- Fall box office: The modestly budgeted Zac Efron musical High School Musical 3: Senior Year and the somewhat modestly budgeted interspecies romantic fantasy Twilight were this past season’s most notable sleeper hits in the domestic market.
Fall box office: Zac Efron musical & human-teen/centenarian-vampire romantic fantasy are season’s sleeper hits
The fall season in the Northern Hemisphere has come an end. In fact, Christmas itself has come and gone, bringing joy to several movies – and sorrow to several others – that opened in the North American market (U.S. and Canada only) in December.
In case you want to find out more about the winners and (a few of the) losers of this year’s fall box office season, below is a look at the commercial performances of a number of major and mid-level domestic releases in the last three months or so.
Note: Whereas last summer’s big story was that of Christopher Nolan’s mega-blockbuster The Dark Knight, the big story this past fall seems to have been the surprising success of a … Zac Efron musical and a May-December human/vampire romance?
If you don’t believe us, keep on reading.
Sentimental dog story beats Adam Sandler comedy, Brad Pitt fantasy & Tom Cruise WWII drama
Dec. 26–28 weekend box office: On the heels of Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Bolt, David Frankel’s comedy-drama Marley & Me – Marley is a Labrador retriever – topped the North American box office this post-Christmas weekend, grossing $36.4 million according to studio figures found at boxofficemojo.com.
After only four days out – since Christmas Day – Marley & Me’s domestic total stands at an impressive $50.7 million. In the cast: Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Eric Dane, and Oscar winner Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine, 2006).
At no. 2, Adam Sandler’s latest star vehicle – that’s the $80 million comedy Bedtime Stories – brought in $27.5 million, reaching a more modest-than-expected $38 million cume after four days. For comparison’s sake: Over the course of non-extended weekends, Adam Sandler’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry debuted with 34.2 million, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan with $38.5 million, and Click with $40 million.
At no. 3, David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button collected $26.9 million, lifting its total gross to $38.7 million since Christmas. Budgeted at a reported $150 million, Fincher’s fantasy will need all the awards season help it can get. In the cast: Oscar nominee Brad Pitt (12 Monkeys, 1995) and winner Cate Blanchett (The Aviator, 2004).
Another movie that opened on Christmas Day, the Bryan Singer-Tom Cruise World War II-set collaboration Valkyrie, followed at no. 4 with $21 million, bringing its four-day cume to $29.5 million. These are hugely disappointing figures for a $75 million production (not including marketing and distribution expenses) featuring one of cinema’s biggest stars of the last 35 years.
Critical derision or no, The Day the Earth Stood Still remake is no. 1
Dec. 12–14 weekend box office: Distributed by 20th Century Fox and directed by Scott Derrickson, the critically panned alien non-invasion drama The Day the Earth Stood Still was the no. 1 movie at the U.S. and Canada box office with $30.5 million from 3,560 theaters.
This remake of Robert Wise’s 1951 classic may theoretically reach the $100 million milestone in the domestic market, but that won’t get even close to covering its $80 million budget (not including marketing and distribution costs).
Update: No, The Day the Earth Stood Still will not reach $100 million domestically – not after dropping nearly 70 percent on weekend no. 2.
So, will the international market come to the rescue of Keanu Reeves’ pacifist alien?
That remains to be seen.
Also in the cast: Oscar winners Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, 2001) and Kathy Bates (Misery, 1990), Jon Hamm, Jaden Smith, and John Cleese. The 1951 original starred Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal.
Reese Witherspoon’s box-office-chart comeback
Dec. 5–7 weekend box office: Starring Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, 2005) and Vince Vaughn, Seth Gordon’s Four Christmases was the top movie for the second consecutive weekend, collecting $16.8 million while lifting its domestic cume to $69.4 million.
Although the holiday comedy can hardly be called a blockbuster, its solid box office performance is surely good news for Reese Witherspoon, whose commercial allure has been recently battered by a trio of post-Walk the Line commercial disappointments: Rendition, Penelope, and Just Like Heaven.
In fact, when it comes to Witherspoon’s personal box office chart, Four Christmases’ $31.1 million opening-weekend gross trails only that of Andy Tennant’s Sweet Home Alabama, which took in $35.6 million back in September 2002.
The Four Christmases cast also includes Tim McGraw, Kristin Chenoweth, Jon Favreau, and a quartet of Oscar winners from decades past: Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980), Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard, 1980), Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies, 1983), and Jon Voight (Coming Home, 1978).
Female-centered interspecies romantic fantasy Twilight is year’s most notable sleeper hit
Nov. 21–23 weekend box office: Budgeted at a reported $37 million, Summit Entertainment’s interspecies romantic fantasy Twilight topped the North American box office with a remarkable $69.6 million, including an estimated $7 million from midnight screenings.
A little perspective: Told from a female point of view, Twilight took in $2 million more than Sony Pictures’ $200 million budget James Bond flick Quantum of Solace the previous weekend.
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke and based on Stephenie Meyer’s bestseller about the – never consummated, sigh – love affair between a human teenager (Kristen Stewart) and a youthful-looking centenarian vampire (Robert Pattinson), Twilight can in all fairness be referred to as the sleeper hit of the year.
Debuting in third place with $26.2 million (trailing Quantum of Solace’s $26.7 million) was Walt Disney Pictures’ seemingly The Truman Show–inspired animated dog movie Bolt, about a canine TV star who believes small-screen life = real life. The voice cast includes two-time Oscar nominee John Travolta (Saturday Night Fever, 1977; Pulp Fiction, 1994), Miley Cyrus, and veteran Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, 1971).
Update: Twilight ultimately grossed $194 million domestically and $214.5 million internationally, reaching a worldwide cume of $408.4 million.
Quantum of Solace sets domestic opening-weekend record for a James Bond movie
Dec. 14–16 weekend box office: Quantum of Solace was the no. 1 movie on the North American box office chart, grossing a solid $67.5 million (though about $3 million below weekend estimates) from 3,451 venues.
Directed by Marc Forster and starring Daniel Craig, the 22nd official James Bond flick scored the best Bond opening ever, easily beating the $40.8 million first-weekend gross of predecessor Casino Royale. (Inflation isn’t much of an issue here, as older James Bond movies didn’t open at thousands of theaters [though the number of seats per theater just might be an issue].)
Also in the international Quantum of Solace cast: Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Jeffrey Wright, Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love, 1998) and nominee Giancarlo Giannini (Seven Beauties, 1976).
Animated animals beat live-action losers
Dec. 7–9 weekend box office: DreamWorks Animation’s $150 million budget (as always, not including marketing and distribution costs) Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa was the no. 1 domestic box office hit this past weekend, raking in $63.1 million.
Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath’s sequel to the 2005 hit Madagascar far surpassed its predecessor’s first-weekend gross ($47.2 million). In the Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa voice cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Starring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as two energy drink spokesmen sentenced to community service – which consists of mentoring a couple of brats – the no. 2 movie this past weekend was David Wain’s Role Models. The R-rated comedy scored $19.2 million. Also in the cast: Elizabeth Banks, Jane Lynch, and Ken Marino.
At no. 3 on its third weekend out, the Zac Efron-Vanessa Hudgens teen musical High School Musical 3: Senior Year added another $9.2 million to its total, which currently stands at a surprisingly solid $75.6 million.
Zac Efron-Vanessa Hudgens teen flick High School Musical 3: Senior Year stays on top
Oct. 31–Nov. 2 weekend box office: Starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, Kenny Ortega’s sleeper hit High School Musical 3: Senior Year remained in the no. 1 spot at the North American box office with $15.3 million. Total after two weekends out: $62 million.
Not bad at all for what’s been generally reported as an $11–$13 million production – though marketing and distribution expenses were surely on the costly side. (See further below.)
Debuting at no. 2, Kevin Smith’s R-rated (initially NC-17-rated) sex comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno brought in a meager $10 million from 2,735 sites. In the cast: Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as two lifelong friends whose solution for some lifelong debt is to do a sexually explicit movie. Also in the cast: Justin Long, Brandon Routh, and former adult film superstar Traci Lords.
Clint Eastwood-Angelina Jolie collaboration expands, but doesn’t quite catch on
After expanding to 1,850 theaters on its second weekend out, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling jumped to fourth place, taking in $9.4 million for a just okay – for an adult-oriented drama – $5,054 per-theater average. Total to date: 10 million.
Potential Academy Award contender Angelina Jolie stars in this real-life-based drama that received mixed reviews. Also in the cast: Michael Kelly, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore, and Oscar nominees John Malkovich (Places in the Heart, 1984; In the Line of Fire, 1993) and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone, 2007).
For the record, David Hackl’s horror flick Saw V was the no. 3 movie with $9.7 million. Cume to date: 45.5 million.
Disney has a fall sleeper hit as Zac Efron goes singin’ in the gymnasium
Oct. 24–26 weekend box office: Halloween is just around the corner. What best way to celebrate ghosts and ghouls than with Walt Disney’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year, a teen musical starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens?
Well, that’s what a plurality of U.S. and Canada moviegoers decided they should do: The third installment – first on the big screen – in the popular High School Musical television series scored an impressive $42 million from 3,623 locations on its first weekend out.
What’s particular notable is that – besides being a big-screen sequel to a small-screen series – High School Musical 3: Senior Year reportedly cost a measly $11–$13 million. Now, what’s unclear is how much dough Disney spent marketing (and distributing) the movie. Chances are it wasn’t only (the rule-of-thumb) 50 percent or whereabouts of the production budget. (Note: There are online reports listing a $30 million price tag for High School Musical 3: Senior Year.)
Anyhow, forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, and Doris Day and whoever else. Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens are the real singing-and-dancing deal in this early 21st century of ours.
Also in the High School Musical 3: Senior Year cast: Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, and Bart Johnson.
Update: High School Musical 3: Senior Year ultimate grossed $90.6 million domestically and $162.3 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $252.9 million.
Toughie Mark Wahlberg tops limp weekend
Oct. 17–19 weekend box office: Starring Mark Wahlberg as the avenging title character, John Moore’s thriller Max Payne topped the domestic box office with $17.6 million from 3,376 theaters. That’s a mediocre opening for a $35 million production targeting younger moviegoers.
Debuting at no. 3 with $10.5 million (behind Beverly Hills Chihuaha’s $11.4 million) from 1,591 venues, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s female-centered interethnic drama The Secret Life of Bees will likely be dropping out of sight in the next few weeks.
At no. 4, Oliver Stone’s political drama W. – about the current (and widely reviled) president of the United States – opened with $10.5 million from 2,030 locations. Like The Secret Life of Bees, this will be disappearing from view in the near future.
In the W. cast: Josh Brolin, Oscar nominee James Cromwell (Babe, 1995), Elizabeth Banks, Scott Glenn, Thandie Newton, Ioan Gruffudd, and veteran Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, 1974).
Beverly Hills Chihuahua easily beats Leonardo DiCaprio-Russell Crowe pairing
Oct. 10–12 weekend box office: Beverly Hills Chihuahua remained in the no. 1 slot at the U.S. and Canada box office on its second weekend out, grossing $17.5 million. Cume: $52.5 million.
But the real box office story this past weekend was the dreary debut of Warner Bros.’ Body of Lies, which collected $12.9 million from 2,710 locations. A number of poor reviews did the political thriller no favors.
Handled by three-time Best Director Academy Award nominee Ridley Scott, Body of Lies stars three-time Oscar nominee and solid box office draw Leonardo DiCaprio and Best Actor winner Russell Crowe (Gladiator, 2000).
Adding insult to injury, Body of Lies opened behind Screen Gems’ cheapo, starless horror flick Quarantine ($14.2 million).
Chic chihuahua movie atop box office chart
Oct. 3–5 weekend box office: The tale of the misadventures of a spoiled Chihuahua whose life in wealthy, sparklingly clean, crime-free Southern California is upended after she’s dognapped while on vacation in dirt-poor, dingy, dangerous Mexico, Walt Disney Pictures’ Beverly Hills Chihuahua debuted with a strong $29.3 million.
Directed by Raja Gosnell, Beverly Hills Chihuahua stars Americans Jamie Lee Curtis and Piper Perabo as, respectively, a wealthy American businesswoman and her reckless niece; Colombian Manolo Cardona as a Mexican gardener; and Mexican José María Yazpik as a Mexican dogfight ringleader. In addition, the comedy features the voices of Drew Barrymore, George Lopez, and Plácido Domingo, among others, as various dogs, an iguana, and a rat.
At no. 3, Peter Sollett’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist opened with a weak $11.3 million; that’s far behind the $17.7 million earned at no. 2 by last weekend’s champ, Eagle Eye. In the cast: Michael Cera and Kat Dennings as the titular characters, which have no connection to those played by William Powell and Myrna Loy (Nora – no “h”) in The Thin Man and its sequels.
Shia LaBeouf scores with critically panned actioner Eagle Eye
Sept. 26–28 weekend box office: Critical derision or no, DreamWorks’ D.J. Caruso-directed political actioner Eagle Eye topped the U.S. and Canada box office with a sturdy $29.2 million from 3,510 theaters.
At no. 2, George C. Wolfe’s Nights in Rodanthe opened with $13.4 million. Based on Nicholas Sparks novel, the romantic drama stars Richard Gere and Oscar nominee Diane Lane (Unfaithful, 2002).
“Box Office Sleeper Hits” endnotes
Unless otherwise noted, “Box Office Sleeper Hits: Zac Efron Musical + Vampire Romance” box office information via Box Office Mojo. Budget info – which should usually be taken with a grain of salt – via various sources, including BOM.
Comments about a movie being profitable or a money-loser at the box office are based on the available data about its production budget, additional marketing and distribution expenses (as a general rule of thumb, around 50 percent of the production budget), and worldwide gross (as a general rule of thumb, around 50–55 percent of the domestic gross and 40 percent of the international gross goes to the distributing/producing companies).
Bear in mind that contractual details and data regarding pre-sales, rebates, and other credits that help to split/alleviate production costs and apportion revenues are oftentimes unavailable, and that reported international grosses can be incomplete (i.e., not every territory is accounted for).
Lastly, although a more accurate reflection of a film’s popularity (i.e., its number of tickets sold), inflation-adjusted estimates should be taken with extreme caution. For instance, they’re based on average domestic ticket prices (via the National Association of Theater Owners, unless otherwise noted) whereas numerous major releases scored a large chunk of their box office gross at top-priced theaters.
Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron High School Musical 3: Senior Year movie images: Walt Disney Pictures.
Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart Twilight movie image: Summit Entertainment.
Angel and Piper Perabo Beverly Hills Chihuahua image: Walt Disney Pictures.
“Box Office Sleeper Hits: Zac Efron Musical + Vampire Romance” last updated in April 2022.