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'Elf' a giant at the box office

The film's unusually slim drop-off in its second week enables it to fend off 'Master and Commander' premiere.

November 17, 2003|R. Kinsey Lowe | Times Staff Writer

A lovable misfit from the North Pole outmaneuvered a wily captain of the high seas to claim the No. 1 spot at the box office this weekend, as "Elf" grossed an estimated $27.2 million in its second weekend to overtake "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," which sailed into the second berth with an impressive debut of $25.7 million.

"Elf" and "Master and Commander's" respective studio executives were ebullient about their own movies and each others'. New Line Cinema domestic marketing president Russell Schwartz said "Elf" has proved surprisingly durable, dropping only 12% from its second place opening last weekend against "The Matrix Revolutions" and moving up to first place.

Schwartz's enthusiasm is justified, because a drop of 20%-25% for a wide-release movie is considered a strong hold, and as little as 12% is almost unheard of, which indicates the $32 million film is benefiting from strong word of mouth and likely will continue to play very well, even with year-end competition heating up weekly. The film's per-theater average was a solid $8,055 in 3,381 venues, and its 10-day total is $71.3 million.

Long-term prospects for "The Matrix Revolutions" fizzled, as the trilogy-closer plummeted 66.4% from its first Friday-through-Sunday, posting an estimated $16.3 million and a 12-day domestic total of $114.2 million. In foreign markets, estimates for the film Sunday came to just under $196 million, bringing the movie's worldwide total to about $310 million, which Warner Bros. general sales manager Jeff Goldstein pointed out "is a tremendous success in anybody's book." The drop was not out of line with the 60% second-weekend decline of "The Matrix Reloaded."

As for "Elf," referring to the home run of studio marketing, New Line's Schwartz said, "It's a four-quadrant movie" that is attracting males and females under and over 25. He surmised that part of "Elf's" success was because "young boys and girls who saw 'Matrix' last weekend probably went to see this." In a nod to "Master and Commander," Schwartz said, "At least they had a great choice."

"Master and Commander" actually beat "Elf" on Friday, with the Russell Crowe adventure based on the Captain Jack Aubrey books by the late Patrick O'Brian grossing $8.2 million ahead of the Will Ferrell holiday comedy's $7.4 million. "Elf" surged to $11.9 million on Saturday, while "M&C" took in $10.8 million.

At 20th Century Fox, the domestic distributor of "Master and Commander," domestic distribution President Bruce Snyder said, "I would rather be second at $25.7 million than No. 1 at 20." In 3,101 theaters, "M&C" steered to a solid average of $8,295 per location.

"Master and Commander," which was financed by Fox, Universal and Miramax Films, beat pre-release audience tracking surveys, which were inconclusive, ranging between the high teens and the low 20s.

Snyder said exit polls showed "audience reaction matched critics' " overwhelmingly positive reviews. He added that the audience was made up of "51.8% male and 48.2 % female, very good for us." Of the rival studio's "Elf," Snyder compared the long-term prospects to the originals of holiday hits "Home Alone" and "The Santa Clause."

Warner Bros.' "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" opened in fifth place with a lackluster estimate of $9.5 million. Universal expanded the British ensemble comedy-drama "Love Actually" by 601 theaters to 1,177, and the film grossed an estimated $8.9 million, averaging a solid $7,544 per venue at No. 6. Its second-weekend total is about $19 million.

Paramount Pictures and MTV Films' documentary "Tupac: Resurrection" landed in ninth place with an estimated $4.7 million. The unusual film about the slain rapper Tupac Shakur was made with his family's cooperation and opened in 801 theaters. Composed of film clips culled from performance and interview footage and incorporating home movies and pictures from photo albums, the film is also narrated by Shakur, compiled from recordings.

Despite solid grosses from the top two films, business was down 15% from last week and 25% from the comparable weekend last year, based on total estimates for the top 10 movies, according to box-office tracking firm Nielsen EDI.

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Box Office

Preliminary results based on studio projections.

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total (millions)

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*--* Elf $27.2 $71.3

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World 25.7 25.7

The Matrix Revolutions 16.3 114.2

Brother Bear 12.0 63.0

Looney Tunes: Back in Action 9.5 9.5

Love Actually 8.9 19.0

Scary Movie 3 6.1 102.3

Radio 5.0 43.7

Tupac: Resurrection 4.7 4.7

Mystic River 3.3 45.6 Source: Nielsen EDI Inc. Los Angeles Times

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