Despite a pair of newcomers close behind in its rearview mirror, Will Ferrell‘s hit comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby finished in first place for the second consecutive weekend to retain its North American box office trophy.

The frame’s biggest shocker came in second place with the stellar debut of the teen dance drama Step Up which flew past expectations to edge out Oliver Stone‘s high-profile 9/11 film World Trade Center which opened with solid results in third place. The new horror film Pulse launched in fifth place with mediocre results while Tim Allen‘s family film Zoom imploded with a disastrous bow in seventh place.

Talladega Nights held onto the number one spot with an estimated $23M in its second weekend of release dropping an understandable 51%. The $73M Sony hit raced to a total of $91.2M after ten days of release and could find its way to the $140M mark.

Getting high marks in the runnerup spot was Buena Vista’s Step Up which surprised the industry with a sizzling $21.1M opening weekend, according to estimates, from 2,467 theaters. The PG-13 pic about a trained ballerina who joins forces with a tough street dancer averaged a sturdy $8,539 per location and was powered primarily by teenage girls and young women. The surprise muscle of Step Up played out much like the bow of another late-summer film targeting teen girls – 2000’s Bring It On. That pic debuted at number one with $17.4M, spent two weeks at the top, and found its way to $68.4M followed by a pair of non-theatrical sequels keeping the franchise alive to this day.

Oliver Stone’s 9/11 drama World Trade Center finished in third place grossing an estimated $19M over the weekend and $26.8M since debuting on Wednesday. Averaging a solid $6,431 from 2,957 theaters over the Friday-to-Sunday portion, the Paramount release stars Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena as cops buried underneath the rubble of the collapsed Twin Towers. Reviews were mostly positive for the $65M film and word-of-mouth so far seems positive. Studio research showed that 91% of those polled called the disaster drama "excellent" or "very good".

While young moviegoers were lining up for Step Up, World Trade Center skewed mostly to a mature adult audience with 65% of the crowd being over the age of 25. Females made up 55% of the audience. With good reviews, positive buzz, and almost no interesting films for adults opening in the coming weeks, World Trade Center could hold up well in the weeks ahead.

Paramount’s animated comedy Barnyard dropped only 36% in its second weekend to an estimated $10.1M for fourth place. With $34.1M in the bank after ten days, the toon could find its way to about $60M. The PG-rated film’s budget was under $50M.

The suspense thriller Pulse debuted in fifth with an estimated $8.5M from a launch in 2,323 sites. Averaging a mild $3,640 per location for The Weinstein Co., the PG-13 film made only a small dent in the overall box office.

Disney took in an estimated $7.2M with its summer tentpole Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest lifting its incredible total to a towering $392.4M. The Johnny Depp smash fell just 35% and now sits at number seven on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters just behind Spider-Man which hauled in $403.7M in 2002. Overseas, there’s still no stopping Pirates which vaulted its international total to $463M pushing the global gross to a stunning $855M.

Sony’s Tim Allen family pic Zoom crashed and burned in its debut grossing a measly $4.6M in its opening weekend. Playing in 2,501 theaters, the PG-rated film about an old super hero recruited to train a bunch of kids averaged an embarrassing $1,839 per venue.

The horror flick The Descent dropped 48% in its second weekend to an estimated $4.6M and pushed its ten-day tally to a decent $17.5M. The Lionsgate release should dig up $25-27M by the end of its run. Universal’s action remake Miami Vice suffered another steep drop falling 56% to an estimated $4.5M for a $55.1M total. The animated pic Monster House rounded out the top ten with an estimated $3.3M, off 46%, giving Sony $63.7M to date.

Four more films were tossed right out of the top ten this weekend. Fox’s high school comedy John Tucker Must Die fell 52% to an estimated $3M in its third frame. With a solid $35.7M, the low-budget teen hit should finish with around $40M. Fellow comedy You, Me and Dupree grossed an estimated $1.9M, down 48%, and has collected $70.8M to date. Universal’s $54M pic is set to reach an impressive $74M.

Not-so-impressive results came from The Ant Bully with an estimated $1.8M and The Night Listener with an estimated $1.4M. Tumbling 55%, the Warner Bros. toon has taken in just $22.4M and will stumble to about $25M. Miramax’s Robin Williams thriller has grossed a puny $6.3M for Miramax and could end up with only $8M.

With Hollywood’s summer season of blockbusters coming to an end, plenty of activity was brewing over the weekend with limited release titles. ThinkFilm opened its critically-acclaimed indie Half Nelson in just two New York theaters but grossed a stellar $55,000, according to estimates. The R-rated drama about an inner city teacher with an addiction to crack averaged a potent $27,475 and expands to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. on August 25.

Sony Classics premiered the Brazilian drama The House of Sand in five locations in New York and Los Angeles and grossed an estimated $33,000 for a moderate $6,600 average. The distributor’s teen pregnancy drama Quinceanera widened from eight to 27 theaters in its second weekend and grossed an estimated $138,000 giving the Sundance award winner a mild $5,111 average. Total to date stands at $278,000.

Indie darling Little Miss Sunshine witnessed another powerful expansion widening from 58 to 153 locations for a weekend estimate of $2.6M and a sizzling average of $16,993. Fox Searchlight reported that audiences in the new cities are responding to the stellar word-of-mouth while theaters in existing markets are holding up remarkably well. The weekend decline among holdover theaters was only 17%. With $5.6M in the bank, look for Little Miss Sunshine to pop into the top ten next weekend when it expands into 600 playdates nationwide and remain there with a wider push into 1,500 locations the following frame. So far, the dysfunctional family comedy has performed even better than the distributor’s spring indie hit Thank You for Smoking as well as its 2004 hit Garden State which was released at this same time and in similar fashion. Those films went on to gross $24.7M and $26.8M, respectively.

Paramount Vantage’s global warming film An Inconvenient Truth became the third biggest documentary of all time over the weekend. Al Gore‘s success story took in an estimated $367,000 in its 12th weekend and lifted its cume to $21.9M surpassing the $21.6M of 2002’s Oscar-winning doc Bowling for Columbine.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $105.9M which was up 6% from last year when Four Brothers debuted at number one with $21.2M; but down 12% from 2004 when Alien vs. Predator opened in the top spot with a robust $38.3M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Another frame packed with four new national releases is led by Oliver Stone‘s 9/11 drama "World Trade Center" from Paramount. A trio of lower profile pics round out the weekend – Sony’s family adventure "Zoom," Buena Vista’s teen drama "Step Up," and The Weinstein Company’s horror flick "Pulse." Despite all the new entries, Will Ferrell will try to win the box office title for the second consecutive time with his comedy "Talladega Nights" which has been racing well ahead of its competition since opening last weekend.

Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Maria Bello star in the high-profile story of courage "World Trade Center" which Paramount debuted on Wednesday. The PG-13 film tells the real life story of John McLoughlin and William Jimeno, two Port Authority cops who were trapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers on September 11. Rather than focus on any villains, "WTC" only tells the story of ordinary men put into extraordinary circumstances and how their families coped. Mature adults will make up the primary audience. Teen appeal seems limited. Since the box office is currently lacking choices for older adults, the Oliver Stone film will not face much direct competition. Men and women will be equally drawn to this emotionally-charged story of heroism.

There will be many moviegoers that will find it to be too soon for a film about a tragedy just approaching its fifth anniversary. However, curiousity will bring out others looking for an uplifting story about that fateful Tuesday morning. "WTC" should appeal to many of the same people who turned out for 2004’s "Ladder 49." That film featured Cage’s "Face/Off" nemesis John Travolta as a noble firefighter and just told a tale about American heroes doing the right thing for each other, and not really dwelling on any enemy. "Ladder" bowed to $22.1M over three days.

Center will also be compared to April’s United 93 which was the first Hollywood film to tackle 9/11. With a subdued release in under 1,800 locations, that pic opened well with $11.5M and a solid $6,395 average. "WTC" has more theaters, more starpower in front of and behind the camera, and is not as grim. Reviews have mostly been good which will help. Long-term prospects are encouraging since the rest of August has nothing major for mature adults. Now playing in 2,803 theaters, "World Trade Center" might open with about $18M over the weekend and around $24M over five days.

Tim Allen plays an ex-super hero who is called upon to train a group of slacker kids in Sony’s new family film "Zoom." The PG-rated pic will have plenty of competition as it marks the fourth consecutive week that studios have rolled out movies aimed at young ones. Only this time, it isn’t a toon. Allen has always been a consistent draw in this genre, most notably in his "Santa Clause" movies which sees its third installment this coming holiday season. Earlier this year, he starred in the Disney remake "The Shaggy Dog" which bowed to $16.3M in March. "Zoom," which co-stars Courteney Cox and Chevy Chase, will not reach that level as it is not generating as much excitement. Plus the volume on the marketing push has been typical of a mid-August opener. Flying into 2,501 theaters, "Zoom" might debut with around $9M.

Hollywood seems to have written a new rule stating that 9/11 films must be counter-programmed with teen-girl pics that explore popular extracurricular activities. "United 93" opened against the gymnastics comedy "Stick It," and now "WTC" will face Buena Vista’s "Step Up" which finds a ballerina and a tough street dancer locking hips. The PG-13 film will play primarily to young females and the studio is hoping to score another low-cost hit like Disney’s April comedy which debuted to a better-than-expected $10.8M. "Step Up" lacks marquee stars, but does offer some faces that add value when it comes to the Clearasil crowd. The bad boy meets good girl formula is once again tested and little crossover to older patrons is likely. Competition for teens and young adults is ample so a breakout bow may not surface, but a respectable showing is likely. Dancing into 2,100 theaters, "Step Up" could debut to around $8M.

Supernatural beasties attack us innocent humans through cell phones and email in the new horror flick "Pulse." The PG-13 film is aimed at teens that have seen every other film and want some quick thrills before heading back to school. With no major stars, and a concept that is far from intriguing, the Weinstein Co. release should be in for some modest dollars over the weekend. "The Descent" will be "Pulse’s" major foe, but like most fright flicks, the chicks-in-a-cave movie should tumble down further on the charts in its second weekend. "Step Up" and "Talladega Nights" will also be distracting teens. Opening in 2,326 theaters, "Pulse" might scare up about $8M this weekend.

In foreign film releases, Yash Raj Films opens the all-star Bollywood film "Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna" (Never Say Goodbye) in top markets across North America. Shot in New York, the Hindi-language film explores the breakdown of marital bonds. Brazilian actress Fernanda Montenegro ("Central Station") headlines "The House of Sand" which Sony Classics platforms in New York and Los Angeles this Friday. The story of three generations of women in the barren lands of northern Brazil played at the Tribeca Film Festival and will roll out into more cities throughout the rest of summer.

Last weekend’s box office champ "Talladega Nights" hopes to retain its crown in its second lap. The Will Ferrell hit is sure to see a large decline, but competition for teens and young adults is not too fierce. A 50% drop would leave Sony with about $23M for the session and a solid ten-day cume of $92M. Paramount’s "Barnyard" may fall by 40% and rake in around $9.5M pushing its total to $33M after ten days. The Johnny Depp megasmash "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest" could drop by another 40% to $6.5M lifting its jaw-dropping total to $392M.

LAST YEAR: Director John Singleton scored a top spot debut with his revenge thriller "Four Brothers" which debuted with $21.2M. Paramount found its way to $74.5M with the Mark Wahlberg drama. Opening in second was the Kate Hudson suspense thriller "The Skeleton Key" with $16.1M on its way to $47.8M for Universal. Falling from first to third was the comedy "The Dukes of Hazzard" with $13M dropping a steep 58% from its bow. Rival comedy "Wedding Crashers" held up much better easing 26% in its fifth frame to $11.8M. Opening in fifth place with $9.6M was Sony’s comedy sequel "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" which ended its run with just $22.3M. The weekend’s other new release, the military drama "The Great Raid," opened modestly in tenth with only $3.4M on its way to $10.2M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

This week at the movies, we’ve got Oliver Stone paying tribute to the heroes of 9/11 ("World Trade Center," starring Nicolas Cage); two youngsters trying to start a dance dance revolution ("Step Up," starring Jenna Dewan and Channing Tatum); a school for young superheroes ("Zoom," starring Tim Allen and Courteney Cox); and an evil website ("Pulse," starring Kristen Bell). What do the critics have to say?

Oliver Stone has never been the subtlest of directors, nor has he shied away from controversy or conspiracy-mongering. So it’s something of a surprise to critics that with his latest, "World Trade Center," he has tackled a subject (the 9/11 attacks) rife with talk of dark machinations and created a straightforward, apolitical tale of heroism. Based on a true story, "World Trade Center" stars Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena as a pair of Port Authority police officers who became trapped in the ruins of the World Trade Center while attempting to rescue others. Critics say the narrow human focus is one of the strengths of the film, along with its stunning visuals and an old-fashioned sense of resilience and heroism. At 70 percent on the Tomatometer, "World Trade Center" may be a cut below Paul Greengrass‘ 9/11 film "United 93" (90 percent), but it’s a worthy examination of a day that will live in infamy. It’s also Stone’s best-reviewed film since "Nixon."


Nicolas Cage as real-life officer John McLoughlin in "World Trade Center"

"Step Up" tells the story of a hip-hop dancer from the wrong side of the tracks (Channing Tatum) and a privileged ballerina (Jenna Dewan) who overcome their differences to make beautiful music together on the dance floor. Sound familiar? It should, if you’ve seen "Saturday Night Fever," "Save the Last Dance," or "Dirty Dancing." Perhaps the Bee Gees presciently spoke for the critics of "Step Up" when they sang, "You should be dancing," for the scribes say the film is at its best in its electrifying dance sequences, but dramatically flat otherwise. At 21 percent on the Tomatometer, the critics are putting this baby in a corner.


"Step Up": Do fries come with that shake?

The studios apparently believe "Pulse" is pretty lifeless, and that "Zoom" is full of cinematic gloom. What else could explain the fact that the Kristen Bell J-horror remake and the Tim Allen superhero comedy, respectively, were not screened for critics? It’s time to bust out those crystal balls and guess those Tomatometers, people.


"Sometimes when we touch/ the horror’s just too much"

Also in theaters this week, in limited release: "Half Nelson," starring Ryan Gosling as a troubled inner city teacher, is at a whopping 95 percent on the Tomatometer; the Czech surrealist horror film "Lunacy" is at 80 percent; "House of Sand," a visually remarkable Brazilian epic, is at 80 percent; "Conversations With Other Women," a tale of a romantic reunion starring Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart, is at 70 percent; "The Trouble With Men and Women," a low-budget Brit relationship drama, is at 50 percent; "Poster Boy," a drama about the gay son of a senator, is at 43 percent; and "The Ordeal," a dark Belgian horror import, is at 43 percent.

Recent Oliver Stone Movies:
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16% — Alexander (2004)
50% — Comandante (2003)
48% — Any Given Sunday (1999)
51% — U-Turn (1997)
74% — Nixon (1995)

Recent Nicolas Cage Movies:
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61% — Lord of War (2005)
59% — The Weather Man (2005)
42% — National Treasure (2004)
82% — Matchstick Men (2003)
90% — Adaptation (2002)

Films Not Screened For Critics In 2006 (Best To Worst Tomatometer Score):
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28% — Silent Hill
27% — Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion
24% — Phat Girlz
16% — Grandma’s Boy
15% — Underworld: Evolution
11% — The Benchwarmers
10% — Ultraviolet
10% — When a Stranger Calls
7% — Date Movie
7% — Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector
6% — See No Evil
5% — Doogal
5% — BloodRayne
5% — Stay Alive