Steve Carell's family comedy ''Evan Almighty'' finished $10 million below opening-weekend expectations, while the Stephen King thriller ''1408'' surprised at No. 2

By Joshua Rich
Updated June 24, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Steve Carell’s Evan Baxter may have God on his side in the movies, but at the multiplex he was anything but almighty over the weekend.

Evan Almighty — widely considered to be the most expensive comedy ever made, with a budget in excess of $175 million — finished at No. 1, as expected, but its $32.1 mil gross was about $10 mil below expectations and a whopping $35.8 mil less than what Bruce Almighty debuted with in 2003. (I’m not even going to speculate how this movie can become profitable or even earn much more than $100 mil, since both prospects seem so out of the question at the moment.) Blame poor reviews (the film scored a terrible 37 out of 100 on, bad buzz, and, perhaps, finally, a strong dose of audience fatigue. Call it ”sequelitis,” if you will: So far this summer movie season, seven out of eight weeks have featured a new franchise film. Viewers were bound to reject the constant stream of recycled studio product at some point.

In fact, the surprise success of the fresh psychological thriller 1408 speaks directly to that point. More than just earning $20.2 mil to come in at No. 2, the John Cusack movie broke a long dead spell for fright flicks at the box office. The last horror movie to open as well was Saw III ($33.6 mil) way back in October. And, as it happens, 1408‘s debut gross is also the best ever for a movie based on a story by EW columnist Stephen King (previous champ: Secret Window, which bowed with $18.2 mil in 2004). But is the genre’s losing streak really over for good? Maybe it’s too soon to tell. Let’s see how Captivity performs when it comes out in a few weeks before we start with the high fives.

Speaking of celebrations put on hold, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (No. 3) followed its impressive debut last week by earning $20.2 mil this time around — a huge 65 percent decline. The superhero flick has earned $97.6 mil in less than two weeks, but its pace appears to be slowing quicker than its early returns indicated. Oh well. On a more positive note, Ocean’s Thirteen (No. 4 with $11.3 mil) and Knocked Up (No. 5 with $10.6 mil) continue to hold strong after several weeks in release. Indeed, Knocked Up has now banked $109 mil, making it the eighth movie to pass the century mark in 2007 and just the second R-rated movie to do so (after 300). What’s more, it has now all but matched The 40-Year-Old Virgin‘s $109.4 mil gross from two years ago. Now, that’s a happy delivery.

The weekend’s good-news-bad-news theme continued further down the chart. Despite a chorus of critical kudos and early Oscar chatter, Angelina Jolie’s fact-based drama A Mighty Heart premiered at No. 10 with a disappointing $4 mil (it averaged just $2,956 in 1,355 venues). The indie assassin comedy You Kill Me, with Ben Kingsley, John Cusack, and Téa Leoni got whacked, averaging $7,057 in 35 locations. But Michael Moore’s much-discussed healthcare documentary, Sicko, enjoyed an incredibly healthy debut in one New York theater, where it earned $70,000. That film goes wide next weekend.

Overall, this screwy, unpredictable weekend was down nearly five percent from the same frame a year ago (when Click and Cars led the way), the fourth consecutive ”down” weekend this summer. I’ll tell ya: The box office, sometimes it just kills me.