Two promising new comedies target different age groups and look to close off a red hot March box office with strong opening weekend sales.

Paramount offers the Will Ferrell pic "Blades of Glory" while Disney goes after the kids with the animated flick "Meet the Robinsons." Together, the pictures should help the marketplace surge and allow the top ten to cross the $100M mark for the fifth consecutive frame. The box office has not seen this kind of streak since last summer. Smaller films entering the multiplexes include the action pic "The Lookout" from Miramax and Universal’s uplifting drama "Peaceful Warrior."

Comedy king Will Ferrell skates into theaters everywhere looking for another gold medal with his newest laugher "Blades of Glory." The PG-13 film finds the funnyman and Jon Heder playing rival figure skaters who must team up as a pair in order to compete again. Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Jenna Fischer, and Craig T. Nelson co-star. "Blades" boasts the two main ingredients to a successful comedy hit – a bankable star and a unique concept. Add in the very funny commercials and trailers and Paramount is well-positioned to score its second number one hit of the year joining fellow star-driven comedy "Norbit." Both pics were produced by DreamWorks.

Ferrell left the competition in the dust last summer with "Talladega Nights" which bowed to a robust $47M on its way to a $148M final. "Blades" doesn’t have as big of a marketing push or the prime summer play period so its opening will not soar as high. But the former "Saturday Night Live" star will again prove that he is a reliable draw. The industry had some doubts in 2005 when both "Bewitched" and "Kicking and Screaming" failed to reach $65M. Ferrell’s 2004 hit "Anchorman" debuted to $28.4M and "Blades" should play out like that one, only bigger. Teens and young adults will be the driving force plus there is plenty of cross-gender appeal. Though the marketplace is crowded with many options, there aren’t too many direct threats. "Wild Hogs," the only major comedy, is getting old as is "300" which most high school and college students have already seen. Spinning into over 3,000 theaters, "Blades of Glory" should finish in first place and win about $37M over the weekend.


Ferrell and Heder in "Blades of Glory."

Disney uses its patented moves to go after the family audience with its latest animated offering "Meet the Robinsons." With most digital toons these days being of the PG variety, "Robinsons" carries a G rating which it hopes will help convince parents to buy tickets for even the youngest of their children. The story follows an orphan boy who befriends a kind family and features the voices of Angela Bassett, Tom Selleck, and Adam West. In the cartoon world, films sell best when they are comedies and feature popular comedians in central roles. "Robinsons" at least has the first factor working for it.

The marketing has been strong and trailers have been funny. But unlike the studio’s last film for kids, "Bridge to Terabithia," this time competition will be a force. "TMNT" and "The Last Mimzy" will only be in their second weekends and are set to steal away about $20M worth of business from the same target audience. Luckily, the weekend’s two other new films will attract different segments of the moviegoing crowd. "Meet the Robinsons" does not have the firepower to reach the heights of Pixar pics. Rather, it may bring out the same size audience as last fall’s "Open Season" which bowed to $23.2M from an ultrawide 3,833 locations. "Meet the Robinsons" bows in roughly 3,200 sites but could exploit its studio’s brand name to deliver a similar gross of about $23M.


Let’s "Meet the Robinsons."

Years after leaving the sitcom world of NBC’s "3rd Rock From the Sun," Joseph Gordon-Levitt anchors the heist thriller "The Lookout." The R-rated Miramax release comes from writer-turned-rookie-director Scott Frank and co-stars Jeff Daniels. Starpower is seriously lacking here and that will hurt its box office prospects. Reviews have been good, but the target audience of young adults have "Blades of Glory," "300," and "Shooter" to choose from and all of them offer more for the money. With only so much marketing and distribution strength behind it, the film will have a tough time just getting an invite to the top ten. "The Lookout" debuts in about 1,000 theaters on Friday and could collect about $4M over three days.


Jeff Daniels and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "The Lookout."

In an unorthodox approach, Universal will be releasing the inspirational drama "Peaceful Warrior" in 615 theaters this weekend but most moviegoers will actually be getting free tickets through a promotion with Best Buy. The PG-13 film starring Nick Nolte was given a limited release last summer and grossed more than $1M from just over 40 theaters. Universal will report box office grosses that include regular paid sales plus full ticket prices for each free admission. With $15M worth of free tickets allocated for opening weekend, it will be unlikely that the paid portion will make up a sizable amount. Film fans who visit the promotional web site can get up to ten complimentary tickets each. However, the studio should get some extra buzz that it could benefit from when the DVD is released a few months down the road.


Nick Nolte and Scott Mechlowicz in "Peaceful Warrior."

The Ninja Turtles ruled the box office last weekend in "TMNT," but will face a formidable foe in Disney’s "Meet the Robinsons" which will play to the same audience. A 40% drop would give the animated actioner $14M for the frame and $43M after ten days. Warner Bros has also been raking in the dough with its stylish war epic 300 which has been holding up surprisingly well. Another 40% fall will put the R-rated battle pic at $12M boosting the cume to $180M after 24 days. Mark Wahlberg‘s "Shooter" could decline by 45% to $8M giving Paramount a ten-day total of $27M.

LAST YEAR: Smashing the March opening weekend record set four years earlier by its predecessor, "Ice Age: The Meltdown" shot straight to number one with a colossal $68M debut. The Fox juggernaut went on to gross $195.3M domestically and a towering $657M worldwide giving the "Ice Age" duo over $1 billion in global grosses. Dropping to second was "Inside Man" with $15.4M. Warner Bros. launched its urban drama "ATL" in third with $11.6M on its way to $21.2M. Rounding out the top five were "Failure to Launch" with $6.5M and "V for Vendetta" with $6.3M. The horror flick "Slither" creeped into eighth place with a $3.9M opening leading to a $7.8M final. Sony claimed the year’s most notorious flop with "Basic Instinct 2" which bowed to $3.2M on its way to a pathetic $5.9M before sweeping the Razzie Awards.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Comedy superstar Will Ferrell scored his first-ever number one opening in a lead role with the stronger-than-expected debut of his latest hit Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby which left all competitors in the dust at the North American box office.

Solid opening weekend results came from the animated comedy Barnyard: The Original Party Animals in second place and the horror film The Descent in fifth, but the Robin Williams thriller The Night Listener failed to find much of an audience in its debut. Overall, the marketplace was healthy and showed substantial improvement over the first weekend of August from the last two summers.

Sony crossed the finish line in first place for the industry-leading eighth time this year with the turbo-charged opening of Talladega Nights which grossed an estimated $47M over the Friday-to-Sunday period. Playing in a massive 3,803 theaters, the PG-13 film about a legendary NASCAR driver averaged a fantastic $12,359 per location. Will Ferrell has collected more than his share of second place trophies. The former Saturday Night Live star has opened at number two numerous times in recent years with films such as Kicking and Screaming, Bewitched, Anchorman, Elf, and Old School. Elf climbed into first place in its second weekend, and Ferrell has had supporting roles and cameos in number one openers from other stars. But Talladega Nights marks the first time he has anchored a top spot debut, and he did it decisively.

Reviews were generally positive for the racing comedy, which co-starred John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Michael Clarke Duncan, and the weekend gross was roughly three times the take of its closest competition. Sony backed the $73M film with a lavish marketing campaign which involved promotional support from numerous corporate sponsors. Even veteran talk show host Larry King turned his daily chat session on opening night into a one-hour commercial for the film by interviewing Ferrell and Reilly in character as Ricky Bobby and his racing pal Cal Naughton Jr.

Talladega reached a broad audience with young males standing out slightly, as expected. Studio research indicated that 53% of the audience was male and that 52% was under 25. Aside from being Ferrell’s biggest opening weekend ever, the film also generated the third best bow ever in the month of August. Only 2001’s Rush Hour 2 and the following year’s Signs did better with debuts of $67.4M and $60.1M, respectively. Those two pics also launched on the first frame of the month which studios still look at as a good weekend for programming a high-profile summer film on. By this point, most of the season’s tentpole films have played out, but there is still enough summer playing time ahead to have long-term success.

Finishing far back in second place, but still enjoying an impressive debut, was Paramount’s animated comedy Barnyard with an estimated $16M. The PG-rated toon bowed in 3,311 locations and averaged a solid $4,844 per theater. The opening was better than The Ant Bully‘s $8.4M from last weekend, but did not reach the $22.2M debut of Monster House from two weeks ago. Barnyard was produced by Nickelodeon Movies for just over $50M and played mostly to kids and parents. Audience research showed that 75% of the crowd was made up of families with males and females represented evenly. With two other cartoons in the top ten, and with Pirates still pulling in every age group, the opening performance of Barnyard was commendable.

The year’s biggest blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest dropped 47% to an estimated $11M boosting its domestic treasure to a stunning $379.7M. That puts the Johnny Depp adventure sequel at number eight among all-time domestic blockbusters surpassing the $377M of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Pirates also managed to bump Mel Gibson‘s The Passion of the Christ off the all-time top ten list. Overseas, Disney scored another colossal gross taking in $57M from 47 markets to rule the international box office for the fifth straight frame. That sent the offshore cume soaring to $392M and the worldwide haul to $771.7M making it the top-grossing global hit of 2006 after just one month of release. Pirates could certainly be on its way to the one billion dollar mark with another installment in the franchise on deck for a May 2007 release.

Audiences rejected Miami Vice which tumbled a horrendous 62% in its second weekend to an estimated $9.7M. With $45.7M in ten days, the Universal action thriller is on course to end with $65-70M. That would give Vice a domestic gross of about half of its $135M production budget. Good news did, however, come from the U.K. where the cop pic debuted at number one this weekend.

Opening in fifth place was the new horror entry The Descent with an estimated $8.8M from 2,095 locations. The R-rated fright flick about a six-pack of young ladies trapped in an underground cave full of flesh-eating creatures averaged a solid $4,200 per venue. Reviews were unusually positive for the genre and distributor Lionsgate pitched The Descent in its advertising as being from the studio that brought audiences Saw and Hostel. But the opening was far short of the $18.3M and $19.6M that those low-budget hits opened to. Still, with a modest pricetag of its own, the cave exploration flick looks to make a few bucks theatrically and dig up a bigger audience when released on DVD.

Fox’s teen comedy John Tucker Must Die dropped 58% in its second weekend to an estimated $6.1M. With $28.6M in ten days, the revenge flick should find its way to the neighborhood of $40M. Sony’s animated scarefest Monster House followed close behind with an estimated $6M, off 49%, for a $57M cume. Competing toon The Ant Bully fell 54% in its sophomore session to an estimated $3.9M. Warner Bros. has collected just $18.2M in ten days and should conclude with an underwhelming $25-27M.

A pair of films tied for ninth place with an estimated $3.6M each. Universal’s comedy You, Me and Dupree declined 49% and upped its sum to $66.8M. Miramax’s new Robin Williams thriller The Night Listener bowed in 1,367 locations and averaged a weak $2,634 per site.

Opening with healthy but not spectacular results in platform release was the teen drama Quinceanera which grossed an estimated $97,000 from only eight sites for a $12,125 average. The R-rated tale of a Mexican-American girl’s impending coming-of-age party won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was snapped up by Sony Classics. Quinceanera will expand beyond New York and Los Angeles in the weeks ahead.

Three comedies and a bedtime story dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Fox’s hit fashion industry pic The Devil Wears Prada held up well once again in its sixth frame with an estimated $3.1M, off 35%, lifitng the cume to a stellar $112.7M. It was the Meryl Streep film’s fourth consecutive weekend with a drop of less than 40%. Produced for just $35M, Devil should find its way to a fabulous $120-125M making it one of the more profitable hits of the summer.

On the other hand, the Warner Bros. suspense thriller Lady in the Water has been falling by more than 60% each frame and took in an estimated $2.7M in its third scare. Down a steep 62%, the M. Night Shyamalan pic has grossed only $38.7M in 17 days and looks to drown with a mere $42-44M overall. The production budget was reportedly in the $75M range.

Sony’s Little Man fell 51% to an estimated $2.5M in its fourth outing and pushed its cume to $55.1M. The Wayans brothers pic cost $64M to produce and should end its domestic run with a respectable $58-60M. Fox’s super hero comedy flop My Super Ex-Girlfriend stumbled 73% in its third flight and grossed an estimated $1.1M. With $20.2M in the bank, look for a disappointing $22M finish.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight expanded its hit indie comedy Little Miss Sunshine from seven to 58 theaters in the top dozen markets and grossed an estimated $1.5M. That resulted in a muscular $25,169 average and a $2.2M total. The distributor will add 17 more cities on Friday and widen nationally the following weekend on the heels of strong word-of-mouth momentum.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $115.7M which was up 18% from last year when The Dukes of Hazzard debuted at number one with $30.7M; and up 23% from 2004 when Collateral opened in the top spot with $24.7M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com