Buena Vista Pictures pulled one out of its hat for the weekend, earning a surprise first-place victory at the North American boxoffice with its period magic film "The Prestige," which captured $14.8 million. The Christopher Nolan-directed drama outgrossed the DreamWorks/Warner Bros. Pictures co-production "Flags of Our Fathers," from director Clint Eastwood, by a solid margin, proving again that Eastwood audiences are not big opening-weekend moviegoers.
Buena Vista kept the surprises coming this frame, earning an astounding $3.3 million for the 3-D reissue of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas." And Warners' "The Departed" continues to outperform expectations, dropping just 28% in its third weekend in theaters. The frame's other new releases, 20th Century Fox's "Flicka" and Sony Pictures' "Marie Antoinette," performed in the single-digit range, well within expectations for both films.
Between the new wide releases and the hold from "Departed," the boxoffice top 12 was up an estimated 27% from the same period a year ago, when Universal Pictures' "Doom" was the top earner with $15.4 million. The top 12 grossed an estimated $88.9 million, compared with $70.2 million during the same period last year.
The disparity between the two top new releases came primarily from the makeup of their respective audiences. "Prestige," which stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival magicians, drew a younger crowd that came out to both the early shows and the 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. screenings, driving up the movie's per-theater average to $6,496. "Prestige," which bowed in 2,281 theaters, also covered more multiplexes than "Flags," which debuted in 1,876 theaters.
"Flags," though it scored strongly with audiences, was unable to fill theaters for the later-timed shows, which left its per-theater average at $5,437 for a total cume of $10.2 million and the third-place spot overall. The R-rated film, distributed by Paramount Pictures, saw an opening that was more typical of an Eastwood-directed film rather than an epic war movie attracting a broad swath of audiences.
Buena Vista distribution president Chuck Viane chalked up "Prestige's" win to strong reviews and the boxoffice lure of its director. "You know that if you watch a Nolan film, you have to put your mind into it," he said. "If you add in Jackman, Bale, Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson, that answers a lot of it. That's real star power."
"Prestige" opened lower than Nolan's previous two films. It was a much smaller film than last year's "Batman Begins," which bowed at $48.7 million, and its two leads didn't have the star wattage of the Al Pacino-Robin Williams pairing that drove 2002's "Insomnia" to an opening of $20.9 million. According to review compiler RottenTomatoes.com, "Prestige" and "Flags" both scored a 74% positive rating with critics, which again suggests that audience makeup was the main differentiator.