Gross: $0.72 million (-24 percent) Average per theater: $610 Cume: $36.5 million
(20)Highlander: Endgame/Dimension Films: Theaters: 1,331 (-215) Gross: $0.68 million (-39 percent) Average per theater: $510 Cume: $11.9 million
(21)Saving Grace/Fine Line: Theaters: 706 (-168) Gross: $0.65 million (-28 percent) Average per theater: $920 Cume: $10.8 million
(22)The Perfect Storm/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 602 (-62) Gross: $0.55 million (+1 percent) Average per theater: $915 Cume: $180.1 million
(23)Gladiator/DreamWorks: Theaters: 522 (-215) Gross: $0.42 million (-19 percent) Average per theater: $805 Cume: $185.6 million
(24)X-Men/Fox: Theaters: 524 (-57) Gross: $0.4 million (-16 percent) Average per theater: $765 Cume: $155.2 million
(25)The Way of the Gun/Artisan Ent.: Theaters: 822 (-743) Gross: $0.39 million (-68 percent) Average per theater: $480 Cume: $5.1 million
(26)UNDER SUSPICION/Lions Gate: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(27)Urbania/Lions Gate; (see EXPANSIONS above)
(28)Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle/Universal: Theaters: 167 (-38) Gross: $0.050 million (-30 p ercent) Average per theater: $300 Cume: $25.9 million
(29)Into the Arms of Strangers/Warner Bros: Theaters: 5 (0) Gross: $0.029 million (-10 percent) Average per theater: $5,766 Cume: $0.075 million
(30)THE FANTASTICKS/MGM/United Artists: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)