'Save' Tops Holiday Box Office
"Save the Last Dance" kicked off in first place to a record-setting $28 million for the four-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend.
Distribution executives had anticipated that Paramount's PG-13-rated teen appeal dance drama would end 20th Century Fox's three-week chart-topping reign with "Cast Away," but they were only thinking in terms of an opening of about $20 million. Instead, "Dance" came in swinging to the tune of an ESTIMATED $28.00 million at 2,230 theaters ($12,556 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Paramount estimated "Dance" at $24.00 million.)
"Dance" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing at over 1,000 theaters last weekend.
"$20 million was kind of the benchmark (estimate going into the weekend)," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "I had it at $18-21 million. That's where I thought it would be. Normally, when you have a film that appeals to a teen audience like this, the Friday goes through the roof and it sort of flattens out on Saturday. We were actually up 21% Saturday. The Friday figure was $7.5 million and it went to $9.1 million Saturday.
"I think it's the biggest opening ever on Martin Luther King weekend. It's not the biggest gross. We actually had that in '98 with 'Titanic' with $36 million. The previous record (for an opening this weekend) was 'Varsity Blues' with $17.5 million (via Paramount in 1999). We looked back all the way to '93 (without finding anything bigger than 'Dance')."
Why did "Dance" work so well? "Obviously, I think the (marketing) campaign worked and delivered the young female (audience)," Lewellen replied. "But it also appealed to an older female audience. We had about 300 sneaks last weekend and the exit polls were extraordinary -- like 95% were excellent or good (the Top Two Boxes). It just hits the nerve and appeals to a very broad audience."
Driven by "Dance," the holiday weekend went into the record books as Hollywood's biggest Martin Luther King weekend ever. That's what insiders were predicting last week, pointing out that the previous three-day weekend had seen very strong ticket sales by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more) of about $116 million.
Although distributors were thinking the holiday weekend would do about $150 million in key film ticket sales, business proved to be much stronger than expected. Based on Sunday morning studio estimates, the overall marketplace expanded to nearly $168 million.
The previous King weekend record was set Jan. 16-19, 1998, when key films grossed $128.68 million for four days. Paramount's "Titanic" led the pack that weekend with $36.0 million.
This weekend's arrival of "Dance" cast a shadow over Fox's PG-13-rated drama "Cast Away," which slid one slot to second place in its fourth week. Nonetheless, "Cast" held better than expected, grossing an ESTIMATED $20.21 million (-15%) at 3,048 theaters (+100 theaters; $6,630 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Fox estimated "Cast" at $17.15 million.) Its cume is approximately $168.2 million, heading for $200 million-plus.
USA Films' R-rated Oscar contender drama "Traffic" held on to third place in its third week with a solid ESTIMATED $13.07 million (-22%) at 1,527 theaters (+17 theaters; $8,559 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, USA estimated "Traffic" at $11.17 million.) Its cume is approximately $35.1 million.
"It looks like it has the least amount of drop (for three days) of all the other films out there, which is a really good indication of its holding power," USA Films distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning, "particularly in light of the fact that it's a very special film insofar as its subject matter is concerned. This isn't broad-based entertainment. It's issue oriented.
"In that respect, America seems to be embracing the film very well because our numbers, particularly in the major markets in the country, are very strong. The drop in major markets in the high-end zones are modest. They're like one and two percent and some of them are even up over last weekend. Mainstream markets like Cincinnati and Kansas City are holding their own, too. Their drops are a little bit more than what's reflected by the four days. They're going to be (down in) like the 30%s. With that type of drop, it shows that Middle America is embracing the film as much as the high-end, more urban and urbane markets are. Those markets -- New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago -- they're through the roof!"
With five nominations, including best picture and director, "Traffic" is a major contender for Golden Globes. What effect would a strong showing in the Globes have? "The Globes are indicative of how the winds are blowing for the Academy," Foley replied. "It may even sort out some of this stuff with what (film) Steven Soderbergh is ultimately going to be recognized for -- whether it's 'Erin Brockovich' or 'Traffic' or both. I think Benicio (Del Toro) is really going to have an indication given to him if he does well in the Golden Globes for the Academy."
Asked about further expansion plans, Foley said, "That's going to come at Academy nomination time where the values are the greatest. If the film secures significant nominations then, above and beyond just best director, then the film obviously takes on a hell of a lot more value out there and we have every intention of responding in kind to that opportunity. It's not only just the significant noms, it's the number of noms. This picture's going to be up for a number of nominations, so we could kick the number up to 500 or 1,000 more runs."
Paramount's PG-13-rated romantic comedy "What Women Want" from Icon Productions dropped two pegs to fourth place in its fifth week with a still-attractive ESTIMATED $12.00 million (-27%) at 3,092 theaters (+40 theaters; $3,881 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Paramount estimated "Women" at $10.50 million.) Its cume is approximately $153.9 million.
Columbia Pictures' went wide with its PG-13-rated drama "Finding Forrester" in its fourth week, tying for fourth place with a solid ESTIMATED $12.00 million at 2,002 theaters (+1,802 theaters; $5,994 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Columbia estimated "Forrester" at $10.00 million.) Its cume is approximately $21.4 million.
"We had an A-plus CinemaScore," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "We've continued to get fantastic exit polls. This is a movie that audiences love. The 200 runs we started out with held firm during their run, and we would expect really strong holdover on this very good opening, as well.
"We think we're in for a nice long run. Finally, the volume of product lets up going forward. So we think we'll more than hold our own in the market."
Looking at the expansion of the overall holiday weekend marketplace, Blake observed, "Unbelievable! I didn't think December could be as huge as it turned out to be. I didn't think November could be as huge as it turned out to be. And here we go again -- so it's terrific!"
Directed by Gus Van Sant, "Forrester" stars Sean Connery.
New Line Cinema's wide opening of its PG-13-rated drama "Thirteen Days" was sixth with an encouraging ESTIMATED $11.70 million at 2,029 theaters (+2,028 theaters; $5,766 per t eater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, New Line estimated "Days" at $10.23 million.) Its cume is approximately $12.3 million.
"We're extremely happy," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "We knew it was going to be a crowded marketplace with a lot of pictures in our demos. And not only a lot of pictures, but a lot of good pictures -- I mean 'Forrester's' a good picture, 'Traffic's' a good picture, 'Crouching Tiger's' a good picture. These are good movies. I'm a big believer that movies beget themselves no matter what the demographic is. So if this weekend you see a good movie, next weekend the first thing you think about doing is going to see another movie. Whether you're 50 years old or 20 years old, it's the same deal. We really think we're going to be in the marketplace for a long time. It's a high quality film and plays great."
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13-rated action comedy "Double Take" opened in seventh place to a better-than-anticipated ESTIMATED $11.50 million at 1,631 theaters ($7,057 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, BV estimated "Take" at $10.00 million.)
Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's PG-13-rated comedy "Miss Congeniality," which was fourth last week, tied for seventh place in its fourth week with a still-winning ESTIMATED $11.50 million (-17%) at 2,668 theaters ($4,310 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Warners estimated "Miss" at $9.36 million.) Its cume is approximately $80.6 million.
Sony Pictures Classics took ninth place with the expansion of its critically-acclaimed PG-13-rated action adventure "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." The Mandarin Chinese language Oscar contender from director Ang Lee continued to enjoy killer ticket sales with an ESTIMATED $8.92 million at 700 theaters (+528 theaters; $12,735 per theater). Its cume is approximately $28.9 million.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Buena Vista/Disney's G-rated animated comedy "The Emperor's New Groove," down four pegs in its fifth week, with a less-lively ESTIMATED $7.50 million (-4%) at 2,237 theaters (-537 theaters; $3,353 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, BV estimated "Emperor" at $5.70 million.) Its cume is approximately $71.2 million.
OTHER OPENINGS This weekend also saw the arrival of MGM's PG-13-rated suspense thriller "AntiTrust," placing 12th with an uneventful ESTIMATED $6.30 million at 2,433 theaters ($2,589 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, MGM estimated "AntiTrust" at $5.20 million.)
SNEAK PREVIEWS There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, Buena Vista/Touchstone went wider with its PG-13-rated dark comedy "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," placing 13th with a hopeful ESTIMATED $3.00 million at 431 theaters (+266 theaters; $6,961 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, BV estimated "Brother" at $2.60 million.) Its cume is approximately $7.3 million.
Fine Line Features went wider with its R-rated comedy "State and Main," placing 18th with a quiet ESTIMATED $1.67 million at 460 theaters (+383 theaters; $3,625 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.0 million.
Fine Line also went wider with its R-rated drama "Before Night Falls," placing 30th with a calm ESTIMATED $0.16 million at 18 theaters (+10 theaters; $8,833 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.6 million.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the four-day period -- took in approximately $167.94 million, up about 37.69% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $121.97 million.
This weekend's key film gross cannot be compared to the previous weekend this year, a normal three-day period.
Last year, New Line's opening week of "Next Friday" was first with $16.92 million at 1,103 theaters ($15,338 per theater); and Sony's second week of "Stuart Little" was second with $12.52 million at 3,092 theaters ($4,048 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $29.4 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $48.2 million.