40 Days and 40 Nights kicked off in second place with a sexy $12.5 million, a less arousing arrival than the $15-20 million that Hollywood handicappers anticipated.
Top Five ticket sales also got a boost from three holdovers. John Q was alive and well in third place with $8.5 million. Dragonfly was an okay fourth with $6.8 million. And Return to Never Land showed good legs in fifth place with $6.5 million.
Key films--those grossing $500,000 or more--did nearly $98 million, up 18 percent from about $83 million last year.
THE TOP TEN
Paramount and Icon Productions' R rated Vietnam war drama We Were Soldiers blasted its way into first place with an energetic ESTIMATED $20.2 million at 3,143 theaters ($6,427 per theater).
We Were Soldiers' average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
"It's the biggest gross for this weekend (beating last year's opening of) The Mexican with $20.1 million," Paramount Distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning.
"The exit polls were through the roof. The top two boxes were 91 percent--70 percent excellent and 21 percent very good. The definite recommend was 80 percent. The index score was an 89.4. It's the highest exit polls we've ever had (and suggests the film) should have a long run. That was sort of proven out by the bump that we got Saturday over Friday of 43 percent."
Asked who was on hand opening weekend, Lewellen said, "The audience was a little older. 70 percent were over 25. It was 56 percent males and 44 percent females, which is really higher than we expected for the female audience (given the film's R rating and violence). So it bodes well for the playability of the picture."
Miramax's R rated romantic comedy 40 Days and 40 Nights opened in second place to an engaging ESTIMATED $12.5 million at 2,225 theaters ($5,617 per theater).
Hollywood handicappers had been anticipating a sexier launch in the $15-20 million range.
"We're very happy with the opening," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning. "It's another great partnership with Universal after last spring's Bridget Jones's Diary. The film played about 60 percent female, 40 percent male. (It was mostly) 17-34 with a concentration of 17-25. So it's definitely skewing young.
"We're going to try and keep that audience strong and then expand this weekend in terms of trying to get a broader (demographic with) some of the older audience, as well -- some of the 25-34 year old date crowd, who may respond more to the fact that it's from the producers of Bridget Jones and Notting Hill and so we'll highlight some of the better reviews that we got. So that's the plan, moving forward. But we're real happy with this opening."
New Line's PG-13 rated man-against-the-system drama John Q fell one rung to third place in its third week, continuing to show good legs with a robust ESTIMATED $8.4 million (-33%) at 2,456 theaters (-49 theaters; $3,420 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.1 million.
"It's touched a nerve," New Line Distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday. "I think (it's) the storyline about HMOs. Everybody's got their own horror story about an HMO. People relate to it in that way. They either know somebody who's had a bad experience or they've had one themselves."
Asked where it's heading, Tuckerman said, "$70 million," pointing out that it wasn't an expensive production and "somewhere around $40 million I think we started to make money."
Universal and Spyglass Entertainment's PG-13 afterlife thriller Dragonfly slid one notch to fourth place in its second week but held respectably with an ESTIMATED $6.81 million (-33%) at 2,507 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,715 per theater). Its cume is approximately $19.4 million.
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated animated Return to Never Land dropped one peg to fifth place in its third week, still holding very well with an ESTIMATED $6.5 million (-28%) at 2,618 theaters (-8 theaters; $2,470 per theater). Its cume is approximately $35.3 million.
Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's R rated vampire thriller Queen of the Damned plunged five rungs to sixth place in its second week with an anemic ESTIMATED $5.83 million (-61%) at 2,511 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,320 per theater). Its cume is approximately $23.8 million.
Universal's PG rated family comedy Big Fat Liar fell two rungs to seventh place in its fourth week, holding well with a still funny ESTIMATED $4.75 million (-25%) at 2,232 theaters (-205 theaters; $2,130 per theater). Its cume is approximately $38.8.
Big Fat Liar, which was made for only about $15 million, should be very profitable for Universal.
Universal, DreamWorks and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated drama A Beautiful Mind, which has eight Oscar nominations including best picture and won the Writers Guild of America's best adapted screenplay award Saturday night, held on to seventh place in its 11th week with a still attractive ESTIMATED $4.41 million (-17%) at 1,962 theaters (-107 theaters; $2,245 per theater). Its cume is approximately $138.7 million, heading for $150 million-plus, depending on how well it does Oscar night.
Paramount's PG-13 rated Britney Spears comedy Crossroads dropped four notches to eighth place in its third week with an unfunny ESTIMATED $4.04 million (-42%) at 2,301 theaters (-80 theaters; $1,754 per theater). Its cume is approximately $31.2 million.
Directed by Tamra Davis, it stars Britney Spears.
"I think it's going to push $40 million now," Paramount's Wayne Lewellen said, looking ahead to the film's likely domestic theatrical cume. "I had it (getting to) like the high $30 millions, but it held up a little better this weekend than I anticipated."
Rounding out the Top Ten was New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated blockbuster The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, up two pegs in its 11th week with a still solid ESTIMATED $3.13 million (-10%) at 1,303 theaters (-207 theaters; $2,380 per theater). Its cume is approximately $287.4 million, heading for $300 million in domestic theaters.
"We're going to be in the low $290 millions before we get to Oscar weekend," New Line's David Tuckerman said. "Just hype alone should get us to $300 million. We're going back in the marketplace on Mar. 22 and then on Mar. 29--we've just revised our plan--we're going to add (something special at the conclusion of the film).
"Peter Jackson has made a four minute preview--not a trailer--of (the next film in the Rings trilogy) The Two Towers (opening this December). He basically did it as a thank you to the fans. So we're going to switch out the last reel for Friday, Mar. 29. On Mar. 22 we're going to do a big push to get back into the theaters. I hope to get back to (around) 2,000. So we'll get ourselves through that weekend. If we win, that's great. If we don't win, we have a thank you for the fans on Mar. 29 (that will continue to play) until it leaves theaters."
There were no other key openings this weekend.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend USA Films' R rated whodunit Gosford Park, which has seven Oscar nominations including best picture and won the Writers Guild of America's best original screenplay award Saturday night,, widened in its 10th week with an upbeat ESTIMATED $1.8 million (-10%) at 915 theaters (+94 theater; $1,976 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.9 million.
"That's really good," USA Films distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning, referring to Gosford Park's ticket sales and Fellowes' WGA award. "We have Julian at ShoWest this week (where he's being honored at the annual convention of exhibitors and distributors as) the screenwriter of the year."
Lions Gate Films' R rated drama Monster's Ball, which has two Oscar nominations, expanded quietly in its 10th week with an ESTIMATED $1.6 million (-22%) at 660 theaters (+106 theaters; $2,485 per theater). Its cume is approximately $13.0 million.
Miramax's R rated romantic comedy Italian For Beginners widened in its seventh week to a still hopeful ESTIMATED $0.35 million (+1%) at 66 theaters (+10 theaters; $5,303 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.6 million.
Directed by Lone Scherfig, it stars Anders Berthelsen.
USA Films' R rated romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding added theaters in its second week with a tasty ESTIMATED $0.2 million at 11 theaters (+9 theaters; $18,500 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
"It's wonderful," USA Films' Jack Foley said. "This is a little movie. We go into the next 12 big markets out there this weekend. It comes to around 30 additional screens."
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $97.69 million, up about 18.14 percent from last year when they totaled $82.69 million.
Key films for this three day weekend were down about 7.33% from the previous weekend of this year's total of $105.42 million.
Last year, DreamWorks' opening week of The Mexican was first with $20.11 million at 2,951 theaters ($6,814 per theater); and MGM's fourth week of Hannibal was second with $10.05 million at 3,272 theaters ($3,072 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $30.2 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $32.7 million.