Will Smith drama The Pursuit of Happynessbeat two other family-oriented new releases to top the North American boxoffice chart this weekend -- and give distributor Sony the biggest single-yearaggregate gross ever recorded.
Fox's fantasy adventure Eragon openedsolidly in second place while Paramount's new live-action version of classicchildren's book Charlotte's Web trailed far behind in third.
Performing above industry expectations, The Pursuitof Happyness -- with Smith and his real-life offspring Jaden starring inthe true story of a struggling father and his five-year-old son -- grossed anestimated $27m from 2,852 cinemas, for a per-cinema average of $9,467. Thefilm, which was favourably reviewed by critics, is the English-language debutof Italian director Gabriele Muccino.
The performance pushed Sony PicturesEntertainment's domestic box office receipts for 2006 past $1.573 billion,setting a new record, said the company, for a single studio in a single year.Sony, which itself set the previous single-year domestic high in 2002, has nowhad a record 13 number one films this year.
Eragon -- at around $100m the biggestproject yet from the Fox 2000 label -- performed about as expected, taking anestimated $23.4m from 3,020 cinemas for a $7,765 average. The effects-drivensword-and-sorcery fantasy, based on the young adult bestseller by ChristopherPaolini, is directed by special effects whiz Stefen Fangmeier and stars Britishunknown Ed Speleers as the titular dragon rider. It was savaged by critics, butopened with a considerably bigger take than dragon-themed offerings such as Reignof Fire and Dragonheart.
Charlotte's Web -- produced for Paramount byWalden Media, with Dakota Fanning starring and Julia Roberts leading the voicecast -- opened third with a smaller than expected estimated gross of $12m from3,566 cinemas, for a $3,372 average. Based on the enduring 1952 children'sstory and featuring a cast of CG-enhanced talking animals, the film, directed byGary Winick, was liked by critics and could make up for its soft opening byplaying on over the holiday season.
Paramount's stage musical adaptation Dreamgirlshad a limited 'roadshow' opening at just three up-market venues this weekend.With tickets selling at $25 each, the Bill Condon-directed film, which was lastweek nominated for a brace of Golden Globes, took a reported $360,000, for animpressive $120,000 per-theatre average.
Warner's black and white World War II thriller TheGood German, with Steven Soderbergh directing George Clooney and CateBlanchett, opened with a reported $79,000 from five cinemas, for a $15,800average.
Among top ten holdovers, Warner's Happy Feetcame in fourth, falling just 34% in its fifth week for a gross of $8.5m and arunning total of $149.4m. And Sony's The Holiday was down a moderate 36%in its second week, for a fifth-place gross of $8.2m and a cumulative total of$25.3m.
After opening at the top of the charts last week,Mel Gibson's Apocalypto fell to sixth place, its gross dropping 48% to$7.7m, giving domestic distributor Buena Vista a running total of $27.9m.
Last week's fifth place opener, Warner's BloodDiamond, was down only 27% with a gross of $6.3m, for a total of $18.4m.
The last three top ten entries also held up well:Sony's Casino Royale was off 36% in its fifth week with $5.7m, for a$137.6m total; New Line's The Nativity Story fell a mere 18% in itsthird week with $4.7m and a $23m total; and Warner's Unaccompanied Minors wasdown 37% in its second week with $3.7m, for a $10.2m total.
Wide releases for the pre-Christmas holiday weekendare: Universal's action thriller The Good Shepherd, with Robert De Nirodirecting Matt Damon; Fox's effects-heavy family comedy Night At The Museum,directed by Shawn Levy and starring Ben Stiller; MGM's Sylvester Stallonefranchise revival Rocky Balboa; and Warner's McG-directed sports drama WeAre Marshall, with Matthew McConaughey.
Estimated Top Ten North America Dec 15-17, 2006
Film (Distributor)/Internationaldistribution/Estimated weekend gross/Estimated total to date
1 (-) The Pursuit of Happyness (Sony) SPRI$27m -
2 (-) Eragon (Fox) Fox Int'l $23.4m -
3 (-) Charlotte's Web (Paramount) UIP $12m -
4 (3) Happy Feet (Warner Bros) $8.5m $149.4m
5 (2) The Holiday (Sony) Universal $8.2m$25.3m
6 (1) Apocalypto(Buena Vista) Icon International $7.7m $27.9
7 (5) Blood Diamond (Warner Bros) WBPI $6.3m$18.4
8 (4) Casino Royale (Sony) SPRI $5.7m$137.6m
9 (8) The Nativity Story (New Line) NLI $4.7m$23m
10 (6) Unaccompanied Minors (Warner Bros)WBPI $3.7m $10.2m