"Bucket List" lived life to fullest at box office

Tue Mar 25, 2008 11:42pm EDT
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By Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Multiplication matters, especially when it comes to how movies perform at the box office. Week in and week out, the media spotlight shines on those movies that crack the top 10. And as soon as movies slip out of the top spots, they are quickly forgotten.

But those opening-weekend numbers tell only part of the story. Consider December's slate of releases, which are winding down their runs.

The crude rule of thumb is that a movie will go on to gross a multiple of 2.5 times its opening weekend. That, for example, was the case with New Line's "The Golden Compass." Although it opened in the top spot for the weekend of December 7, it captured a disappointing $25.8 million and so went on to a domestic take of just $70.1 million -- a multiple of 2.7.

Hit movies usually do better than that, of course. Warner Bros.' "I Am Legend," the dominant player during the past holiday season, opened to a commanding $77.2 million on its way to $256.1 million. In its case, it achieved a solid 3.3 multiple.

But the real stories prove to be those movies that command even higher multiples, hanging in there week after week. These days, movies with family appeal often show the longest staying power. Although Fox's live-action/animated "Alvin and the Chipmunks" opened in second place -- overshadowed by the debut of "Legend" -- it proved to be one of the Christmas season's powerhouses. With an opening of $44.3 million, it eventually grossed $215.3 million, achieving an enviable multiple of 4.86. Disney's sequel "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" followed a remarkably similar trajectory. After a $44.8 million opening, it climbed to a domestic gross of $217.2 million. That translated to a 4.85 multiple.

But viewed in terms of multiples, the biggest surprise among the year-end releases proved to be Warners' "The Bucket List," starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two old codgers who refuse to gently go into that good night.

Initially released on just 16 screens on Christmas Day, it was the movie that could get no respect. Critics were dismissive, it scored a below-average 40% rating on RottenTomatoes.com, and it struck out in a quixotic bid for awards attention.

The film then went wide during its third weekend, fanning out to 2,911 theaters when it suddenly shot up to No. 1 with a $19.4 million gross. The rule of the multiple suggested that it was heading for a gross of about $50 million.   Continued...

<p>Jack Nicholson (C), Morgan Freeman (R) and Rob Reiner pose at the premiere of "The Bucket List" in Berlin, January 21, 2008. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz</p>