Save the Last Dance

(Photo by Courtesy Everett Collection)

30 Essential Dance Movies

As seminal dance film Save the Last Dance turns 20, we look at the best dance films ever made… and why the Julia Stiles favorite is just a bit too off-beat to make the cut.

Save the Last Dance, which turns 20 this year, has some things you probably want in a movie. A soundtrack that includes Jill Scott and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes? Yes. References to James Baldwin in the first twelve minutes? You got it. A 23-year-old Kerry Washington in one of her first adult roles, radiating the kind of charisma and power that will one day convince Pope Associates to kill and die for her? Damn right.

It also has a lot of what you’d expect to find in a dance movie, especially one about a ballet dancer. Rehearsal montages? Absolutely. Bleeding toes mangled by hours spent dancing in pointe shoes? Obviously. A dramatic final number performed in front of snooty gatekeepers? Of course.

Unfortunately, for lovers of dance, Save the Last Dance’s dance sequences themselves leave a lot to be desired: the hip hop club scenes are given short shrift, as are the moments in which the lead characters go to the Joffrey Ballet to watch a professional performance. The sequences in which Julia Stiles and her body double do ballet – and especially when they perform the climactic ballet-hip hop hybrid final number – are a reminder that while it can be hard to cast actors who can really dance (or dancers who can really act), it’s usually worth it.

As for the racial politics of the movie – suburban white girl moves to Chicago to live with her father when her mother dies, goes to a majority Black high school where students have criminal records and kids, falls for the college-bound Black boy who teaches her hip hop, and is relieved of the comforting colorblind fantasy that there’s “only one world” – it’s not so much that they’ve aged badly. In a crop of dance movies that came out between 2000 and 2006 (Center Stage, Step Up, etc.), Save the Last Dance is the most direct about race and racism, making explicit what a lot of the other movies leave implicit. But it’s hard to imagine a dance movie made in 2020 putting a gawky white ballet dancer learning hip hop – and her realization that white women enjoy privilege that plays out in their dating and social lives – at the center of its narrative. Which is a sign of how the needle has moved in the two decades since Save the Last Dance was released.

And there are still some things that the film leaves implicit, the most obvious of which is the notion that ballet is inherently white and feminine, practiced by uptight and feminine people, that it’s a form of rigid artifice. Hip hop, on the other hand, a Black artform with origins in street and social dancing, is depicted as inherently loose, cool, masculine, and real. These are stereotypes that were in place in 2001 – and that have been reinforced by films in which uptight white girls have to learn to loosen up and get down – and they persist today, making ballet and Blackness seem antithetical, especially for Black girls and women who aspire to learn ballet.

In honor of Save the Last Dance’s 20th anniversary, we’ve assembled a list of 30 essential dance movies sorted by Tomatometer, encompassing ballet, hip hop, modern, tap, ballroom, breaking, and the magic of Mike.

In order to be considered for this list, the movie had to include diegetic dancing – that is, dancing that the characters acknowledge as dancing, as opposed to a musical number in which the characters break out in song and dance. Exceptions were made for musicals that contained diegetic numbers, like A Chorus Line, which is about a Broadway audition, and Singin’ in the Rain, which is about the creation of a musical. -Chloe Angyal

 Angyal is a contributing editor at MarieClaire.com and the author of Turning Pointe: How a New Generation of Dancers Is Saving Ballet From Itself, which will be published by Bold Type Books on May 4. 

#30

Dancers (1987)

#30
Adjusted Score: -1%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A Russian ballet superstar (Mikhail Baryshnikov) woos an American ingenue while filming a performance of "Giselle."... [More]
Directed By: Herbert Ross

#29

You Got Served (2004)
14%

#29
Adjusted Score: 15935%
Critics Consensus: The dance sequences are exhilarating, but everything else about this movie is sloppy and generic.
Synopsis: David (Omarion Grandberry) and Elgin (Marques Houston) helm a talented street-dancing crew that engages in dance battles in a Los... [More]
Directed By: Christopher B. Stokes

#28

Honey (2003)
21%

#28
Adjusted Score: 23555%
Critics Consensus: An attractive Jessica Alba and energetic dance numbers provide some lift to this corny and formulaic movie.
Synopsis: Honey Daniels (Jessica Alba) dreams of making a name for herself as a hip-hop choreographer. When she's not busy hitting... [More]
Directed By: Bille Woodruff

#27

Step Up (2006)
21%

#27
Adjusted Score: 25146%
Critics Consensus: This trite teen romance has too little plot and not enough dancing.
Synopsis: Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum) has been in and out of trouble for most of his life and after finding himself... [More]
Directed By: Anne Fletcher

#26

Stomp the Yard (2007)
25%

#26
Adjusted Score: 27258%
Critics Consensus: While Stomp the Yard contains impressive musical and dance numbers, it loses its momentum during the intervening soap opera-style subplots.
Synopsis: After his brother's death, a troubled but gifted street dancer enrolls in Atlanta's Truth University. As he tries to concentrate... [More]
Directed By: Sylvain White

#25

Flashdance (1983)
38%

#25
Adjusted Score: 40766%
Critics Consensus: All style and very little substance, Flashdance boasts eye-catching dance sequences -- and benefits from an appealing performance from Jennifer Beals -- but its narrative is flat-footed.
Synopsis: Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) is a beautiful young woman who works a day job in a steel mill and dances... [More]
Directed By: Adrian Lyne

#24
Adjusted Score: 38267%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Though she's a talented gymnast, Janey (Sarah Jessica Parker) has always followed the orders of her strict Army colonel father... [More]
Directed By: Alan Metter

#23

A Chorus Line (1985)
40%

#23
Adjusted Score: 42411%
Critics Consensus: On stage, A Chorus Line pulled back the curtain to reveal the hopes and fears of showbiz strivers, but that energy and urgency is lost in the transition to the big screen.
Synopsis: Hundreds of hopefuls congregate at a cattle call for Broadway dancers. A sour director, Zach (Michael Douglas), and his brusque... [More]
Directed By: Richard Attenborough

#22

Center Stage (2000)
42%

#22
Adjusted Score: 43589%
Critics Consensus: Viewers willing to sit through soapy plot contrivances to see some excellent dancing might enjoy Center Stage; for everyone else, there's still always Fame.
Synopsis: A dozen adolescents have begun their training at the renowned American Ballet Academy, where they encounter tremendous physical and mental... [More]
Directed By: Nicholas Hytner

#21

White Nights (1985)
46%

#21
Adjusted Score: 46267%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: When his plane makes an emergency landing in Siberia, ballet dancer Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov) is recognized as a defector... [More]
Directed By: Taylor Hackford

#20

Footloose (1984)
52%

#20
Adjusted Score: 55180%
Critics Consensus: There's not much dancing, but what's there is great. The rest of the time, Footloose is a nice hunk of trashy teenage cheese.
Synopsis: Moving in from Chicago, newcomer Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) is in shock when he discovers the small Midwestern town he... [More]
Directed By: Herbert Ross

#19
#19
Adjusted Score: 58360%
Critics Consensus: Mao's Last Dancer has a stirring story to tell, but excessive sentimentality and leaden pacing keep this biopic from hitting its marks gracefully.
Synopsis: The ballet life of Li Cunxin begins when he 11, taken from his peasant family in rural China to train... [More]
Directed By: Bruce Beresford

#18
#18
Adjusted Score: 64012%
Critics Consensus: The Turning Point is a handsomely-made resuscitation of Old Hollywood melodramas with a compelling duo at its center, but the formulaic script keeps this story from realizing its symphonic potential.
Synopsis: Forced to give up ballet after becoming pregnant, Deedee (Shirley MacLaine) moved from New York to Oklahoma to raise a... [More]
Directed By: Herbert Ross

#17

Magic Mike XXL (2015)
65%

#17
Adjusted Score: 74758%
Critics Consensus: Magic Mike XXL has enough narrative thrust and beefy charm to deliver another helping of well-oiled entertainment, even if this sequel isn't quite as pleasurable as its predecessor.
Synopsis: It's been three years since Mike Lane's (Channing Tatum) retirement from stripping, but the former dancer misses the excitement and... [More]
Directed By: Gregory Jacobs

#16

Dirty Dancing (1987)
69%

#16
Adjusted Score: 74815%
Critics Consensus: Like its winsome characters, Dirty Dancing uses impressive choreography and the power of song to surmount a series of formidable obstacles.
Synopsis: Baby (Jennifer Grey) is one listless summer away from the Peace Corps. Hoping to enjoy her youth while it lasts,... [More]
Directed By: Emile Ardolino

#15

The Company (2003)
72%

#15
Adjusted Score: 75262%
Critics Consensus: Its deliberately unfocused narrative may frustrate some viewers, but The Company finds Altman gracefully applying his distinctive eye to the world of dance.
Synopsis: Loretta "Ry" Ryan (Neve Campbell) is an aspiring ballerina performing with the renowned Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. As she struggles... [More]
Directed By: Robert Altman

#14

Magic Mike (2012)
79%

#14
Adjusted Score: 87124%
Critics Consensus: Magic Mike's sensitive direction, smart screenplay, and strong performances allow audiences to have their beefcake and eat it too.
Synopsis: By day, Mike (Channing Tatum) makes ends meet any way he can -- handyman jobs, detailing cars or designing furniture.... [More]
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh

#13
#13
Adjusted Score: 86579%
Critics Consensus: Boasting a smart, poignant story, a classic soundtrack, and a starmaking performance from John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever ranks among the finest dramas of the 1970s.
Synopsis: Tony Manero (John Travolta) doesn't have much going for him during the weekdays. He still lives at home and works... [More]
Directed By: John Badham

#12

Fame (1980)
81%

#12
Adjusted Score: 83422%
Critics Consensus: Just because Fame is a well-acted musical doesn't mean it flinches against its surprisingly heavy topics.
Synopsis: Young men and women audition for coveted spots at the New York High School of Performing Arts. Those who make... [More]
Directed By: Alan Parker

#11

Black Swan (2010)
85%

#11
Adjusted Score: 96494%
Critics Consensus: Bracingly intense, passionate, and wildly melodramatic, Black Swan glides on Darren Aronofsky's bold direction -- and a bravura performance from Natalie Portman.
Synopsis: Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina whose passion for the dance rules every facet of her life. When the company's... [More]
Directed By: Darren Aronofsky

#10

Billy Elliot (2000)
85%

#10
Adjusted Score: 88273%
Critics Consensus: Billy Elliot is a charming movie that can evoke both laughter and tears.
Synopsis: The life of 11-year-old Billy Elliot, a coal miner's son in Northern England, is forever changed one day when he... [More]
Directed By: Stephen Daldry

#9

All That Jazz (1979)
87%

#9
Adjusted Score: 89581%
Critics Consensus: Director Bob Fosse and star Roy Scheider are at the top of their games in this dazzling, self-aware stage drama about a death-obsessed director-choreographer.
Synopsis: When he is not planning for his upcoming stage musical or working on his Hollywood film, choreographer/director Joe Gideon (Roy... [More]
Directed By: Bob Fosse

#8

Chicago (2002)
86%

#8
Adjusted Score: 93819%
Critics Consensus: A rousing and energetic adaptation of the Broadway musical, Chicago succeeds on the level of pure spectacle, but provides a surprising level of depth and humor as well.
Synopsis: Nightclub sensation Velma (Catherine Zeta-Jones) murders her philandering husband, and Chicago's slickest lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), is set to... [More]
Directed By: Rob Marshall

#7

Suspiria (1977)
93%

#7
Adjusted Score: 98580%
Critics Consensus: The blood pours freely in Argento's classic Suspiria, a giallo horror as grandiose and glossy as it is gory.
Synopsis: Suzy (Jessica Harper) travels to Germany to attend ballet school. When she arrives, late on a stormy night, no one... [More]
Directed By: Dario Argento

#6

Cabaret (1972)
93%

#6
Adjusted Score: 97474%
Critics Consensus: Great performances and evocative musical numbers help Cabaret secure its status as a stylish, socially conscious classic.
Synopsis: In Berlin in 1931, American cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) meets British academic Brian Roberts (Michael York), who is... [More]
Directed By: Bob Fosse

#5
#5
Adjusted Score: 93262%
Critics Consensus: As emotionally rich as it is eye-catching, Strictly Ballroom uses its infectious energy as the fuel for a modern dance classic with all the right moves.
Synopsis: A top ballroom dancer pairs with a plain, left-footed local girl when his maverick style earns him the disdain of... [More]
Directed By: Baz Luhrmann

#4

The Red Shoes (1948)
97%

#4
Adjusted Score: 103899%
Critics Consensus: The Red Shoes is one of the best-looking movies ever, and blends multiple moods and styles with balletic grace.
Synopsis: In this classic drama, Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) is an aspiring ballerina torn between her dedication to dance and her... [More]

#3

The Fits (2015)
96%

#3
Adjusted Score: 102314%
Critics Consensus: As gripping as it is unique, the thrillingly kinetic The Fits marks debuting writer-director Anna Rose Holmer as a singular talent.
Synopsis: An 11-year-old tomboy (Royalty Hightower) tries to fit in with her peers after joining an all-girl dance team.... [More]
Directed By: Anna Rose Holmer

#2
#2
Adjusted Score: 96374%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Former ballet student Tara Webster longs to return to her dreams after a devastating injury leaves her unable to dance.... [More]
Directed By: Jeffrey Walker

#1
#1
Adjusted Score: 109747%
Critics Consensus: Clever, incisive, and funny, Singin' in the Rain is a masterpiece of the classical Hollywood musical.
Synopsis: A spoof of the turmoil that afflicted the movie industry in the late 1920s when movies went from silent to... [More]
Directed By: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

The resurrection of yesterday’s movie heroes continues with Sylvester Stallone‘s new film Rambo which finds the vet in Southeast Asia where he is pulled into another battle with baddies. The R-rated film from Lionsgate follows the actor’s Rocky Balboa which defied the odds last winter to become both a critical and commercial success. Stallone directed both films. Rambo also comes after Bruce Willis saw a lucrative reboot of the Die Hard franchise last summer, and arrives before Harrison Ford‘s much-anticipated return as Indiana Jones this May.

John Rambo may not be as loved by fans as those other characters which means it may gross the least amount of dough at the domestic box office. The new Rambo will surely attract older males with the nostalgia factor, but younger men are also being targeted by using today’s rock music in the television spots and print ads with images of a cult-like Sly. The image could easily be spray-painted on a wall next to the heads of Andre the Giant and Che Guevara. Rambo is getting the widest release of any new film on Friday and with football taking the weekend off, male audiences will be more available. Most of the competition will come from Cloverfield‘s second frame, but those wanting intense violence and a ton of bullets flying around will find no better choice. Attacking 2,751 theaters, Rambo could debut to about $18M this weekend.


Good ol’ Sly is back

Diane Lane goes solo anchoring the crime thriller Untraceable which finds the Oscar-nominated actress playing a federal agent on the trail of a psychopath that uses the internet to kill his victims. The R-rated film will cater to adult audiences and skew more towards women. Female-led detective thrillers usually struggle at the box office, however Untraceable will benefit from one the best trailers this winter for a non-monster movie. Sony’s marketing efforts have been solid with Lane’s name and the intriguing plot being the main selling points used to lure in ticket buyers. The rating may keep out younger net-savvy teens that might have interest plus an abundance of films will keep things competitive. The sophomore weekend of 27 Dresses will surely draw away some of Untraceable‘s audience, especially those who would rather see something lighter and not so grim. Landing in 2,368 theaters, Untraceable might take away roughly $10M this weekend.


Diane Lane and that Hanks kid in Untraceable

Fox dishes out yet another dose of spoof comedy with Meet the Spartans skewering all sorts of hit films plus Britney and non-Britney pop culture events of the past year. The PG-13 entry is going after the same teen and young adult audience that came out in solid numbers for Epic Movie, which bowed at number one this weekend last year with $18.6M, and the previous year’s Date Movie which debuted to a similar $19.1M. However, the spoof genre showed signs of aging last October when the studio suffered a lowly $5.6M opening for the sports comedy The Comebacks. The target audience is getting a little sick of these antics so the opening for Spartans should be weaker than Epic‘s but better than Comebacks‘. Hefty competition, especially from Cloverfield, will also be a major hurdle to overcome this weekend. Opening in 2,603 locations, Meet the Spartans may launch with about $9M.


Meet the Spartans

Step dancing is back again, this time in female form, with How She Move which Paramount Vantage is releasing for Viacom sibling MTV Films. The PG-13 pic revolves around a talented young woman’s quest to win a dance competition and honor her dead sister’s memory in the process. Move features mostly newcomers and will target teens and urban youth. The same audience powered January hits like You Got Served and Stomp the Yard to number one openings of $16.1M and $21.8M, respectively. But Move lacks the marketing muscle that Sony has a patent on for these types of films. Success with the core crowd should result, but crossover business with other groups will be tough. Plus teens have Cloverfield and Meet the Spartans competing for their attention too so there will be blood. Stepping into about 1,500 sites, How She Move could bow to around $6M.


How She Move

After scoring seven Academy Award nominations, the most for any big studio title, Michael Clayton goes back out into wide release on Friday. Warner Bros. is hoping to catch audiences who maybe didn’t catch it the first time but are now sold on the George Clooney drama because of all the kudos attention. Clayton, which has grossed $39.4M to date, goes back out into 1,102 theaters. A year ago this weekend, the studio gave similar treatment to The Departed which expanded to 1,453 locations for a $3.4M gross in its 17th frame. This time the studio is using the ads to also inform fans of the legal thriller’s February 19 DVD release date so some may just wait a few weeks to catch the acclaimed pic at home. Michael Clayton may find itself with roughly $3M this weekend.


Michael Clayton gets a second run

Last weekend, the beastly disaster flick Cloverfield exploded with a record opening of $46.1M over the four-day holiday frame. A steep drop is likely on the sophomore frame since frenzied upfront demand led to most fans catching the thriller already. Plus Rambo and some of the other new titles will pull audiences away in different directions. A 55% three-day tumble would leave Paramount with about $18M and a ten-day cume of $69M.

Chick flick 27 Dresses is not worried about Stallone, however Diane Lane and the Spartans could provide some competition this weekend for the Katherine Heigl laugher. Audiences have been having a good time with the Fox release so a 40% drop could occur. That would give 27 Dresses roughly $13.5M over three days and a total of $44M after ten days.

Batman franchise alums Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman enjoyed a terrific hold for their pic The Bucket List last weekend which is playing to an older and more patient crowd. A 30% fall would put the Warner Bros. film at around $10.5M pushing the sum to $58M.

LAST YEAR: Spoof comedy led the way with Fox’s Epic Movie which bowed on top to the tune of $18.6M on its way to $39.7M. Opening right behind in second with almost identical per-theater average was the Universal drama Smokin’ Aces with $14.6M from 600 fewer theaters. A $35.7M final gross resulted. Former chart-topper Night at the Museum followed in third with $9.6M while the dance drama Stomp the Yard placed fourth with $7.7M. A hair behind in fifth with a $7.7M debut was Sony’s Jennifer Garner drama Catch and Release which found its way to just $15.3M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Following a six-week streak of R-rated films topping the charts, The Rock‘s family comedy The Game Plan led the box office last weekend. Now, adult fare comes back to claim the crown with the new Ben Stiller comedy The Heartbreak Kid which is aiming for an easy number one debut. Also opening nationally are the fantasy adventure The Seeker: The Dark is Rising and the music-filled drama Feel the Noise. With the Columbus Day holiday falling on Monday, some students will have extra time off making for a solid start for the month of October.

Almost a decade after There’s Something About Mary became a sleeper smash, directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly reunite with Stiller for another raunchy relationship comedy with The Heartbreak Kid. A remake of the 1972 film written by Neil Simon, the Paramount release stands as another number one hit inherited from the DreamWorks factory. The pic tells the story of a man who marries too early and then falls for another woman during his honeymoon. In the past year, the R-rated envelope-pushing comedies Borat, Knocked Up, and Superbad grossed nearly $400M in combined domestic box office proving that there is gold to be mined in this genre when films are made well and deliver the laughs that audiences want.

Plus star-driven comedies with major Hollywood faces routinely lure moviegoers away from the home and into the multiplexes. Heartbreak will probably not reach the $30.7M opening weekend figure of Knocked Up which had more buzz plus opened in June when most college students were out of school. But reviews so far have been quite good for this type of film so adults will certainly give it a try. And with so many dark and serious films about outlaws, vigilantes, and terrorists out there, audiences definitely want something light and funny right now. Opening in over 3,000 theaters, The Heartbreak Kid may debut with about $27M this weekend.


Ben Stiller and Malin Aklerman in The Heartbreak Kid

The time-travel adventure film The Seeker: The Dark is Rising heads into very wide release (possibly too wide) this weekend aiming for young boys in fantasy mode. Rated PG, the Fox release is based on the popular series of novels and will try to tap into a built-in audience of readers. Of course this is no Harry Potter and currently The Rock is doing a good job bringing in business from the lads so it will be an uphill battle at the box office. Overall buzz does not seem too strong so a huge crowd is not expected. Also there is no real starpower so the film will have to rely on special effects and fans of the literary property. Attacking 3,141 venues, The Seeker may generate around $9M over the weekend.


The Seeker

A Harlem rapper discovers Reggaeton music in Puerto Rico in the urban drama Feel the Noise from producer Jennifer Lopez. Sony is using her name prominently in the marketing which makes sense since there is not much starpower on screen. Latino and African-American youth are being targeted by the PG-13 film which should play mostly to a teen audience. The pic has a clear shot at this crowd since Seeker and The Game Plan skew younger and The Heartbreak Kid and The Kingdom will play older. The studio is trying to tap into the same audience that came out in surprisingly potent numbers for its past films like You Got Served and Stomp the Yard. Noise will open in half as many theaters and the buzz is a bit softer so the numbers will undoubtedly be smaller. Still an impressive average is likely. Stepping into 1,000 locations, Feel the Noise might bow to around $5M.


Feel the Noise

Opening in just 15 theaters in a handful of cities is the George Clooney legal thriller Michael Clayton from Warner Bros. In the R-rated pic, the Oscar-winning actor plays a hotshot attorney who is called in to manage a crisis when his firm’s top litigator suffers a breakdown while defending a top client. Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and Sydney Pollack co-star. Reviews have been strong and the studio hopes that buzz from a few select markets will spread when Clayton expands nationally next weekend. But a crowded marketplace for serious adult dramas will make things tough.


George Clooney in Michael Clayton

The Rock‘s kidpic The Game Plan delivered a powerful debut last weekend and with little competition from new releases, plus the Columbus Day holiday, a solid hold should result. Seeker will distract a few young boys, but overall it shouldn’t be that much of a threat. A decline of 30% could occur giving the Disney hit around $16M for the session boosting the ten-day cume to an impressive $42M.

The Middle East drama The Kingdom has been ranking number one during the week since kids are busy with school and less able to see Game Plan. Universal should see a 45% drop to about $9.5M which would put the Jamie Foxx actioner at $32M after ten days. Look for Resident Evil: Extinction to slide 50% to roughly $4M leaving Sony with $43M to date.

LAST YEAR: October kicked off with a bang with the top spot debut of Martin Scorsese‘s The Departed with $26.9M. Warner Bros. went on to gross $132.4M domestically and $288M worldwide plus scored four Oscars including the coveted Best Picture statue. Opening in second place with $18.5M was Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning which was the first of three horror sequels that month. New Line found its way to $39.5M. Sony’s toon hit Open Season dropped to third with $15.6M in its sophomore frame. The Lionsgate comedy Employee of the Month bowed in fourth with $11.4M on its way to $28.4M. The Guardian rounded out the top five with $9.6M in its second weekend.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

With the Super Bowl taking males out of the picture, mothers and daughters squared off at the North American box office this weekend with the younger set earning a slim victory. The spooky thriller "The Messengers" opened at number one driven by teenage girls and young women while the Diane Keaton comedy "Because I Said So" bowed close behind in the runnerup position drawing upon older women.

The overall box office picture was bleak as the top ten slumped below the $70M mark for the second time in three weekends.

Sony scored its seventh consecutive victory over Super Bowl weekend with the haunted house spookfest "The Messengers," which grossed an estimated $14.5M in its debut frame. The PG-13 pic averaged a solid $5,736 from 2,528 locations but was weaker than the studio’s previous three hits that ruled this particular weekend. Last year, the horror pic "When a Stranger Calls" topped the charts with a $21.6M opening and $7,205 average, in 2005 "Boogeyman" led with a $19M bow and $6,232 average, and in 2004 "You Got Served" hit number one with $16.1M and a $8,341 average. "Messengers" did however post the best opening for a horror film since October’s "Saw III." A long string of terror flops were tossed into the marketplace in between with disappointing results.

Budgeted at only $16M, "The Messengers" skewed to a young female audience. According to studio research, 53% of the crowd was female and an equal percentage was under the age of 21. The studio is already planning for next year’s Super Bowl frame when it will release the horror remake "Prom Night," which will again cater to the same crowd. Teenage girls and young women historically have been the group least interested in football’s big championship game making them an attractive audience to target on this weekend. Creepy PG-13 films with strong female characters coupled with saavy marketing have led to many number one hits for Sony and its Screen Gems unit. But with the grosses getting smaller, movie fans could be telling Hollywood that it is dipping into this well too often.

Opening in second place with respectable results was "Because I Said So" with an estimated $13M from 2,526 theaters. Averaging $5,155 per location, the PG-13 film stars Diane Keaton as a meddlesome mother trying to find love for her unmarried daughter played by Mandy Moore. Men showed practically zero interest in the Universal release. Studio research showed that a whopping 82% of the audience was female. The film also played more to Keaton fans than to the Moore crowd as 55% of the turnout was 35 or older. 83% was Caucasian. Critics trashed "Because" and "Messengers" may have eaten into its potential with younger women.

Last weekend’s number one film "Epic Movie" dropped a sizable 56% in its second weekend and ranked third with an estimated $8.2M. With $29.4M in ten days, the spoof comedy looks on course to finish with $40-44M making it a bit smaller than Fox’s spoof from last February "Date Movie." That spin on romantic comedies grossed a somewhat stronger $33.8M in its first ten days, had a slightly lower 53% sophomore drop, and found its way to $48.5M.

Fox’s runaway smash "Night at the Museum" slipped only 29% and placed fourth with an estimated $6.8M pushing its tally to $225.4M. The durable Ben Stiller blockbuster became the first film to spend seven weekends in the top five since 2004’s "The Passion of the Christ."

Universal’s mob thriller "Smokin’ Aces" dropped 57% to an estimated $6.3M in its second weekend and put its cume at $25M after ten days. The step dancing hit "Stomp the Yard" followed with an estimated $4.2M, off 45%, for a total of $56M. The Oscar-nominated musical "Dreamgirls" saw the worst decline of its run dropping 40% to an estimated $4M. Cume stands at $92.8M.

Picturehouse added 259 theaters to the run of the fantasy pic "Pan’s Labyrinth" and stayed put at number eight with an estimated $3.7M. With six Academy Award nominations, the R-rated film upped its cume to $21.7M while its average of $3,383 was the third best in the top ten. Will Smith‘s tenth career $100M blockbuster "The Pursuit of Happyness" took in an estimated $3.1M, down 38%, for a $157.4M total to date.

Tied for tenth place with an estimated $2.7M in ticket sales each were the Helen Mirren Oscar nominated pic "The Queen" and the Jennifer Garner dramedy "Catch and Release." The Miramax contender for Best Picture slipped 33% raising its cume to $45.5M while the Sony flick tumbled 65% in its second weekend thanks to its female audience shifting over to the frame’s two new releases. The ten-day total stands at a weak $12M.

The horror remake "The Hitcher" also saw sales nosedive and dropped out of the top ten. The Focus release slumped 68% to an estimated $1.2M giving the R-rated scarefest only $15.6M overall. A final gross of $17M seems likely.

MGM and The Weinstein Co. saw a solid start for its indie drama "Factory Girl," starring media darling Sienna Miller grossing an estimated $95,000 from only three theaters for a stellar $31,764 average per site. Bowing in just New York and Los Angeles, the R-rated film tells of the rise of Edie Sedgwick and her mentor Andy Warhol. Reviews were mostly negative.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $66.5M which was off 13% from last year when "When A Stranger Calls" opened at number one with $21.6M; and down 19% from 2005 when "Boogeyman" debuted on top with $19M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Can Ben Stiller and his living artifacts four-peat at the top of the North American box office, or will one of the new releases take the crown over the four-day Dr. Martin Luther King holiday weekend? Ticket buyers will decide.

Leading the freshman class is the dance drama "Stomp the Yard" which could have breakout potential. Also opening are the fantasy pic "Arthur and the Invisibles," the drug dealer pic "Alpha Dog," and the horror flick "Primeval." With so many schools closed on Monday, the new films are targeting students of all ages who will have extra time on their hands.

The west and east coasts meet in "Stomp the Yard," a story of a Los Angeles student enrolled in an Atlanta university who uses his unique style to help his fraternity compete in a step dancing contest. The PG-13 film is short on starpower, but makes up for that with terrific marketing which is the real ingredient that will put asses into the seats. Sony has cut exciting trailers and commercial spots which should spark lots of interest with teens and young adults. Plus, MLK weekend is the perfect time to open a black college film since interest will be high for this particular subject matter. African American students will especially be out in solid numbers. However, the opening of Justin Timberlake‘s "Alpha Dog" could take away some of the young adult crowd.

"Stomp" should appeal to the same audiences that delivered bigger-than-expected openings for "Drumline" ($12.6M opening, $6,865 average), "ATL" ($11.6M, $7,212), and "You Got Served" ($16.1M, $8,341). The urban youth of America possesses tremendous spending power and Hollywood has just woken up to this in recent years financing low cost flicks that return handsome profits through theatrical and DVD sales. "Stomp" also offers an appealing story relevant to today’s young people and looks to join this list. Stepping into 2,051 theaters, "Stomp the Yard" could collect about $16M over four days this weekend.


An action shot from "Stomp the Yard."

The weekend’s only new kidpic comes in the form of the French production "Arthur and the Invisibles," a groundbreaking feature which mixes live-action with animation in a fantasy tale. The PG-rated film from The Weinstein Co. is directed by action professional Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element," "Joan of Arc") and features the voices of Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Snoop Dogg, and Madonna. With so many young children across the country having a long school holiday, "Arthur" should get some play as the only new option for parents who have taken enough trips to the Museum. Of course "Happily N’Ever After" flopping last weekend shows that family audiences will not come out for just anything. With about 2,500 theaters, it is the widest of the new titles which could help it get into double digit millions over the extended frame. The marketing push has been admirable too. MLK weekend has often seen better-than-expected results for debuting kiddie flicks like "Kangaroo Jack," "Racing Stripes," and "Hoodwinked." "Arthur and the Invisibles" may carve out its share of the pie and gross roughly $11M over the four-day period.


Those troll dolls have found a new purpose in "Arthur and the Invisibles."

Pop music king Justin Timberlake joins an ensemble cast which includes Emile Hirsch, Sharon Stone, and Bruce Willis in the gritty drama "Alpha Dog." Directed by Nick Cassavetes, the R-rated film tells of a drug dealer who kidnaps the younger brother of a friend who owes a debt. The Universal release is based on true events and will target older teens and twentysomethings. The marketing makes the film look slick and cool plus JT provides a built-in audience of fans that can be tapped into.

However, two main obstacles are in the way – the rating and competition from "Stomp the Yard." A large portion of Timberlake’s fans are young teens and they will have a hard time buying tickets. Plus, "Stomp" will be distracting the urban youth with its slick look and milder PG-13 rating. On top of that, the studio’s release is not too wide. These factors should curtail the potential of "Alpha." Critics have given solid support which may help a little, although Time Out New York boldly calls the pic the worst movie of the year in its zero-star review. Opening in about 1,200 theaters, "Alpha Dog" might bite down on around $8M over the long weekend.


Timberlake gets down in "Alpha Dog."

Every horror film since Halloween has flopped and the streak looks to continue with "Primeval" from Buena Vista. The R-rated film about a news crew hunting down a killer boasts no starpower and lacks a compelling plot worthy of the ten-dollar bills of genre fans. Marketing support has been weak and awareness is not very high. The fright flick seems to have the same potential as last month’s "Turistas" which bowed to a weak $3.6M and $2,282 average. "Primeval" will open wider with about 2,000 theaters and has an extended four-day session so a gross of roughly $6M could result followed by steep drops.

Zhang Yimou has seen solid but not spectacular averages for his latest Chinese epic "Curse of the Golden Flower" which has already grossed $2.2M from its limited release in about 60 theaters. Its average of $6,104 last weekend will drop considerably as it expands nationwide into about 1,200 playdates. The Mandarin-language period piece seems to be going too wide too fast and with all the choices in the multiplexes, Sony Classics may find it difficult to get multiplex crowds into all those new seats. "Curse" will try to play to fans of the "Hero" director, but Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li are no Jet Li and Zhang Ziyi at the American box office. A $4M gross over the long weekend could result.


These horses must be suffering from "The Curse of the Golden Flower."

Ben Stiller and Will Smith have been inseparable blockbuster brothers atop the box office charts for the last three weeks. But the weekend’s new releases should finally cause a breakup. Stiller’s runaway smash "Night at the Museum" has been holding up incredibly well against any competition that has come its way and will attempt to become the first film since 2003’s "The Return of the King" to remain number one for four consecutive weekends. The only thing standing in its path is a possible teen explosion for "Stomp." "Museum’s" four-day holiday gross could slip 25% from last weekend’s three-day figure giving the Fox hit about $18M and a remarkable cume to date of $187M.

Smith has done pretty well for himself too with "The Pursuit of Happyness" which should see another solid turnout over MLK weekend. A 20% drop would give Sony a four-day tally of $10M boosting its total to a stellar $137M.

Since it opened nationally on Christmas Day, "Dreamgirls" has been posting the best per-theater averages of any wide release. Now, Paramount will more than double the run and expand the Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical from 852 to about 1,800 theaters. The Jamie FoxxBeyonce Knowles musical is the favorite to take home that honor, plus other statues, and the studio wants to make sure the product is available everywhere once the wins occur. Plus, films with African American casts routinely do very well over the King frame so a jump in sales is assured. For the four-day period, "Dreamgirls" may climb to around $11M putting the cume at $68M. If it wins the Globe for Best Picture and secures a sizable number of Oscar nominations the following week, the total domestic take could certainly surpass the $100M mark as it did for "Chicago" four years ago. The Richard Gere musical reached a similar $63.8M at the end of the weekend it went fully national into 1,841 locations and went on to a sensational $170.7M final total.

LAST YEAR: Disney kicked off the first of what would be many hit sports flicks in 2006 with the basketball drama "Glory Road" which opened at number one over MLK weekend with $16.9M over four days. The live action film barely beat out the animated comedy "Hoodwinked" which also grossed $16.9M over the Friday-to-Monday period, but was about $50,000 shy of the number one spot. The duo reached $42.6M and $51.2M, respectively. Third place also was held by a new release. Paramount’s Queen Latifah comedy "Last Holiday" bowed to a solid $15.5M on its way to $38.4M. Rounding out the top five were former number ones "The Chronicles of Narnia" with $12.8M and "Hostel" with $11.4M over the long weekend. Fox’s romance "Tristan & Isolde" found few lovers in its debut opening to $7.6M on its way to just $14.7M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Hoo boy this is confusing, so I’ll just let Dark Horizons completely explain it to you. But the gist is this: Russell Crowe WILL (not) be starring in Baz Luhrmann‘s war drama, despite the rumors that the gig went to Heath Ledger instead … only it didn’t.

Thanks to DH for deciphering all this stuff: "Crowe has for months been set to play Nicole Kidman‘s lover later this year in the film, which was to be set around the Japanese bombing of Darwin in 1942. Crowe however, who has been very upfront about his involvement in the project, was accused of demanding script approval before signing on for the film.

The producers apparently told Luhrmann to find another actor, and so he met Ledger several times and offered him the movie, and then according to insiders "Crowe came back to Luhrmann and said he’d forgo script approval and wanted to do the film, but they told him it was too late – to buzz off…

Now, today’s Variety reports that reps for (Heath) Ledger confirmed he was offered but had passed on the project. At present, Kidman and Luhrmann are still attached to the project which is still going forward, however it’s unlikely Crowe will return."

Wait … what?

The Hollywood Reporter brings news of a new project that sounds a lot like "You Got Served … Candy!" Evan Ross Naess, son of Ms. Diana Ross, is in final negotiations to star in Warner Bros’ roller-skating comedy "Jellybeans."

Described as "a contemporary urban comedy with music and dance set in a roller-skating rink in Atlanta," the flick will be directed by first-timer Chris Robinson, but the rookie helmer will apparently have a lot of help from a cadre of screenwriters. "Jellybeans" was written by Tina Chism ("Drumline"), Antwone Fisher ("Antwone Fisher"), Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") & Joe Robert Cole … and the resulting screenplay is "based on material by Dallas Austin and T-Boz." Whatever that means.

Odd that you’d need six writers to create a skate-rink kid’s comedy, but I’ll hold my snarky commentaries until after I’ve experienced the wonder that will surely be "Jellybeans."

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