MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Shaken and Brrrrrrd!

They’re called estimates … but more on that later.

The battle between a spy called Bond and a penguin named Mumble (aka The Battle of the Tuxedos) in, respectively, Casino Royale and Happy Feet concluded in a statistical dead heat with each film grossing an estimated $41.1 million. It was heady news for each title in a frame that was considered too close to call, though the animated Arctic adventure was given a slight edge given its appeal to a family audience.

The frame also included good returns for the innovative 8 Films to Die For horror smorgasbord and strong first frames for Bobby and For Your Consideration in exclusive and limited release. Conversely, neither the counter-programming of Let’s Go to Prison nor the limited release Fast Food Nation registered much of a commercial pulse.

The juggernaut of the dynamic duo saw holdover titles take hard hits that generally started at 50% and spiraled downward to 80% as older titles saw playdates evaporate. Still when placed alongside last year’s $100 million plus debut of Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, ticket sales experienced a significant decline.

Four years in development and production, the animated tale of a tap dancing penguin Happy Feet arrived with the George Miller pedigree boosting anticipation. Since inception the Antarctic denizens have become box office favorites with their march now widely familiar. The film was easily the filmmaker’s best opener and set a record of $2.4 million for an Imax animated movie in its 79 domestic engagements.

Internationally the film dipped its paw in the water to excellent results in Malayasia, Taiwan and Puerto Rico that generated close to $900,000 from 218 engagements. Germany is slated as its first major foreign territory on November 30 and Australia will open on December 26.

Largely hailed by the critics Casino Royale and its new 007 Daniel Craig maintained the franchise’s intrepid spirit. While slightly off the $47.1 million pace of 2002’s Die Another Die in North America, its fortunes stepped up internationally with a first salvo estimated at $42.2 million from 27 territories that included only a couple of major countries. In the U.K. it exceeded the best prior Bond premiere by 45% with a weekend gross of roughly $21.8 million. In Russia it dominated the market with a $3.75 million bow that ranked among the 10 best in that nation’s movie history.

The jockeying for position was unusually fierce with proprietary studio estimates giving the flightless birds a slight edge. However, at least two rivals ranked the Bond first and regardless of ranking the spread remained consistently less than $1 million, or within the statistical +/- 2% range of statistical error. The Solomon-like course from Sunday morning’s vantage point is to call it a tie until actuals are available on Monday.

Weekend revenues expanded 14% to more than $145 million from the result seven days prior. It was nonetheless 21% behind the 2005 period when the launch of a new Harry Potter gobbled up $102.3 million and second place fell to the opening of Walk the Line with a $22.3 million tally. The year to date is running about 4% ahead of last year on gross revenues with admissions less than 1% improved and fears of further shrinkage in the absence of a franchise title or a pre-sold box office behemoth looming prior to December 31.

Industry expectations predicted 50% declines for the most potent titles in the marketplace and that was reflected in weekend returns for the likes of Borat, Santa Clause 3 and Stranger Than Fiction among others. The black comedy Let’s Go to Prison positioned itself as a weekend alternative but audiences weren’t taking that option and the film limped to $2.1 million.

More effective as a counter-programmer was the omnibus fright fest 8 Films to Die For that generated $2.2 million from 488 locations. Comprised of some genre castoffs including Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror and Reincarnation from Japan, the package opted for a limited three-day run that should translate well into ancillary benefits.

Following indifferent response from festival exposure the American indie Fast Food Nation proved nutritionally unsatisfying as a movie staple. Its $384,000 gross translated into per screens just slightly better than $1,000. More substantial were opening frames for Chris Guest’s comic jibe at the film industry in For Your Consideration and the political melodrama Bobby set at the Ambassador Hotel on the day of Robert Kennedy’s assassination. The spoof rang up a $15,500 average from 23 venues while Bobby was just shy of $70,000 in two exposures.

The remainder of the frame’s new exclusive entries fared no better than OK results including The Aura from Argentina and animation wizards the Quay Brothers’ The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes.

– by Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates – November 16, 2006

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change Theaters Cume
Happy Feet WB 41.1 (11,970) 3434 41.1
Casino Royale Sony 41.1 (10,800) 3804 41.1
Borat Fox 14.5 (5,570) -49% 2611 90.7
The Santa Clause 3 BV 8.3 (2,460) -51% 3359 51.7
Stranger Than Fiction Sony 6.7 (2,960) -50% 2270 23
Flushed Away Par 6.7 (2,020) -60% 3307 48.7
Babel Par Vantage 2.9 (2,310) -46% 1251 12
Saw III Lions Gate 2.6 (1,330) -63% 1942 74.6
The Departed WB 2.5 (1,570) -51% 1611 113.8
The Queen Miramax 2.3 (3,730) -17% 606 17.3
8 Films to Die For FreeStyle 2.2 (4,550) 488 2.2
Let’s Go to Prison Uni 2.1 (1,390) 1495 2.1
The Prestige BV 2.0 (1,370) -58% 1470 49.4
The Return Focus 1.8 (900) -61% 1953 6.9
A Good Year Fox 1.7 (800) -55% 2067 6.5
Flags of Our Fathers Par .8 (770) -71% 1049 32.7
Harsh Times MGM .46 (480) -77% 956 3.1
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $139.30
% Change (Last Year) -21%
% Change (Last Week) 14%
Also debuting/expanding
Fast Food Nation WIP .38 (1,200) 321 0.38
For Your Consideration Warner Indie .36 (15,520) 23 0.36
Volver Sony Classics .14 (22,830) -19% 6 0.68
Bobby MGM 69,300 (34,650) 2 0.06
Flannel Pajamas FP 9,230 (9,230) 1 0.01
Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollack Picturehouse 5,300 (2,650) 2 0.01
The Aura IFC 4,210 (4,210) 1 0.01
Candy Thinkfilm 3,420 (3,420) 1 0.01
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes Zeitgeist 1,650 (1,650) 1 0.01

Top Worldwide Releases: To November 16, 2006

Title Distributor Gross
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest BVI 1,062,126,104
The Da Vinci Code Sony 755,944,862
Ice Age: The Meltdown Fox 644,350,413
X-Men: The Last Stand Fox 456,389,777
Cars BVI 441,097,236
Mission: Impossible III Par 396,345,567
Superman Returns WB 390,494,400
Over the Hedge Par/UIP 334,275,257
The Devil Wears Prada Fox 289,852,904
The Chronicles of Narnia * BVI 287,636,880
Click Sony 232,409,791
The Break-Up Uni 203,167,217
Inside Man Uni 184,040,165
Scary Movie 4 Weinstein Co. 177,972,649
The Departed WB/Initial 173,732,357
Brokeback Mountain * Focus 169,239,312
Poseidon WB 167,394,077
Talladega Nights: Legend of Ricky Bobby Sony 163,483,071
Miami Vice Uni 162,285,570
The Pink Panther Sony/Fox 159,660,454
* does not include 2005 box office

Domestic Market Share: To November 16, 2006

Distributor (releases) Gross Percentage
Sony (30) 1387.6 17.70%
Buena Vista (23) 1320.5 16.80%
Fox (24) 1130.4 14.40%
Paramount (15) 837.7 10.70%
Warner Bros. (18) 790.4 10.10%
Universal (18) 775.1 9.90%
Lions Gate (18) 324.7 4.10%
Weinstein Co. (14) 225.6 2.90%
New Line (11) 207.2 2.60%
Focus (13) 182.1 2.30%
Fox Searchlight (11) 160.8 2.00%
MGM (7) 91.4 1.20%
Sony Classics (22) 53.3 0.70%
FreeStyle (8) 52.8 0.70%
Other * (254) 311 3.90%
* none greater than 0.5% 7850.6 100.00%
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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon