News

'National Treasure,' 'SpongeBob' Clean Up

by Brandon Gray
November 22, 2004

This weekend's main theme: cleanliness. The box office was dominated by a family-friendly adventure, two computer animated features and a movie about a talking cleaning tool.

National Treasure dug up $35.1 million at 3,017 sites. Buena Vista's PG-rated adventure caper marks the fourth collaboration between the studio, uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Nicolas Cage after the $100 million plus successes of the more adult-oriented The Rock, Con Air and Gone in 60 Seconds. The opening is a personal best for Cage, and the movie is his first hit since The Family Man in 2000. It's also a return to form for Bruckheimer after the disappointing King Arthur this past summer, recalling the spirit of his Pirates of the Caribbean from 2003.

Studio exit polling showed that National Treasure played across all age groups. Adults 18-24 accounted for 21% of the audience, the 26-34 set came in at 26%, and 35-49 was 22%. Families made up 24% of moviegoers and couples were 55%, while, gender-wise, males were the majority at 55%. Opening night attendees gave the picture an "A-" on average, according to CinemaScore.

Moviegoers chose the "subject matter" as the main reason they saw National Treasure, followed by the "type of movie" and Nicolas Cage.

"The core audience is the typical Jerry Bruckheimer action-adventure crowd," Buena Vista's head of distribution Chuck Viane told Box Office Mojo. "We also hit what I like to call the four quadrant thing, kind of like The Incredibles where the fringe adult audience became much broader over time. Same phenomenon. Only I think this coming week, National Treasure will get younger."

"It's an original story, it has Nicolas Cage in a role people want to see him in and it was the filmmakers goal to make a fun film," Buena Vista senior vice president and general sales manager Chris LeRoy suggested as the reasons for the picture's early success. "Jerry Bruckheimer has a knack for taking on entertaining properties."

"You see the story, you understand the story, and it makes you want to see it," Viane added. "[National Treasure director] Jon Turteltaub is the director of movies that grow on you—Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping—and there's a great amount of trust in this name."

At the end of the movie, the treasure map should have lead Cage and company to Mr. Bruckheimer's office. Aside from a few hiccups recently, the producer, who made a jackpot out of Kangaroo Jack, demonstrated his Midas touch once again. National Treasure tapped into The Da Vinci Code craze story-wise with its historical mystery as well as the traditional cultural mood of our day. For Cage, it was a return to contemporary action after stretching in period pieces (Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Windtalkers) and quirky fare (Adaptation, Matchstick Men).

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie squeezed $32.0 million out of 3,212 theaters (on 4,300 screens). The $30 million big screen version of Nickelodeon's cable TV smash topped The Rugrats Movie's $27.3 million as the brand's biggest debut yet. Rugrats bowed on the same pre-Thanksgiving weekend in 1998 and went on to earn $100.5 million.

"We're very pleased, and that's an understatement," said Paramount's head of distribution Wayne Lewellen, who admitted that like most grown-ups he doesn't quite see the appeal. "I've watched the TV show, and I don't get it. The only thing I see is that this character is always pleasant in every situation, never mean-spirited. It's beyond me otherwise."

Distributor Paramount targeted not just kids but teens and young adults, and the strategy worked as 42% of moviegoers were non-family, according to studio exit polling. Among adults the genders were split 50/50, but, among kids, girls represented 56%. Over 90% of kids rated SpongeBob either "excellent" or "very good," while the reaction was above the norm among parents.

After a year riddled with disappointments like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Alfie and only two unmitigated hits (Mean Girls and Without a Paddle), SpongeBob marked some welcome relief for Paramount. Next up is another super-saturation release for the family, the mega-budget Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Jim Carrey, unspooling on Dec. 17.

The Incredibles took a 47% hit but still mustered $26.5 million in its third weekend for $177.6 million in 17 days. Pixar's last November release Monsters, Inc. tumbled 50% on its same frame. Christmas legs started to kick in for The Polar Express, which fell 33% to $15.7 million for $51.5 million in 12 days.

Fewer people than expected fancied Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in its first weekend of wide release. The $40 million romantic comedy mustered a wobbly $10.0 million at 2,450 theaters, averaging $4,124 per site. Last weekend, it started with a promising $8.7 million from 530 venues in the top 100 markets, averaging $16,705 per site. The 10-day tally stands at $21.6 million, though the picture is a blockbuster overseas with $59 million so far from 18 territories.

"We're pleased with the strategy," explained Universal's head of distribution Nikki Rocco. "It's better than Love Actually which did $8.7 million on its first wide weekend. It's in a great position for the target audience of adult women, but it was geared for a global audience. It is definitely the alternative to the family movies."

The Miramax-distributed predecessor Bridget Jones's Diary from 2001 made $10.2 million in its second weekend at 2,221 theaters, averaging $4,585 per site. It ended up with $71.5 million total.

The marketing for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason made it look like a rehash of the first movie—the same dilemmas, the same romantic entanglements—offering no compelling reason to see it beyond an appeal to fans of the original. Comedy sequels can be tricky, especially ones that are character-driven. The originals are often made with no sequel in mind. The characters go through a full arc, learn their lessons, etc. so there's nothing left for a sequel other than to serve up more of the same humor, situations and quirks.

The top 12 pictures grossed $143.1 million, up 13.6% from the $126.0 million on the same frame last year when The Cat in the Hat and Gothika topped the chart. The weekend's strength resembled Nov. 19-21 in 1999 when both The World is Not Enough and Sleepy Hollow bowed to over $30 million.

Sony conducted over 900 sneak previews on Saturday for Christmas with the Kranks and reported 80% average capacity and many sell-outs. In exit polling, nearly all attendees rated the picture either "excellent" or "very good," while 55% of the audience was female, 51% was under 25, and 41% was families. The Chrismas comedy opens at over 3,000 theaters on Nov. 24.

Though Finding Neverland is in its second weekend of limited release, Miramax held 800 sneaks on Saturday (with another set scheduled for Sunday) to help build word of mouth for the movie's Nov. 24 expansion to 513 theaters. The Johnny Depp drama drew 65% average capacity and the audience reaction was labeled "terrific" by the studio. Playing at 57 venues, it grabbed $836,754, averaging $14,679 per site. Exit polling of those moviegoers showed that 60% were female and 21-35 was the top age group.

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