Joshua Rich's weekend wrap-up: A low budget spoof tops the box office; meanwhile, Oscar contenders bring in disappointing numbers

January 31, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

I’m not exactly sure what fervor is, but despite all of that stuff surrounding the Academy Awards, two new films debuted at the top of the box office this weekend, leaving the new Oscar contenders far behind.

At No. 1, Epic Movie earned a strong $19.2 million. That total is virtually identical to the $19.1 mil that fellow Fox spoof Date Movie earned early last year, and it comes despite a very poor C- CinemaScore review from audiences, three-quarters of whom, not surprisingly, were under age 25. Regardless, one must assume that this relatively star-free comedy didn’t cost a whole lot more than $19.2 mil to make, so the folks at Fox should be pleased by their gross. Ditto the peeps over at Universal, whose Vegas-mob-themed Smokin’ Aces finished a solid No. 2, with $14.3 mil. Again, relative to its reported $17 mil production budget, this movie fared quite well. Moreover, during what has been a slow period for R-rated fare at the box office, Aces enjoyed the strongest premiere for a film with the restricted rating since Apocalypto made $15 mil nearly two months ago.

But while Aces star Ben Affleck was hitting the jackpot, his wife, Jennifer Garner, busted with Catch and Release. The romantic comedy earned $8 mil to come in at No. 4, a bit behind third-place Night at the Museum ($9.5 mil). Would Garner’s film have fared better if Columbia had released it in more than 1,622 theaters? Perhaps. Then again, its moderate B CinemaScore (from a crowd comprised, by a vast margin, of older women) and poor reviews (the film scored just 44 out of 100 on signals a general apathy that C&R may never have been able to overcome. Still, it edged out the steady and truly long-legged hit Stomp the Yard (No. 5), which declined a meager 37 percent to earn $7.8 mil. In three weeks, the college-dance flick, produced for a reported $14 mil, has earned a terrific $50.7 mil. Oh, and the werewolf romance Blood and Chocolate (No. 15) had no bite, making just $2.1 mil.

Now, about those brand-spanking-new Academy Award nominees. How did they fare in their first weekend of glory? Not so gloriously, actually. Dreamgirls (No. 6) earned the most of the lot, dancing up a decent $6.6 mil — though I must say that after six weeks of repeatedly and consistently over-estimating this musical’s appeal and box office potential, I’m now ready to call it a disappointment. Since its impressive Christmas Day showing, the film has never had a weekend that my friends over at Variety would call boffo!, and, with $86.7 mil in the bank, it now stands to merely inch its way past $100 mil. Considering that Dreamgirls cost upwards of $70 mil to produce and many millions more to market (including a somewhat futile Oscar campaign), the folks at Paramount and DreamWorks are probably doing some serious belly-button-lint self-examination these days.

And their film blazed a trail of mediocrity for nearly all of the silly-season contenders: Although most have already been running for many weeks, neither The Queen ($4 mil), nor The Departed ($3 mil), nor Babel ($2.6 mil), nor Letters From Iwo Jima ($1.7 mil) could substantially capitalize on their Best Picture nods. All were bested, in fact, by surprise multiple nominee Pan’s Labyrinth, which brought in a solid $4.5 mil.

The results were slightly better among new indie releases. But only slightly. The Weinstein Co.’s London-set drama Breaking and Entering, directed by past Oscar homeboy Anthony Minghella, averaged a nice $10,350 in two theaters. Yet Samuel Goldwyn’s Western chase flick Seraphim Falls, starring Liam Neeson and my man Pierce Brosnan, earned an underwhelming $162,000 in 52 locations. Needless to say, buckaroo Paul at Media By Numbers reports that the weekend was down a sizable 10 percent from the same period last year. And if you add all of that to the fact that — gasp! — it has actually been raining here in sunny Southern California, I’m sorry to say that this was one greatly gloomy weekend, indeed.

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