'Borat' expands b.o. reign

Man from Kazakhstan earns $29 mil

It was a case of deja vu at the North American boxoffice this weekend: The top three films from last weekend held on to their spots this frame, beating out numerous wide releases that were jockeying for top billing.

Between the expansion of 20th Century Fox's "Borat" earning an estimated $29 million and the amazingly strong holdovers of two family films ? Buena Vista Pictures' "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" and Paramount Pictures release of DreamWorks Animation's "Flushed Away" generating $16.9 million and $16.7 million, respectively ? it was too tough of a top three for any of the new releases to crack.

Sony Pictures' "Stranger Than Fiction" got closest to the coveted ranking, earning a fourth spot and an estimated haul of $14.1 million. Focus Features' PG-13 horror flick "The Return" from its Rogue Pictures division had a much tougher time, grossing only an estimated $4.8 million in its three-day opener. And while Fox had fabulous news with its "Borat" expansion, not everyone at the studio was celebrating considering Fox 2000's romantic drama "A Good Year" starring Russell Crowe generated only $3.8 million in its opener.

Paramount Vantage had a challenging time with its expansion of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel." Upping its run to 1,251, the R-rated drama starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett grossed $5.6 million, earning a sixth spot at the boxoffice derby. However, with a per-theater average of $4,517, the film may have some difficulty sticking around in theaters until the awards season gets started, when the film is likely to reap some accolades.

MGM did not have much luck with its wide release this frame. The distributor unveiled Bauer Martinez's "Harsh Times" on 956 theaters to an estimated $1.8 million. From writer-director David Ayer, the film starring Christian Bale delivered a slim per-theater average of $1,913.

Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat" is still the story of the weekend. Earning an additional $29 million in its second weekend of release, the R-rated comedic romp, which added 1,729 theaters to its run, has now earned close to $68 million after 10 days in release. The film's original 857 theaters held on strong, even after Fox started adding theaters to its original run. In fact, those theaters were off around 31%, with the cosmopolitan market off 20% and the middle of the country falling a steeper 35-40%.

"I'm almost shocked we were off by so little," said Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder. "We tripled the theater count, and I thought those original theaters were going to get clobbered. But everything is working as we had hoped. We've got another good week ahead of us and then it's Thanksgiving. It's all going perfectly."

"Clause 3" and "Flushed" also seem to have everything going their way. The two family films clearly benefited from the Veteran's Day holiday Friday, which saw a lot of children out of school. Both films held on remarkably strong, with "Clause 3" dropping an estimated 13.4% while "Flushed" fell a scant 11%.

"Fiction," despite the competition from "Borat," had a respectable showing. The PG-13 quirky drama starring comedian Will Ferrell in a dramatic turn generated a per-theater average of $6,228 on 2,264 theaters. The film, from director Marc Forster, played predominantly female, with the majority of the audience under 30. Produced by Sony's partner Mandate Pictures, the $30 million film should end up profitable.

"It was a tough fight. 'Borat' was a big factor, and November is always a potent month for family pics," said Jeff Blake, Sony Pictures co-chairman. "But with a $14 million opening on a film that cost under $30 million and plays, we should do great. We are in a great position for the holiday season."

The same can't be said for Rogue's "Return." Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, the horror film got hit by the sheer competition in the marketplace.

" 'Borat' attracted everyone's attention, and 'Fiction' captured the core group we were looking for, young females," said Jack Foley, Focus president of distribution. "It was a tougher battle to fight then we had expected as recently as two to three weeks ago before we knew Borat was expanding this frame. It shows you how quickly the marketplace can change, and become deadly."

That was certainly the case with "Year." From director Ridley Scott, the film set in Provence, France, was hurt by poor reviews and a badly behaving leading man. It seems the actor's likability with women, the film's core audience, has waned considerably since he threw a phone at a hotel employee last year.

Those who did see the film were predominantly female and over 50. "That is the one audience where reviews really do count, and we got skewered," Fox's Snyder said. According to RottenTomatoes.com, "Year" generated only a 28% positive rating.

Poor reviews may also have been the reason for the weak bow of "Harsh Times," but more likely the film suffered from a lack of advertising. With a very limited advertising spend from Bauer Martinez, the film that was involved in a bidding war at 2005's Toronto Film Festival and ultimately purchased for $4 million is unlikely to stay in theaters much longer.

MGM didn't have much more luck with its limited release "Copying Beethoven" from Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. On 26 theaters, the Ed Harris starrer generated $72,000 for a per-screen average of $2,769.

IDP bowed Roadside Attractions' "Come Early Morning" on 22 screens. Starring Ashley Judd and Dianne Ladd, the R-rated film from writer-director Joey Lauren Adams earned $51,700 for a weak per-screen average of $2,350.

Sony Pictures Classics generated an additional $172,340 for its Penelope Cruz starrer "Volver." From director Pedro Almodovar, the film generated a per-screen average of $34,468. After two weeks of release, its cume stands at $466,204.

The weekend just managed to squeeze out a victory over last year's boxoffice at this time, when Buena Vista's "Chicken Little" was the top film for the second week in a row. The top 12 films this weekend grossed an estimated $112.8 million, a 1% increase over last year's top 12 of $111.3 million.

For the week ending Nov. 10, total boxoffice revenue was $180 million, down less than 1% compared with the $181 million accounted for during the same weekend last year. Year-to-date, total boxoffice stands at $7.78 billion, up more than 6% over 2005's $7.29 billion.