2006 goes out with bang

'Museum,' 'Happyness,' 'Dreamgirls' boost b.o.

Thanks to a plethora of feel-good films, the final weekend of 2006 was a victorious one at the boxoffice. Strong performances from 20th Century Fox's "Night at the Museum," Sony Pictures' "The Pursuit of Happyness" and Paramount Pictures' "Dreamgirls," which is now a bona fide hit thanks to a stellar frame, helped the final holiday weekend of the year beat out 2005 by an estimated 12%.

"Museum" topped the weekend for a second consecutive frame, earning an estimated $46.7 million during the four days. The two-week-old movie, starring Ben Stiller and directed by Shawn Levy, has grossed $125.7 million.

"Happyness," starring Will Smith and directed by Gabriele Muccino, also is holding remarkably well. The film opened in the top spot three weekends ago and has held onto second place for the past two frames, topping more than $100 million.

"Dreamgirls," director Bill Condon's adaptation of the Broadway musical from DreamWorks, also has proven to be a success. After a weekend of special engagements and a Christmas Day expansion that saw a one-day take of $8.7 million, the movie's first full wide weekend in theaters garnered a per-screen average of $21,830 for an estimated four-day total of $18.6 million and a cume of $41.6 million, good for a third-place finish overall. After several boxoffice failures such as "Rent" and "The Producers," "Dreamgirls" marks the first musical hit since 2002's "Chicago," which won the Oscar for best picture.

"This is a bigger weekend then 'Chicago' had at any point in its run," said Rob Moore, Paramount's worldwide marketing and distribution president, who pointed to 'Chicago's' highest-grossing weekend of $12.9 million, when it was in more than 2,200 theaters. "The combination of the cast Condon put together and the universal story has really captured people's imagination. It's working everywhere in the country."

Paramount will expand the Beyonce Knowles starrer Jan. 12 to about 1,800 theaters.

No new wide releases hit the boxoffice during the weekend, which gave holdovers more of an opportunity to stretch their market reach and lure in as many holiday customers as possible. Overall, it seemed to work: Only MGM's "Rocky Balboa" lost revenue compared with its opening weekend. Still, the underdog story from Sylvester Stallone has earned an estimated $51 million since it bowed Dec. 20, surprising all who had predicted that the picture would meet resistance because of the 16-year hiatus since "Rocky 5," considered a critical and boxoffice flop.

All other films in the top 10 gained in ticket sales compared with the previous frame, when Christmas Eve and Christmas Day activities competed for the attention of moviegoing audiences. Paramount's "Charlotte's Web" rose a much-needed 55% over the last frame — the highest percentage increase of any of the top 10, "Dreamgirls" excepted, and the highest weekend gross yet for the E.B White adaptation. The G-rated kids flick took in an estimated $15 million for the four days, boosting its three-week cume to an estimated $55.9 million.

Universal Pictures' "The Good Shepherd" eked out a victory over the $14.1 million it pulled in during its first four-day frame. But its four-day estimate of $14.2 million allowed it to top "Rocky's" earnings and secure the fifth spot in the top 10. The Robert De Niro-directed film, starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, generated a 1% increase compared with last weekend, and its 11-day cume is an estimated $38.3 million.

Warner Bros. Pictures' "We Are Marshall" earned an additional $10.2 million during its second weekend. The Matthew McConaughey starrer topped its initial weekend in release by 19%, giving the film a much-needed bump. The inspirational sports film's gross is an estimated $27.2 million.

MGM's other holdover, "Black Christmas," didn't score well. The R-rated slasher film, which garnered controversy for bowing on Christmas Day, earned an additional $4.6 million. Despite adding 244 theaters, "Christmas" has earned just $11.7 million after one full week in theaters.

In limited release, Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth" marked the strongest of the debuts. The Guillermo del Toro fairy tale for adults got off to a strong start in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto; the R-rated film opened on 17 screens to a four-day estimate of $750,521. The film, which has been a favorite of critics nationwide, generated a strong per-screen average of $44,148. Exit polls suggest that the film is playing well to all audiences, though men over 25 were the dominant demographic on opening weekend.

Picturehouse intends to expand the film in Los Angeles and Chicago this weekend but will widen it significantly Jan. 12 to 100 screens in five more markets.

Picturehouse head Bob Berney is enthusiastic about the film's opening, not only for the company but for the indie arena in general. "Audiences are not looking at this film as a foreign-language film," he said. "I'm so happy for Guillermo, but it also is good news for the indie market. (The fact) that a film that is challenging and crosses different genres can connect with such a large audience — it's a great, kick-ass way to go into 2007."

Fox Searchlight bowed Richard Eyre's R-rated "Notes on a Scandal" to an estimated $551,185 for the four-day period. Opening on 22 screens in seven markets, the British-based tale of tangled relationships generated a per-screen average of $25,053. The studio intends to expand what it is calling "the number-one art film in the market" to seven additional cities and 70 more theaters this weekend.

"We're really pleased with the numbers," said Sheila DeLoach, Searchlight senior vp and general sales manager. "They just keep going up, and the Judi Dench fans are coming out in droves."

The total cume for the Cate Blanchett-Dench starrer, which bowed Wednesday, is an estimated $750,042.

Also on Wednesday, Paramount opened DreamWorks' "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" to a six-day cume of $69,000. The R-rated film, based on Patrick Suskind's novel and starring Ben Whishaw and Dustin Hoffman, bowed on three screens for a per-screen average of $23,000.

MGM also bowed the Weinstein Co.'s "Miss Potter," a PG drama about children's book author Beatrix Potter, on two screens in Los Angeles and New York. The Renee Zellweger starrer grossed an estimated $12,953 for the four-day frame, good for a $6,477 per-screen average.

On five screens, Clint Eastwood's critically acclaimed "Letters From Iwo Jima" brought in an additional $115,000 for the four-day frame. The film's two-week cume is an estimated $343,000.
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