Will Smith's action flick banked $66 mil from Friday to Sunday, a decent holiday-weekend gross, while ''Kit Kittredge'' fizzled at No. 8
Will Smith, Hancock

Independence Day weekend ended just as it began, with Will Smith’s Hancock as the No. 1 movie in the land. The superhero film grossed $66 million from Friday through Sunday, according to early estimates. Add that to the money it banked earlier in the week, and the movie grossed $107.3 mil during its first five-and-a-half days of release.

Which is totally awesome, right? Well, maybe. Certainly, I would never deign to argue that a $66 mil three-day premiere is small or bad or unworthy of some praise. It isn’t. With Hancock, Smith continues to prove that he can open any movie, anywhere, anytime. That sum represents the second-best bow of the Biggest Movie Star in the World’s distinguished box-office career (following I Am Legend‘s $77.2 mil debut), it’s the third-top opening of 2008 (after Iron Man‘s $98.6 mil and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘s $100.1 mil), and it’s by far the best premiere ever for costar Charlize Theron and Hancock‘s director, Peter Berg.

Then again, these numbers may be met with a low level of disappointment. That they were slightly under most pundits’ predictions and way worse than mine is one thing. (Yes, I greatly overestimated Hancock‘s box-office prospects, woe is myself.) But the film didn’t come close to breaking any records — even made-up ones like, you know, ”Best action movie to open on an even day of the week in a month that averages 78 degrees Fahrenheit.” It scored just the third-best July 4th holiday gross in history, and one of the movies it trails in that category, Transformers, bowed bigger last summer, with $70.5 mil. Now, some would argue that Transformers got a boost because it was based on a popular toy line and was strongly anticipated by young men, but I say that Will Smith is a more popular star than Optimus Prime (or even, uh, Shia LaBeouf) and he appeals to a broader crowd; he shoulda done better. And then there’s the fact that Hancock fails to compare favorably to Iron Man or Indy 4 — movies that pretty much earned in three days what this film got in five-plus.

What does it all mean? For one thing, Hancock is almost certain not to become the $300 mil blockbuster many assumed it would be; it won’t catch Iron Man and Indy 4 (now running almost neck-and-neck north of $305 mil) in the long run. Which is fine, of course, but with a decent-but-by-no-means-great CinemaScore grade of B+ from audiences and reviews that are mixed at best, Hancock could have a hard time keeping a grip on audiences even in the short term.

As it happened, many other movies performed below expectations. WALL-E (No. 2) grossed $33.4 mil and crossed the $100 mil mark, but it declined a steeper-than-hoped 47 percent from its big bow a week ago. Wanted (No. 3) dropped even more, 60 percent down, to bank $20.6 mil on its second weekend. Get Smart (No. 4) brought in $11.1 mil to take its three-week total to $98.1 mil. But Kung Fu Panda (No. 5) continued to roll, earning $7.5 mil during its fifth frame; the Jack Black animated flick’s domestic sum is now $193.4 mil.

Another big disappointment occurred at No. 8, where Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, completely flamed out with a paltry $3.6 mil, despite oodles of advance buzz, a blockbuster platform release two weeks ago, and presumed excitement from young girls. Why? I can’t really say: Far be it from me to figure out what women want at any age.

Two films in limited release fared much better, however. The French thriller Tell No One averaged $21,250 in eight theaters. And the star-studded Sundance stoner flick The Wackness averaged $24,177 in six locations.

Overall, the box office was down about 5 percent from Fourth of July weekend 2007, a frame that was dominated by the triple threat of Transformers, Ratatouille, and Die Hard 4. And, hey, yippie-ki-yay have a great rest-of-your-holiday.

MONDAY UPDATE: Was I too critical in my analysis of Hancock‘s box-office performance (above)? I’m not going to lie: I was starting to feel a wee bit guilty…until the weekend’s final numbers were released this evening. It turns out that Will Smith’s superhero movie fared notably worse than Sunday’s estimates indicated. All told, the film brought in $62.6 mil from Friday to Sunday — a hefty $3.4 mil less than initially believed. Though still very good, the new sum bumps Hancock‘s debut down to No. 4 on the list of 2008’s openers (WALL-E premiered with $63.1 mil, you’ll remember). It changes the film’s first five-and-a-half-day total to $103.9 mil. And, most importantly, it helps justify my argument.

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