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`Covenant' Leads a Lackluster Box Office

Weekend totals are the worst of the year. Still, `Pirates' hits $1 billion in cumulative sales.

September 11, 2006|Kathy M. Kristof | Times Staff Writer

Horror proved the catchword for the first weekend of the fall movie season, as Sony's newly released supernatural thriller "The Covenant" led the box office with a modest $9-million opening.

Even as Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" inched over the $1-billion mark for worldwide sales -- a feat accomplished by only two other films -- Hollywood insiders were decrying the fact that box-office totals were the worst of the year.

This was the first weekend in three years that the top-grossing film brought in less than $10 million in the U.S. and Canada.

"This is not a great way to start off the fall season," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., a box-office tracking firm headquartered in Encino. "This is a typical time for a post-summer slowdown, but it is the worst showing of the year."

Still, it was another good week for Sony Pictures Entertainment. Its Screen Gems label claimed the top slot for "The Covenant," and Sony's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" finished at No 9. It has been out for six weeks and has generated a healthy $142.2 million in cumulative ticket sales.

"It's our ninth No. 1 weekend of the year," said Rory Bruer, president of distribution at Sony. "That's only been done one other time -- and it was by us in 2003."

It was also the second year running that the studio's "fall is the time to scare audiences" formula proved just the ticket at the box office. Last year at this time, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" was breaking records with a $30-million opening.

"Sony has made a science out of creating these modestly budgeted horror films that they market very effectively to the No. 1 position," Dergarabedian said. "They have done this many times over the past several years."

Horror plots were not what Hollywood insiders found ominous, though: It was the weekend's box-office grosses -- down nearly 19% from last year, according to Exhibitor Relations.

"Emily Rose" was a tough act to follow, Dergarabedian said, but 2006's first fall weekend was quiet -- too quiet.

"This is a product-driven industry, and the product wasn't there this weekend," said Brandon Gray, president and publisher of Box Office Mojo, a Burbank-based movie reporting firm.

"You combine a weak product with all the distractions that people have at this time of year, and the result is low box office."

This is historically a slow time for the industry -- and a time when studios come out with their award contenders rather than their blockbusters, Dergarabedian added.

So it's not surprising that box-office totals were down, he said, noting that the totals were even weaker than he'd expected.

There were, however, other bright spots.

"Hollywoodland," a new release by Focus Films, ranked second in the weekend gross, with a $6-million opening. The tale of actor George Reeves' untimely death, starring Ben Affleck and Adrien Brody, raked in the highest per-theater ticket sales at $3,881 for the weekend.

"Invincible," the football flick from Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, dropped to third place in its third week, taking in $5.8 million, a 52% drop from the movie's three-day gross of the previous weekend.

The film has posted a respectable $45.7-million gross over the last three weeks, but its box-office totals are dropping faster than those of similar Disney films, such as "Miracle," "The Rookie" and "Remember the Titans," Gray said.

In fourth place was "The Protector," a newly released martial arts film by Weinstein Co., pulling in $5.03 million in ticket sales.

Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.'s "Crank" rounded out the top five with a $4.8-million showing.

Independent film hits "The Illusionist" and "Little Miss Sunshine" continued to pull in audiences.

"The Illusionist," by Yari Film Group, brought in $4.6 million as it went to wider release. It was showing at 1,362 theaters last weekend versus 971 the weekend before.

That brought its per-screen average, which ranked first last week at $8,261, down to $3,406.

"Little Miss Sunshine," in its seventh week, brought in $4.4 million as it continued to benefit from word of mouth. The film, which was acquired by Fox Searchlight Pictures for $10.5 million, has a cumulative box-office gross of $41.6 million.

"We always thought that we had a wonderful movie that audiences would embrace," said Richard Shamban, vice president of distribution for Fox Searchlight. "It has surpassed all of our goals. We are thrilled."

The other landmark for the weekend was that "Pirates of the Caribbean" edged over the elusive $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales Friday. Only "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" have exceeded that figure.

"The film's phenomenal success all over the world proves once again that audiences will vote to come back again and again when presented with great entertainment," Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook said in a statement.

"I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how proud we are of our other summer successes including 'Cars,' 'Step Up' and 'Invincible.' It's a summer that you dream about."

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kathy.kristof@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

Box office

Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total The Covenant $9.0 $9.0

Hollywoodland 6.0 6.0

Invincible 5.8 45.7

The Protector 5.0 5.0

Crank 4.8 19.9

The Illusionist 4.6 18.1

Little Miss Sunshine 4.4 41.6

The Wicker Man 4.1 17.5

Talladega Nights 3.0 142.2

Barnyard: The Original Party Animals 2.6 66.9

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Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2005 $70.0 -18.9%

Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2005 $6.7 +6.5%

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*--* Source: Exhibitor Relations Co. Los Angeles Times

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