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

This week in movies, we’ve got tough chicks fighting for their lives ("The Descent"), a redneck racing saga ("Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"), a psychological thriller starring Mork from Ork ("The Night Listener"), and farm animals who just wanna have fun ("Barnyard: The Original Party Animals"). Which flicks will get the critical seal of approval?


"The Descent" — Certified Fresh!

Two constants in Hollywood are that (A) foreign flicks generally don’t have widespread appeal and (B) horror flicks don’t get critical praise, like, ever. "The Descent," about six female spelunkers whose weekend cave-diving adventure turns deadly, has defied these tenets — a low-budget import from Scotland, of all places, this female-driven frightener has critics on the edges of their popcorn-strewn seats. The scribes say that director Neil Marshall ("Dog Soldiers") has masterfully created a claustrophobe’s nightmare, and has added a compelling meditation on morality, vengeance, and the depths to which we might go for human survival. High marks also go to the cast of relatively unknown actresses, who manage to balance sex appeal and strength as believable adventuresses. At 90 percent, this gory thriller has earned RT’s Certified Fresh stamp — and is on track to becoming the best-reviewed horror film of the year!


"Talladega Nights" — sponsored by Wonder Bread and Old Spice

Perennial jester Will Ferrell stars as hard-driven, bumbling NASCAR ace Ricky Bobby in "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," a high-octane comedy set in the all-American world of race car driving. Inescapably drawing comparisons to 2004’s "Anchorman" (which, like "Talladega," starred Ferrell and was co-written by director Adam McKay), there’s no doubt that Ferrell is on his comedic game in this sweet-natured send-up of the NASCAR world. Critics also agree on the strength of Ferrell’s supporting cast (including John C. Reilly as Ricky Bobby’s steadfast racing buddy, and British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen ("Da Ali G Show") as his scene-stealing gay French rival). But is it funny? While the largely-improvised laughs are occasionally uneven, critics say the highs are indeed hilarious and worth the ride. At 73 percent on the Tomatometer, go ahead and buckle up for "Talladega."


Robin Williams in the JT Leroy-ish thriller, "The Night Listener"

"The Night Listener" marks another revisiting of comic genius Robin Williams to that oh-so-foreign milieu — dramatic acting — in a psychological thriller adapted from Armistead Maupin’s story of the same name. Williams plays Gabriel, a lonely nighttime radio host who forges a relationship with a young abuse victim named Pete (Rory Culkin), but begins to question the truth behind Pete’s story; eventually, he wonders if Pete really exists at all. The critics say that, despite a real-life relevancy in light of such fictitious media sensations as J.T. Leroy, any suspensefulness built up by Patrick Stettner‘s creepy, atmospheric direction fizzles out with muddled storytelling; perhaps, too, funnyman Williams has been slightly miscast in a sad-sack role that requires more believable misery. However, many scribes are quick to point out the film’s unusually brief 81-minute runtime, if that gives you any more incentive to buy a ticket, but at 45 percent on the Tomatometer, you probably want to tune out this "Listener."


When the farmer’s asleep, the cows cut loose in "Barnyard"

Are you in the mood for an animated tale of farm animals who party when the humans aren’t looking? How about one with a rebellious boy cow as the hero? "Barnyard" offers up such fare with the story of Otis (voiced by Kevin James), a fun-loving cow who would rather carouse about the farm than protect its denizens from ravenous coyotes, a duty that his father (Sam Elliott) tries in vain to impart to him. With a voice cast that includes Wanda Sykes and Courteney Cox, "Barnyard" aims for comedic targets in the form of anthropomorphized animal laughs, gross humor, and sight gags (courtesy of "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" director Steve Oedekirk) — lowbrow humor that, critics moan, appeal only to the senses of children under the age of eight. Unfortunately for the chaperones of the target demographic, aside from some spontaneous musical numbers and a few adult-oriented jokes, there’s not much here to entertain grown-ups. At 33 percent, "Barnyard" is only for parents who love their kids enough to sit through it.

Also opening this week, albeit in limited release: "My Country, My Country," a political documentary about the Iraq 2005 election, is at 100 percent; French romantic thriller "The Bridesmaid" is at 83 percent; the coming-of-age tale (and Sundance fave) "Quinceanera" is at 81 percent; retiree rom-com "The Boynton Beach Club" is at 55 percent; the prison cell drama "Jailbait" is at 14 percent; and gay teen drama "Vacationland" is at — gulp — 0 percent.

Recent Will Ferrell Movies:
—————————————————————————–
Curious George – 69%
Winter Passing – 41%
Melinda & Melinda – 51%
Kicking and Screaming – 43%
Bewitched – 25%

As the Sundance Film Festival drew to a close, commercially-viable films were being snapped up while the truly independent award-winners remained largely unbought.

Acquisitions of this year’s entries focused mainly on big names (Steve Carell) and wide appeal, as "Little Miss Sunshine" started things off with a $10 million deal followed by pics like "The Darwin Awards," "The Science of Sleep," "Factotum" and "The Night Listener." Even the smaller films that secured distribution deals boasted recognizable names — "Stay" (directed by Bobcat Goldthwait), "Right at Your Door" (with Rory Cochrane and Mary McCormack), and the recent ThinkFilm acquisition, "Half Nelson" (starring Ryan Gosling).

One look at the award winners announced Saturday night reveals the disparity between the best films in the festival and those that secured distribution deals. Setting precedence by winning two awards each in their respective categories, the two top winners both examined immigrant life in America.

Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland‘s "Quinceneara" boasts an unknown cast in the story of a Latina girl ostracized by her immigrant family when she becomes pregnant, and won both the prestigious Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for best Drama.

Likewise, Christopher Quinn‘s documentary "God Grew Tired Of Us" won both Grand Jury and Audience Awards for best Documentary with it’s story of three Sudanese boys who trekked thousands of miles across their war-torn homeland and eventually found refuge in America.

By the end of the festival, neither of the history-making winners had secured a distribution deal.

Other winners in Sundance competition include Mexico’s "In The Pit" (World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary), France’s "13 Tzameti" (World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic), Mexico’s "De NADIE" (World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary), and New Zealand’s "No. 2" (World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic).

Honors also went to James Longley‘s doc "Iraq In Fragments," which won honors for Documentary Directing, Excellence in Cinematography, and Documentary Film Editing; "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" helmer Dito Montiel for Dramatic Directing; and "Right At Your Door" lensman Tom Richmond for Excellence in Cinematography.

Special Jury Prizes went to "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" for Best Ensemble Performance; Julia Kwan’s "Eve & the Fire Horse;" So Yong Kim‘s "In Between Days;" and docs "American Blackout" and "TV Junkie."

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