As the fictional Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev would say, ”Is nice — verrrry nice!” Da Ali G Show character?s first feature film foray, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, debuted at No. 1 with an eye-opening, jaw-dropping, record-breaking $26.4 million in just 837 locations, according to Sunday’s estimates.
This is huge. I mean, folks in Hollywood will be talking about this weekend till the end of time… or at least until Casino Royale opens in two weeks. Here are the impressive vitals:
- By earning so much in so few places, B:CLOAFMBGNOK broke Fahrenheit 9/11’s record for the highest gross for a movie opening in under 1,000 theaters (the Michael Moore documentary made $23.9 mil in 868 locations in 2004).
- B:CLOAFMBGNOK averaged a huge $31,511 per venue, which is on par with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest’s $32,817 first-weekend average (and, mind you, that was on some 3,200 more screens and with about a gazillion more dollars in marketing costs).
- It instantly became the top-grossing mockumentary of all time, passing Best in Show, which earned $18.7 mil in 2000.
- Star Sacha Baron Cohen now has two big first-place premieres this year, following Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby ($47 mil), in which he costarred.
- The film’s gross already outpaces its cheap, sub-$20 mil production budget, meaning that it has basically reached profitability in just three days.
- There’s no denying that B:CLOAFMBGNOK is so strong that, as its star might also say, it could most certainly suspend a car battery from its…oh, never mind.
All of this certainly made benefit glorious studio of Twentieth Century Fox, which had enjoyed another word-of-mouth hit with the $124.6 mil-grossing The Devil Wears Prada earlier this year. The company gets kudos not just for B:CLOAFMBGNOK’s big bow, but also for orchestrating its record-breaking weekend by having downgraded the movie’s initial theater count from around 2,000 venues on fears that it might mirror Snakes on a Plane as an Internet-only phenomenon. Would B:CLOAFMBGNOK have played as impressively if it had opened in more locations? Probably not. It may have earned a couple million more bucks, but it wouldn’t have had the killer average and, by extension, the vivid appearance of a buzz-driven hit. (Pay particular attention to its solid-but-not-stellar B+ CinemaScore average from ticket buyers, the kind of mark that doesn’t necessarily indicate a long-playing success.) The true test, therefore, will come next weekend, when the film is expected to expand to a standard wide release and play to crowds that aren’t in its target audience.
For make benefit of saving time on this precious Sunday, let’s move on. As expected, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (No. 2) and Flushed Away (No. 3) ran neck-and-neck, finishing with $20 mil and $19.1 mil, respectively. Both solid openers, they almost surely split the family-film vote, thus letting B:CLOAFMBGNOK walk away with the win. Saw III fell an anticipated 54 percent to earn $15.5 mil at No. 4. Five-week-old The Departed rounded out the top five by adding another $8 mil to its stash — which now totals $102.3 mil, just $300,000 shy of Martin Scorsese’s all-time top earner, The Aviator. And the superbly reviewed Almodovar dramedy Volver, starring Penélope Cruz, opened with a $40,449 average in five locations. That’s a great debut for a subtitled import and particularly good news for star Cruz, who never seemed to connect with American audiences when speaking English. Of course, poor English proficiency didn’t seem to hurt anybody’s box office performance on a weekend best summed up thusly: Sexy time!