The South invaded the North end of the box office chart this weekend as Sweet Home Alabama captured first place with a dazzling $37.5 million.
The Tuxedo celebrated in second place with a $15.1 million launch.
Barbershop finished third, holding well with $10.1 million. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was fourth with $9.8 million and a cume of $137 million on its way to $160 million, while The Banger Sisters retreated to fifth place with a sleepy $5.4 million.
Driven by Alabama, key films skyrocketed 43 percent over last year -- $99 million versus $74 million.
THE TOP TEN
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama kicked off in first place to a record setting ESTIMATED $37.5 million at 3,293 theaters ($11,378 per theater).
Alabama's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Andy Tennant, it stars Reese Witherspoon. The record setting opening elevated Witherspoon to Hollywood's A List of movie stars who can generate long opening weekend box office lines.
With $37.5 million already in hand, Alabama is a safe bet to crack $100 million in domestic theaters. Given its opening, it would seem at this point that the low end is probably $115 million and the high end is probably $130 million. Using the industry's most basic projection formula of three times the opening weekend gross would put Alabama's likely domestic cume at $112.5 million, a number that feels low given the heat of opening weekend. More accurate projections of where Alabama is heading will be possible when we know how well it holds in its second weekend.
Coming on the heels of BV's success with its late summer blockbuster Signs, which has grossed over $221 million through this weekend, Alabama is another strong indication that the Disney company's movie division is performing very well, is well managed and is a strong competitor.
Alabama is also good news for MGM, which has Witherspoon starring in the sequel Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde, opening next July Fourth weekend.
"It's been quite a weekend for us," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "Spirited Away continues (and) looks great and Moonlight Mile opened very nice and smartly. We're going to expand that to 400 runs next week. And then Reese opens up and blows the doors off of September! What more can you say?"
Focusing on Alabama's sweet launch, Viane noted, "It's the highest September opening in history. The old one was the original Rush Hour at $33 million (the weekend of Sept. 18-20, 1998). So this clearly blows away that."
In addition, looking at the record books indicates that Alabama probably also ranks as the biggest romantic comedy opening ever, beating Runaway Bride's $35.06 million opening the weekend of July 30-Aug. 1, 1999.
While Disney knew Alabama was on track to open big, was the studio surprised at just how well the picture performed? "We knew it was going to open very, very well," Viane replied. "I knew we had a shot at the (September) record, but to be able to surpass it like this, that's what caught me off-guard. It's the absolute strength of the movie. We knew it was good. Obviously, we put (Reese Witherspoon) in the right vehicle and Andy Tennant made a great movie. But this is America's new sweetheart. Anyway you look at it, she just dominated this movie. She smiled and everything happened."
As for who was there opening weekend, Viane said, "Actually, from 12 to 80. It was everybody. Again, there are new types of family movies and this is one of them. It's a rating friendly movie (with a PG-13) families had every reason to believe everybody would like it. Friday night the teens came out. Last night and yesterday afternoon the families came out. Last night the adults came out and couples. Interestingly enough, even on Saturday night some 30 percent-plus of our audience was teenagers. That's very strong for a Saturday."
Pointing to the film's CinemaScore exit polls, Viane said, "Every group gave it an A. The men were all A minuses and the women were all A's. The playability is terrific. I think it's going to have big time legs. Do I know there's a huge picture (Universal's Red Dragon) coming in next week? Yes. But I think we're demographically sufficiently different and crowd pleasing, so I think we'll be there for a long time."
DreamWorks' PG-13 action comedy The Tuxedo opened in second place to a well dressed ESTIMATED $15.1 million at 3,022 theaters ($4,997 per theater).
Directed by Kevin Donovan, it stars Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
"It's a good opening," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning. "Going in, we were looking at (Jackie Chan's) Shanghai Noon as a comparison. This compares very favorably to their opening, which was on a holiday weekend ($19.65 million for the four day Memorial Day weekend of May 26-29, 2000)."
Asked if DreamWorks was pleased, Tharp observed, "We had to be pleased since the The Tuxedo gross was very close to the opening of Shanghai Noon, which opened on a holiday weekend."
Those on hand, Tharp noted, were "55 percent male. 44 percent of the audience was families, which is very high. 54 percent were under 25. It should continue to be the family movie of choice for the next few weeks."
MGM's PG-13 rated urban appeal comedy Barbershop fell two pegs to third place in its third week, still holding well with an ESTIMATED $10.1 million (-21%) at 2,051 theaters (+157 theaters; $4,924 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.4 million, heading for $65 million or more in domestic theaters.
Directed by Tim Story, it stars Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve and Cedric The Entertainer.
IFC Films' release of Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding slid one slot to fourth place in its 24th week, still showing great legs with an ESTIMATED $9.77 million (even) at 1,841 theaters (-12 theaters; $5,307 per theater). Its cume is approximately $137.0 million, heading for $160 million in domestic theaters.
When Wedding passes $140.5 million later this week it will break the record set by Artisan Entertainment's The Blair Witch Project and become the domestic box office's biggest grossing independent film ever.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated low budget comedy The Banger Sisters slid three rungs to fifth place in its second week with a less lively ESTIMATED $5.43 million (-46%) at 2,738 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,981 per theater). Its cume is approximately $18.8 million.
Written and directed by Bob Dolman, it stars Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon and Geoffrey Rush.
Paramount and Miramax's PG-13 rated very expensive romantic epic The Four Feathers added theaters in its second week and fell one notch to sixth place with a depressing ESTIMATED $3.63 million (-47%) at 2,187 theaters ($1,658 per theater). Its cume is approximately $12.5 million.
Directed by Shekhar Kapur, it stars Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley and Kate Hudson.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated low budget thriller One Hour Photo dropped one slot to seventh place in its sixth week with a quiet ESTIMATED $3.0 million (-35%) at 1,303 theaters (-29 theaters; $2,302 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.1 million.
Written and directed by Mark Romanek, it stars Robin Williams.
Franchise Films' R rated action thriller Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever from Warner Bros. plunged four posts to eighth place with a dull ESTIMATED $2.68 million (-62%) at 2,705 theaters (theater count unchanged; $989 per theater). Its cume is approximately $11.5 million.
Directed by "Kaos" and produced by Elie Samaha, Chris Lee and "Kaos," it stars Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated supernatural thriller blockbuster Signs dropped two pegs to ninth place in its ninth week with an okay ESTIMATED $2.3 million (-33%) at 1,783 theaters (-555 theaters; $1,307 per theater). Its cume is approximately $221.1 million, heading for $230 million.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, it stars Mel Gibson.
There was a three way tie for tenth place in Sunday's estimates.
Revolution Studios and Columbia's low budget PG-13 teen comedy Stealing Harvard, which was ninth last weekend, in its fourth week did a quiet ESTIMATED $1.5 million (-55%) at 2,323 theaters (-43 theaters; $646 per theater). Its cume is approximately $12.7 million.
Directed by Bruce McCulloch, it stars Tom Green and Jason Lee.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 thriller Swimfan, which was eighth last week, in its fourth week did a soft ESTIMATED $1.5 million (-56%) at 1,838 theaters (-734 theaters; $816 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.6 million.
Directed by John Polson, it stars Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen and Shiri Appleby.
Senator Entertainment and Columbia's R rated child kidnapping thriller Trapped, which was tenth last week, did in its second week a slim ESTIMATED $1.5 million (-53%) at 2,227 theaters (theater count unchanged; $674 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.7 million.
Directed by Luis Mandoki, it stars Charlize Theron, Courtney Love, Stuart Townsend and Kevin Bacon.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Buena Vista/ Touchstone's PG-13 rated drama Moonlight Mile in limited release to an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.35 million at 22 theaters ($15,779 per theater).
Written and directed by Brad Silberling, it stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Holly Hunter.
"It's an emotional film, very smart and very adult," Buena Vista Distribution's Chuck Viane said Sunday. "Brad Silberling did an absolutely terrific job. When you have people like Dustin and Susan and Jake and Holly and Ellen (Pompeo) in a movie (it makes a difference).
"Brad was at the Archlight (multiplex in Hollywood) yesterday. He was actually doing a personal one-on-one after the movie with the audience. They are really pleased about it. So we're expanding this (coming) weekend. We're going to pick up an additional 400 runs in every major city in America. We're going to be in the top 60 markets in the country. We'll be somewhere between 420 and 450 runs. The picture's playing great. The Archlight started Friday at $9,800 and went to $17,700 last night -- and nobody knew Brad was going to be there. I think this is a really good start. I'm really looking forward to the expansion on this one."
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend United Artists' R rated dark comedy Igby Goes Down widened in its third week with an upbeat ESTIMATED $0.69 million (-10%) at 121 theaters (+19 theaters; $5,672 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.1 million.
Written and directed by Burr Steers, it stars Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Jared Harris, Amanda Peet, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman and Susan Sarandon.
"We're going to go into 21 more markets on Friday," an MGM spokesman said Sunday morning. "That should bring us to like 140 theaters."
Lions Gate Films' R rated kinky romance Secretary expanded in its second week with a sexy ESTIMATED $0.38 million at 53 theaters (+42 theaters; $7,075 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.65 million.
Directed by Steven Shainberg, it stars James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
"It's probably heading to somewhere between $4-5 million on the art house circuit," Lions Gate president Tom Ortenberg said Sunday morning.
"We'll see what happens on the next couple of spreads. We're adding more runs on Oct. 4 and 11 and will probably reach our widest point on Oct. 18. Then we'll see how far outside the big cities we can go."
Buena Vista/ Disney's PG rated animated feature Spirited Away went wider in its second week, still in high spirits with an ESTIMATED $0.52 million at 53 theaters (+27 theaters; $9,827 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.1 million.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, it was the Golden Bear best picture winner at the Berlin International Film Festival. Spirited Away is the all-time top grossing film at the Japanese box office.
Focus Features' R rated French comedic whodunit 8 Women expanded in its second week with a still attractive ESTIMATED $0.3 million at 57 theaters (+40 theaters; $5,630 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.8 million.
Directed by Francois Ozon, it stars Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Ludivine Sagnier and Firmine Richard.
Paramount Classics' PG rated German romantic comedy Mostly Martha went wider in its seventh week with a weak ESTIMATED $0.3 million at 143 theaters (+12 theaters; $2,225 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.6 million.
Written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, it stars Martina Gedeck.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $99.01 million for the weekend, up about 43.12 percent from last year when they totaled $69.18 million.
Key films were up about 33.6 percent from the previous weekend this year when they totaled $74.11 million.
Last year, Fox's opening week of Don't Say A Word was first with $17.09 million at 2,802 theaters ($6,099 per theater); and Paramount's opening week of Zoolander was second with $15.53 million at 2,507 theaters ($6,193 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $32.6 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $52.6 million.