Depp's 'Chocolate Factory' has tasty opening

By Dean Goodman
Sunday, July 17, 2005; 5:27 PM

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sweet.

Moviegoers in North America craved "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" over the weekend, snapping up $55.4 million worth of golden tickets for Johnny Depp's twisted tale, according to studio estimates issued on Sunday.

The opening was at the upper end of expectations, which had ranged between $40 million and $60 million, and compared favorably with other recent No. 1 debuts, such as last weekend's champ "Fantastic Four" with $56.1 million, and "Batman Begins" with $48.8 million.

The Warner Bros. film, whose main competition came from the worldwide release of the latest book in the "Harry Potter" series, helped drive overall ticket sales higher for a second weekend, after 19 weeks of year-on-year declines.

"Wedding Crashers," an R-rated comedy starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, opened at No. 2 with $32.2 million, also ahead of expectations. "Fantastic Four" slipped to No. 3 with $22.7 million, taking its 10-day haul to $100.1 million.

Rounding out the top-five were "War of the Worlds" with $15 million (total: $192.2 million) and "Batman Begins" with $5.6 million (total: $182.7 million).

The top 12 films grossed $151.3 million, according to tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, up 7.5 percent over the year-ago weekend, when Will Smith's "I, Robot" bowed at No. 1 with $52.2 million.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," a $150 million film described as "one long acid trip," by Chicago critic Richard Roeper, stars Depp as Willy Wonka, a creepy chocolate magnate who takes five children and their adult guardians on a tour of his mythical operations. Critics were generally favorable, if a little perturbed by Depp's resemblance to Michael Jackson.


The jury was still out as to how sales were hurt by the worldwide hype surrounding the release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Bookstores started selling the keenly anticipated tome to millions of excited young fans on Saturday.

"That's a hard call," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic theatrical distribution at Warner Bros. "You just can't put your finger on it." Warner Bros., which owns the "Potter" film rights, is a unit of Time Warner Inc.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was based on the children's book of the same name by British writer Roald Dahl. It was previously filmed in 1971 as "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," starring Gene Wilder.

Tim Burton directed the new film, having previously worked with Depp on such films as "Edward Scissorhands" and "Ed Wood." British youngster Freddie Highmore stars as the title character. He and Depp starred in last year's Peter Pan film "Finding Neverland."

Depp's last big family outing, "The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," opened at No. 1 with $46.6 million in July 2003 and finished with $305.4 million.

"Wedding Crashers" stars Wilson and Vaughn as buddies who score sexual conquests by showing up uninvited to weddings. The $40 million New Line Cinema release has benefited from several months of positive buzz, although R-rated films often stumble at the box office because of tightened marketing rules.

Its $32.2-million bow was "well above" expectations, said David Tuckerman, New Line's domestic distribution president. He said he would have been happy with a $25-million opening. New Line is also a unit of Time Warner.

"Fantastic Four" was released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp, and produced in association with Marvel Enterprises Inc. "War of the Worlds" was released by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. Warner Bros. also released "Batman Begins."

© 2005 Reuters