A cadre of singing and dancing penguins beat out the monkey-suited international superspy James Bond at the B.O. this weekend, as Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow’s CG-animated “Happy Feet” skipped to No. 1 with $42.3 million thanks to a particularly strong Saturday run.
Bond’s No. 2 finish in Sony/MGM’s “Casino Royale” with $40.6 million — the second-best opening ever for a 007 pic — helped spur a particularly strong pre-Thanksgiving sesh as the holiday season took flight.
As of Friday night, Bond looked to be in the driver’s seat, with numbers approaching $16 million as core fans rushed to theaters. But “Feet” gained solid ground during matinee runs on Saturday. Come Sunday morning, the race looked almost too close to call, and some experts had the two pics separated by as little as $200,000 until Warners and Sony came out with estimates.
“Feet,” “Casino” and Fox’s strong-holding No. 3, “Borat,” helped B.O. for the top 10 pics over the frame gross $129 million, up from last week’s $106 million.
After two weekends as a commanding No. 1 finisher, Sacha Baron Cohen brainchild “Borat” saw its first stiff competish as the holiday movie season got in full gear. Standing solid in No. 3, pic dropped 49%, lifting cume to more than $90 million. Laffer scored a per-screen average of $5,496 at 2,611 playdates.
Frame’s other wide studio rollout, Universal comedy “Let’s Go to Prison” got locked out of the top 10 altogether. Pic bowed at No. 12, with an incriminating $2.1 million from 1,410 engagements.
Bond was playing on 3,434, while “Feet” danced on 3,804, which gave the secret agent a slightly higher per-engagement average despite the No. 2 finish.
With kids making up more than 40% of the “Feet” aud, pic was punching a higher number of lower ticket prices. Imax screenings helped “Feet” gain an edge as the large-screen version played to $2.4 million.
Warners domestic distrib head Dan Fellman said that he sees “Feet” as having a clear run into the holiday season with few kidpics in its way and no competing product from Pixar. Rivals “Charlotte’s Web,” from Paramount, and Fox’s “Night at the Museum” arrive for Christmas.
Warner’s “The Departed” is also still hanging in on the charts, having cumed $113.8 million. November frame has been lucky for WB: Studio had a No. 1 a year ago when its most recent “Harry Potter” pic opened at more than $102 million.
Meanwhile, “Casino,” the first Bond pic to feature Daniel Craig as the Brit superspook, bowed about $7 million off pace from the last Bond pic, 2002’s “Die Another Day,” starring Pierce Brosnan. But Sony brass, who were hoping for a finish of more than $30 million, pointed out that Brosnan needed time to build up the franchise when he stepped into the Bond role: 1995’s “Goldeneye” opened to just over $26 million, followed by “Tomorrow Never Dies” in 1997 at $25.1 million and “The World Is Not Enough” in 1999 at $35.5 million. “Day” was the franchise’s biggest earner ever.
Dropping 51% in its third frame, Disney’s latest installment of its “Santa Clause” series, starring Tim Allen, took in $8.2 million from 2,447 to raise its cume to $51.6 million. Pic likely got some play from family auds who couldn’t get into “Feet” over its first frame.
Another CG pic, Paramount/DreamWorks Animation’s “Flushed Away,” slipped sharply by 63% in its third frame, however, as “Feet” stepped up. “Flushed” has cumed just over $48 million, having taken in $6.1 million in its latest frame.
Sony’s brainy comedy “Stranger Than Fiction,” starring Will Ferrell, has been having some difficulty finding an aud with Baron Cohen’s “Borat” still sitting pretty. Pic has taken in $22 million after two weeks of release and added $6.6 million to its coffers off 2,270.
Away from musical penguins and big-budget franchises, November is also a time for serious pics to gain awards-season steam. Paramount Vantage continued to make an aggressive push for its starry ensemble drama “Babel,” which took in nearly $3 million from 1,251 to raise cume to $12 million.
Horror pics also had some luck over the frame: Lionsgate’s “Saw III” slid 60% in its fourth weekend of release but still took in $2.8 million to bring cume to almost $75 million. And indie Freestyle’s “8 Films to Die For” sneaked into the No. 10 spot, scaring up $2.4 million off just 488 for a bloody good per-engagement average of $5,087.
Not all horror had such luck, however. Focus Features’ “The Return,” starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, slipped 62% and has taken in $6.8 million off 1,953 in two frames.
In the specialty sector, MGM released the Weinstein Co.’s political pic “Bobby” on two screens to $67,000 and a per-engagement average of $33,500. TWC’s Harvey Weinstein said that he saw the pic as having “struck a chord with the public.”
Sony Classics’ “Volver,” by Pedro Almodovar, took in $144,571 from six screens for a per-engagement average of more than $24,000. Pic has cumed more than $682,000.
New Line’s limited release of “Little Children” added $167,000; cume is almost $1.5 million off 37.
Miramax’s “The Queen” raised its cume to $17.29 million by adding $2.3 million from 606. Pic had expanded by 122 and slid just 15% in its eighth week of release.
Fox’s “A Good Year” continued to have a rough November. Russell Crowe starrer has taken in just $6.4 million after two frames on 2,067. Like Sony’s “All the King’s Men,” “Year” is another pic with Oscar hopes that has found itself sidelined in a crowded season.