It was a particularly unusual turn of events for a fall season notable for its surprise winners and erroneous predictions: Almost everything at the box office this weekend turned out as expected.
Beowulf, Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture retelling of the epic poem, was an easy winner, bringing in a decent $28.1 mil. That tally includes a hefty $3.6 mil earned in 84 IMAX venues, nearly all of which showed the film in 3-D, as did several hundred other regular-sized theaters (Variety reports that approximately 40 percent of the film’s gross came from 3-D screens). It’s also a notch up from the opening of Zemeckis’ previous CG adventure, 2004’s The Polar Express, which earned $23.3 mil on its first weekend. The question now is whether star Ray Winstone’s buff, digitized protagonist has the muscles for the long fight. The Polar Express, you’ll recall, became a $176.6 mil domestic hit only after holding on for several months following it’s middling debut, largely thanks to its holiday theme. But while the 3-D fascination should help Beowulf hang on through Thanksgiving, the film’s lack of a seasonal hook may factor negatively in the long run. What’s more, its disappointing B- CinemaScore review from an audience that was 59 percent male and 61 percent older portends poor word of mouth. So we’ll see.
With Bee Movie banking $14.3 mil and buzzing back into the No. 2 position, Paramount (the distributor behind Jerry Seinfeld’s animated fable as well as Beowulf) scored its second sweep of the top two spots this year. The studio last achieved this rare feat back in April, when Disturbia and Blades of Glory finished one-two. Also staying strong among holdovers were No. 3 American Gangster (the biggest hit of the fall earned $13.2 mil to bring its three-week total to $101 mil), No. 4 Fred Claus (which disappointed in its premiere last weekend, but hauled in $12 mil on a better-than-anticipated 35 percent decline), and No. 7 No Country for Old Men (whose $3.1 mil came from just 148 theaters).
Still, the results were mixed for the other new releases. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (No. 5) lived up to all those critical boos, bowing to just $10 mil. Audiences truly did treat Love in the Time of Cholera (No. 10, with just $1.9 mil) like the plague. And filmmaker Richard Kelly’s followup to Donnie Darko, the much-agonized-over Southland Tales, averaged a paltry $1,850 in 63 locations. All that said, writer-director Noah Baumbach’s followup to The Squid and the Whale, the generally praised Margot at the Wedding, averaged a joyous $41,465 in two theaters — which is particularly good news for star Nicole Kidman, who hasn’t received any really good news at the box office in about four years.
While the box office continues to struggle through this freaky fall season (it’s down 4 percent from last year), the cumulative gross of all films declined for the second straight weekend — specifically, a whopping 23 percent from the same frame a year ago, when the blockbuster odd couple of Happy Feet and Casino Royale both opened in the $40 mil range. As James Bond would say, that’s shocking, positively shocking.