Will Smith and a fire-breathing dragon helped restore heat to the box office this weekend, as The Pursuit of Happyness and Eragon opened on top. According to Sunday’s estimates, Smith’s drama Happyness earned $27 million at No. 1, while the fantasy epic Eragon came in second with $23.5 mil. Those amount to the happyest (read: richest) debuts among all films released since Thanksgiving.
So, okay, to recap, my predictions from Friday were totally wrong. Sorry, sorry. But it’s clear that I did get one thing right: Will Smith truly is the biggest movie star around. I mean, here’s a guy with an unimpeachable box office track record when it comes to action movies. Yet he has recently switched genres and still forged hits. Two years ago, his voice work helped propel Shark’s Tale to a $47.6 mil bow and $160.9 mil overall take. In the spring of 2005, his first romantic comedy, Hitch, opened with $43.1 mil and topped out at $179.5 mil. And now there's this strong premiere for Happyness, which is Smith's first drama in five years (Ali made $14.7 mil on its initial weekend in 2001) and his get this 10th No. 1 opener ever. Just how did he do it? A look at Happyness' CinemaScore report reveals a broadening of Smith’s fan base. Rather than the typical young male demographic that turns out for flicks like Men in Black and Bad Boys, this film's audience was 58 percent female and two-thirds over age 25. (Needless to say, Happyness scored a solid A.)
And that's exactly the kind of breakdown that portends long legs in the weeks to come which definitely gives the folks at Sony reason to be proud. I know because I woke up to a big, boasty e-mail from them, touting their blockbuster year at the box office. This year they've earned a total of $1.573 billion domestically (a record) and more than $3 billion worldwide (a record). What’s more, Happyness is Sony's 13th No. 1 movie this year (a record … though, interestingly, a record that doesn't include the studio's third-best grosser of 2006, Casino Royale, which has made $137.6 mil domestically but never won a weekend). And it was all achieved in a year when they didn’t release a Spider-Man movie (very impressive). So, yes, lots of happyness over there in Culver City, and lots of kudos due.
Big kudos also go to the folks at Fox, whose Eragon surpassed expectations (set low because of the studio's refusal to screen the movie much in advance) to finish solidly in second. Charlotte's Web (my poor pick for the weekend winner) spun its way no further than No. 3, with a disappointing $12 mil gross, despite a solid A CinemaScore of its own. Happy Feet (No. 4) kept tapping along, adding $8.5 mil to its five-week, $149.4 mil total. And The Holiday dropped a slight 36 percent to earn $8.2 mil at No. 5. Also notable was the 49 percent decline that forced Apocalypto ($7.7 mil) from No. 1 last week all the way down to No. 6, and the small 28 percent decrease in ticket sales for No. 7 Blood Diamond ($6.3 mil), which is probably thanks to the Best Actor Golden Globe nomination that Leonardo DiCaprio earned last week.
Outside of the top 10, Warner Bros.' Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney period piece The Good German averaged a so-so $15,714 in five locations and MGM's virtually unpublicized Irwin Winkler-directed war drama Home of the Brave fizzled with just $5,367 in three theaters (and that's $5,367 total, not average). But those were nothing compared to Dreamgirls' stellar limited bow of $360,000 in just three venues the 10th-best per-theater average of all time. And that should mean a lot of happyness over the upcoming holidays for the folks at Paramount and DreamWorks, as well.