Studios dumped out their usual trash over Labor Day weekend and moviegoers responded by avoiding most of them. That allowed Robert Downey Jr. to rock both the opening and closing ceremonies of the summer movie season as Tropic Thunder retained the number one spot for the third consecutive weekend. Five films opened or expanded nationally and were scattered all across the Top 20, most with weak results. Meanwhile, The Dark Knight moved up a notch in its seventh session and broke through the $500M mark over the long holiday weekend putting an end to what turned out to be a better-than-expected summer box office.

Still ahead of the pack for a third time, Tropic Thunder grossed an estimated $14.3M over the four-day Friday-to-Monday holiday weekend and lifted its impressive total to $86.6M after 18 days of release. The Ben Stiller-directed war comedy saw its three-day take of $11.5M drop only 29% from last weekend and joined the Batman juggernaut as this year’s only films to rank number one for three or more weekends. The $90M DreamWorks production is on course to end its run in the vicinity of $110M for Paramount which coincidentally also kicked off the summer blockbuster season at the top in May with Iron Man.

Leading all new releases, but lacking muscle, was Vin Diesel’s return to the action genre with Babylon A.D. which bowed to an estimated $12M over the long holiday weekend. Fox’s latest clunker enjoyed the widest launch by far among debuting titles but generated a lackluster $3,540 average over four days from 3,390 theaters. During the Friday-to-Sunday portion, the R-rated thriller grossed $9.6M for a weak $2,822 average. Babylon A.D. capped off a summer that the studio would like to forget following such misfires as Meet Dave, The Rocker, and The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Some were not costly films and others Fox just distributed for a fee, but the studio still failed to score a $100M+ summer grosser for the first time in eleven years.

The comic book overachiever The Dark Knight smashed through the $500M mark and placed third in its seventh weekend with an estimated $11M. Warner Bros. bumped its stunning cume up to $504.7M and surpassed the quintuple century barrier on Sunday in its 45th day of release. The new Batman epic has now sold approximately 70 million tickets beating out Spider-Man which snapped up roughly 69 million stubs in 2002. Knight is on a trajectory to end its North American run with about $525M translating to around 74 million admissions. Overseas, The Joker’s antics attracted an estimated $19.2M boosting the international total to $417M and the global gross to an eye-popping $921.7M. That was enough for The Dark Knight to break into the all-time top ten list of worldwide blockbusters. Shattering the $1 billion mark is a virtual guarantee.

Sony’s sorority comedy The House Bunny ranked fourth for the weekend with an estimated $10.2M over four days in its second term. The Anna Faris starrer has grossed a solid $29.8M in 11 days and could finish in the neighborhood of $45M. The budget was only $25M.

Overture Films saw a respectable debut for its Don Cheadle political thriller Traitor which bowed to an estimated $10M over the long weekend and $11.5M in the six days since opening on Wednesday. The PG-13 pic landed in 2,054 theaters and averaged a good $4,869 over four days representing the second best average among films in wide release. Reviews were somewhat positive.

Jason Statham’s latest action offering Death Race fell to sixth grossing an estimated $8.2M over the long weekend pushing the 11-day total to $25M. The $45M Universal release should end up with $35-40M.

Moviegoers finally said no to spoof kings Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg as their newest comedy Disaster Movie flopped taking in an estimated $6.9M over four days. Opening in 2,642 locations, the PG-13 pic averaged a weak $2,604 for Lionsgate. Disaster‘s three-day bow of $5.8M was less than one-third of what the filmmakers saw on opening weekend for their most recent hits Meet the Spartans and Epic Movie which both debuted at number one with respective takes of $18.5M and $18.6M.

Two hit comedies followed. Universal’s musical sensation Mamma Mia! sang to the tune of $5.8M, according to estimates, and raised its cume to $132.9M. The studio released a new sing-along version in selected theaters on Friday which helped give sales a boost over the holiday weekend. A final domestic tally of $140-145M could result for the $65M songfest. Sony’s stoner hit Pineapple Express collected an estimated $4.5M and took its sum to $80.9M. The final gross for the $27M production should reach $85-90M.

Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona popped back into the top ten with an estimated $3.5M over four days. The MGM release has now taken in $13.3M which is an impressive number for the veteran filmmaker. The Javier Bardem tale also generated the best average among all movies in wide release. Look for a final take at or slightly north of $20M.

With seven other comedies ahead of them on the charts, two new R-rated laughers stumbled in wide release this weekend grossing less than $3M each over four days. MGM’s teen pic College failed miserably with an estimated $2.6M from 2,123 locations for a dismal $1,241 four-day average. Focus expanded its expensive Sundance acquisition Hamlet 2 from 103 to 1,597 theaters in the second weekend and walked away with just $2.1M, according to estimates, for a pitiful four-day average of just $1,330. Cume for the Steve Coogan pic is an embarrassing $3.1M which will not help the distributor recoup the $10M it paid for the indie comedy. Hamlet 2 is shaping up to be this year’s Happy, Texas which Miramax bought for around $10M at 1999’s Sundance but grossed a measly $1.9M from 146 theaters in commercial release that fall.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $86.4M over the Friday-to-Monday span which was down 24% from last year when Halloween opened in the top spot with $30.6M; and off 3% from 2006 when Invincible stayed at number one with $15.4M in its sophomore frame.

A better-than-expected summer box office comes to a close over the four-day Labor Day holiday frame with the release of four new films plus the national expansion of a fifth title. Pushing and shoving their way into the multiplexes are Vin Diesel‘s action entry Babylon A.D., the spoof comedy Disaster Movie, Don Cheadle‘s spy thriller Traitor, and the raunchy comedy College. Going nationwide after a mediocre limited bow last week is the indie comedy Hamlet 2. The final weekend of summer usually finds moviegoers playing catch-up and flocking to big hits they just haven’t had time to see yet. Some of the more popular holdover pics should continue to see solid numbers including heavyweight champ The Dark Knight which will crash through the $500M barrier this weekend.

It seems like every four years we get the Summer Olympics, a presidential election, and … a Vin Diesel action movie? It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. The rugged hero’s last action vehicle let loose on the American public was The Chronicles of Riddick which attacked theaters in June 2004 before the Athens Games and John Kerry’s Boston convention. The star of The Pacifier returns to familiar territory with the sci-fi flick Babylon A.D. which will target Diesel’s usual core audience of young males. The commercially-friendly PG-13 rating will allow the pic to reach young teen boys at a time when the main action offerings Death Race and Tropic Thunder carry R ratings.

By no means is Babylon a strong option though. Even its director Mathieu Kassovitz (Gothika) wants nothing to do with the final product. The marketing push has been ramped up in the last week so awareness is increasing and television spots are highlighting the special effects which are not all too impressive, but good enough for this time of year when standards are at a 52-week low. The combination of a brand name star returning to his bread and butter genre with a rating that will allow all of the target audience in should make for what could be a number one debut. Although Fox has had by far the worst summer of any major studio, it can at least end the season breathing a sigh of relief salvaging its first and only summer weekend at number one. Babylon A.D. launches very wide in over 3,200 theaters on Friday and could generate around $17M over the four-day weekend.


Gerard Depardieu and Vin Diesel in Babylon A.D.

Hollywood loves 14-year-olds. Make a comedy spoofing current pop culture hits and they’re guaranteed to bike their way to the local multiplex. Lionsgate’s Disaster Movie will be targeting these young teens with the latest PG-13 concoction of the successful spoof genre. The target audience probably won’t even mind that fun is being poked not at disaster films, but at this summer’s bigger hits like Indiana Jones, The Incredible Hulk, and Sex and the City. Look for sales to come from the same moviegoers that drove March’s Superhero Movie to a $9.5M bow and January’s Meet the Spartans to a $18.5M debut. Disaster will have a few competitors to deal with also aiming for teens so the pie will be split. Attacking 2,642 locations, Disaster Movie might take in about $12M over four days.


Disaster Movie

Overture makes an aggressive bid for adult audiences with its espionage thriller Traitor starring Don Cheadle as a spy accused of switching sides. The PG-13 film will play mostly to older moviegoers and is trying to sell itself with a Bourne Ultimatum feel. Cashing in at the box office will be tough since Cheadle, as well-respected as he is, is not really a major draw when anchoring a film. Co-stars Guy Pierce and Jeff Daniels don’t add much bang either. Plus the subject matter is very deep for the end of summer when ticket buyers are not looking to do much thinking. Reviews have been mixed with good marks for the lead’s performance, but harsh words for everything else. However, most films in the top ten this weekend will play to the under-30 crowd so an opportunity could present itself. Already playing in 2,054 theaters after an early Wednesday launch, Traitor could capture around $8M over four days and $10M across six days.


Don Cheadle and Jeff Daniels in Traitor

Yet another comedy tries to squeeze into the marketplace just ahead of students returning to classes. MGM’s R-rated College is a raunchy tale of three high school seniors caught up in pledging fun at a local university. Older teens and young adults will be the primary audience here with zero interest coming from the over-25 set. R-rated comedies with little to no starpower that are aimed at this crowd usually struggle at the box office unless there is some sort of wild buzz spreading. That’s not the case here. Overall excitement is low and there are no elements here to truly draw in a paying crowd. A brief theatrical run will set it up for a DVD release where kids on their holiday breaks will catch it on their lazy days off. Opening in about 2,000 locations, College could gross about $6M over the Friday-to-Monday period.

Following its underwhelming premiere in limited release, the Focus comedy Hamlet 2 expanded nationwide on Wednesday hoping word-of-mouth will help sell it to young adults. The film’s Sundance buzz is wearing out fast and a market already crowded with R-rated comedies is making it tough for the Steve Coogan laugher to stand out. Its $4,271 average from 103 sites last weekend was not even good enough for the Top 20 and it makes for a tough jumping off point into this holiday frame. The four new titles will make it even harder to compete. Now rocking in 1,530 playdates, Hamlet 2 may bank roughly $5M over the long weekend putting the cume at $6M.


Catherine Keener and Steve Coogan in Hamlet 2

After two weeks on top, the war comedy Tropic Thunder is likely to lose its hold atop the charts. The Ben Stiller action pic showed strength in its sophomore frame sliding by just 37% and this weekend it should still collect respectable grosses. Its four-day figure may drop by 15% from last weekend’s three-day take. That would give Paramount around $14M and a 20-day tally of $86M.

With more comedies hitting the multiplexes, a substantial decline for The House Bunny is likely to occur. Following its strong debut, the Sony release’s four-day figure could fall 30% to about $10M and push the 11-day cume to $30M. Universal’s Jason Statham actioner Death Race will also fall sharply in its second round thanks to the arrival of Vin Diesel. Look for a 40% drop to $7.5M pushing the total to $25M after 11 days.

The Dark Knight may actually see its grosses rise this weekend. People who never got around to seeing it, plus those just aching to see it again, will line up in strong numbers over the final summer weekend. Late summer’s top blockbusters often see their four-day Labor Day weekend grosses inch up over the previous frame. Last year, The Bourne Ultimatum increased by 7% while the previous year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest climbed 24%. The Caped Crusader could rise by 15% and capture around $12M across the Friday-to-Monday span for its seventh session in the top five. That would allow The Dark Knight to shatter the $500M mark on Sunday after just 45 days of release and finish the holiday frame at $505M.

LAST YEAR: Rob Zombie‘s new take on the horror classic Halloween set a new Labor Day opening weekend record by scaring up a sturdy $30.6M over four days leading the overall marketplace to its highest gross ever for the summer-ending holiday frame. The MGM release went on to finish with an impressive $58.3M. The teen comedy Superbad dropped to second with $15.9M in its third lap. Focus bowed the ping pong comedy Balls of Fury in third with $14.1M and $17.1M across its five-day opening frame. A $32.9M final would result. Rounding out the top five were The Bourne Ultimatum and Rush Hour 3 with $13.4M and $10.8M, respectively. Fox’s action entry Death Sentence bowed in eighth with just $5.3M on its way to a weak $9.5M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

The ancient studio ritual of dumping weak product into the late August box office has begun. Four new releases, most about failures trying to redeem themselves, hit the multiplexes with only one having the strength to make a play for the number one spot. Universal launches the latest Jason Statham action pic Death Race while Fox and Sony counter with their competing teen-skewing comedies The Rocker and The House Bunny, respectively. Ice Cube also joins the mix with MGM’s family sports film The Longshots. Given the aging holdovers, lack of firepower from debuting titles, and the final weekend of the Olympics which has been keeping 30 million people at home every night, the overall marketplace is sure to slow down. Look for the top ten to slump below the $100M mark for the first time since April.

Action star Jason Statham hits the big screen once again, this time playing a driver out to win an insane reality competition where convicts race and kill each other in order to win their freedom in Death Race. The R-rated pic will play to the actor’s core audience of young men in search of mindless short-term thrills and spills. Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, and Joan Allen co-star while Paul W.S. Anderson directs. The helmer has had great luck entertaining this audience with past hits like Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil, and Alien vs. Predator. Statham himself has a good track record with action movies opening on or around Labor Day weekend. 2005’s Transporter 2 bowed to $16.5M, the following year’s Crank debuted to $10.5M, while last year his War opened softer with $9.8M. Death Race is not a Transporter film (the next one attacks on Thanksgiving weekend) so grosses should be closer to those of the others.

Summer movie audiences have had their fill of action so non-Statham fans will not be coming out in big numbers. Both Tropic Thunder and The Dark Knight will be formidable opponents playing to most of the same folks. Universal’s quartet of summer actioners has grossed a spectacular $430M so there’s just only so much more it can squeeze out of the last weeks of the season. But the star and the director both have scored in this genre so a good number of young males, especially frequent multiplex-goers, will come out and spend a little cash. Statham is no Will Smith, but he does attract a respectable number of fans each and every time. Racing into 2,400 theaters, Death Race may open to about $13M.

Fox aims to grab some biz from bored teens not yet back in school with its Rainn Wilson comedy The Rocker. The PG-13 film features The Office star playing a failed former drummer who joins a new band run by his adolescent nephew. Overall excitement is not very high and Wilson will have to prove himself here as a leading man. Fellow NBC star Andy Samberg tried anchoring his own immature comedy last August with Hot Rod which flopped with a weak $5.3M debut and dismal $2,037 average. Rocker may do better, but not by much. Most of the target audience will probably wait for the DVD here. The studio already opened the pic on Wednesday to get two extra days of summer play. Younger kids who can’t get into all the R-rated antics of Ferrell, Rogen, and Stiller will make up a big part of the audience for this one and its family-friendly packaging could prompt some parents to give it a go. But overall, the film lacks the buzz to become a standout performer. Now playing in 2,627 sites, The Rocker could take in about $8M over three days and $11M over five days.
Anna Faris takes a break from spoofing horror flicks and headlines the college comedy The House Bunny. The PG-13 film finds the actress playing a former Playboy bunny who takes a job as the leader of a sorority of misfits. Sony is gunning for teens and young adults of both genders here with a central story about young women with some sex appeal that might bring in some guys. The premise isn’t half bad so a decent showing may result. But Faris is no guaranteed draw at the box office when outside of her safe zone in the Scary Movie franchise. There’s no evidence to prove that she can sell tickets and the film lacks any other star names. Plus The Rocker will be going after many of the same folks in search of laughs. Opening in about 2,600 locations, The House Bunny might gross about $8M this weekend.

After conquering the inept-man-takes-care-of-children genre with Are We There Yet?, Ice Cube swaggers over to the equally popular inspirational-sports-coach category with The Longshots. The PG-rated pic features the star of music and film as a former football player who turns his 11-year-old niece into a local pigskin heroine. Fred Durst, rap-rock pioneer of yesteryear, directs. It would be too easy to compare the film’s title to its box office prospects. Starpower is low, marketing buzz is minimal, and the name of the film could not be more bland. Studios have failed at providing worthwhile content to families since the release of WALL•E and this entry will be forgotten just like the others. The MGM release could take in about $6M this weekend from 2,000 sites.

Rocking Sundance earlier this year and now making a stab at commercial success is Hamlet 2, the story of a high school drama teacher and his students who try to stage a raunchy sequel to Shakespeare’s classic play. Focus paid a near-record $10M to acquire worldwide rights and hopes that it has a Little Miss Sunshine on its hands. That late summer indie comedy opened to scorching numbers in limited release and went on to earn four major Oscar nominations including Best Picture and $59.9M at the box office. Hamlet 2 stars Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Elisabeth Shue, and Amy Poehler and is using its rating as a marketing tool with ads that feature an extra large bright red R telling arthouse filmgoers that they are in for some envelope-pushing humor here not meant for little kids. Opening in only 90 playdates in major markets, Hamlet 2 is set to post a muscular average before heading into national release over the Labor Day holiday frame when word-of-mouth is expected to sell it further. The abundance of R-rated studio comedies will certainly have an effect, but the void for smarthouse laughs will give Focus a big opportunity to cash in on territory usually monopolized by Fox Searchlight. For this weekend, a bow of about $1.5M could result.

Hoping for back-to-back gold medals, Tropic Thunder will try to fend off competition from all the new releases and defend its box office title. Direct competition will come primarily from Death Race as it also is targeting adult men. The remaining newcomers will not steal away too much of Ben Stiller’s crowd. Look for the Paramount war comedy to drop by 45% to around $14M giving the R-rated pic $63M in 12 days and a solid chance at joining the century club.Warner Bros. will see another terrific hold for its runaway smash The Dark Knight which could slip by just 35%. That would give the superhero film around $10.5M which would lift the overall domestic tally to $489M. The $500M barrier should be broken by Labor Day. The studio’s animated title Star Wars: The Clone Wars will suffer a steep tumble since there is no real buzz to keep it going and hardcore fans have already made it out. Look for a 55% decline to about $6.5M pushing the ten-day tally to $26M.

LAST YEAR: With the summer movie season coming to a close and the Top 20 barely breaking $100M, none of the five new releases managed to break into the top three slots. The high school comedy Superbad remained at number one with $18M in its second weekend and was followed by threequel holdovers The Bourne Ultimatum and Rush Hour 3 with $12.5M and $11.7M, respectively. Debuting ahead of all the other new offerings was the family sequel Mr. Bean’s Holiday with $9.9M for Universal followed closely by Lionsgate’s Jet LiJason Statham actioner War with $9.8M. Final grosses reached $33.3M and $22.5M, respectively. The Nanny Diaries bowed in sixth with $7.5M finishing with $25.9M for MGM. Opening poorly outside of the top ten were Resurrecting the Champ and Illegal Tender with respective takes of $1.7M and $1.4M. The pair reached $3.2M and $3.1M.

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