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Unprecedented

November 7th, 2006

To call this weekend unpredictable is an understatement as there was a surprise number one film and records fell. But despite this, the overall market was only mixed. Sure, week-to-week the box office was up roughly 24% from last weekend, but Halloween tends to depress the box office, even when it doesn't hit on the weekend. Compared to the same weekend last year, the $130 million total box office was 4% lower.

I admit, I messed up on Thursday. In fact, my prediction of Borat very well might be the biggest blunder of my box office prognosticating career. However, I do feel the need to point out two facts: 1.) No one got it right. 2.) The previous week I got every film in the top five right so overall I still have a very good record.

Looking back at the signs, I'm still convinced that my prediction that Borat would struggle was the right call. First of all, Sacha Baron Cohen's previous film was dumped direct-to-DVD so there was serious questions about his ability to headline a film. Secondly, its theater count was slashed from 2,200 to just over 800 just a week before it was to open, and nobody could interpret that as a good sign. Also, the studio was relying on an ad campaign that heavily used the Internet and that almost never works. And finally, it was getting great reviews, which has been a deficit this year. (Okay, that last one was a little facetious, but you get the point.) All signs pointed to the film have troubles. But that's not what happened.

Borat pulled in $26.5 million over the weekend. That's the most ever made by a film playing in less than 1,000 theaters. In fact, after just three days the film is in 29th on the all-time chart for films playing in less than 1,000 theaters. It will be interesting to see how high up the charts it can climb before this Friday's expansion. As for the film's long-term chances, $100 million is in reach, but this is a double-edged sword. With Sacha Baron Cohen becoming so well known that it will become next to impossible for him to continue these undercover acts in the future.

Second place went to Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause with $19.5 million, which is pretty much exactly what I predicted it would do should its reviews fail to crack 20% positive. Granted, this is a tiny bit more than the first film opened with, but with sequelitis and much weaker reviews it is highly unlikely that it will make the same amount at the box office. Looking at why the film failed to reach the same levels of the previous releases one can't discount the effect of direct competition as well as the weaker reviews. However, I think the main reason the film failed to live up to expectations was the lack of David Krumholtz; clearly he was the biggest factor in the franchise's success up to this point.

Flushed Away became the latest highly rated film to fail to live up to expectations. It's opened weekend of $18.8 million was better than Wallace & Gromit opened with last year or Chicken Run opened with in 2000, but that's faint praise considering stop motion animation still has mostly niche market appeal. Given the reviews and the upcoming holidays, the film should have reasonable legs, perhaps even enough to live up to expectations, but it has a much harder time doing so.

Saw III earned $14.8 million during its second weekend of release, which is almost exactly as expected. Also as expected, another installment in the franchise has been greenlit for next Halloween.

It was a very close race for sixth place as both The Departed and The Prestige beat expectations earning $7.7 million and $7.5 million. This was more than enough to push The Departed over the $100 million mark and within a rounding error of The Aviator for the biggest hit in Martin Scorsese's career. As for The Prestige, it now has just shy of $40 million and is well on its way to profitability.

Finally we move onto the sophomore class, which only has one resident, Catch A Fire. The film struggled a lot during its opening weekend and lost nearly half of its opening this weekend, taking in $1.0 million in 1,306 theatres. I'd be amazed if the film held on to any reasonable fraction of that this coming Friday.

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Filed under: The Departed, Borat, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Saw III, Flushed Away, The Prestige, Catch a Fire