By Bridget Byrne
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, May 22, 2006
The mystery cloaking "The Da Vinci Code" is over.
The movie's a hit.
Surviving critical brickbats, threats of boycott from religious groups, and a kept-under-wraps promotional campaign, the screen adaptation of Dan Brown's hugely popular novel about dastardly shenanigans in the Roman Catholic Church debuted with an estimated $77 million in domestic ticket sales.
Worldwide the Sony release is estimated to have grossed $224 million.
"Incredible," exclaimed Rory Bruer, president of distribution for Sony Pictures. "Certainly for an adult movie -- and it kind of skews adult -- anything north of 50 [million dollars] is huge. . . . We always thought very possibly we could be in the 60 range, but when you hit 75 and end with $77 million it's quite extraordinary."
Star Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard, who after taking a promotional trip to the Cannes Film Festival suffered through a less than enthusiastic premiere screening, were vindicated by the opening box office, a personal best for both of them.
Overall, however, the religious-conspiracy thriller set no opening-weekend records. Worldwide in 90 markets it was second to the $253 million debut of "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith."
Domestically it ranked 13th on the all-time list, way below the record $114.8 million for "Spider-Man," in 2002, and well below the $108.4 million this time last year for "Revenge of the Sith." It also didn't earn as much as Mel Gibson's controversial religious tract "The Passion of the Christ," which debuted in 2004 with $84 million, going on to gross a reported $612 million worldwide.
"Da Vinci" opened at 3,735 theaters in the United States and averaged a sizable $20,616 per screen.
"Certainly 'The Da Vinci Code' had everything going for it," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks studio grosses. "Not only was there a best-selling novel, but also the mix of controversy. The fact that it got bad reviews didn't hurt the movie at all. In fact, there was so much press attention about that it created even more awareness, and I think made people want to see what all the fuss was about,"
"This was certainly a film that audiences were basically going to make up their own mind about," said Sony's Bruer, noting that press coverage proved a plus, and that "our most important critic of all is Dan Brown -- and he loved it."
The PG-13 thriller, which explores the notion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child whose descendant is still alive, clearly benefited from built-in curiosity from fans of the book. Dale Hurst, director of marketing from Carmike Cinemas, a Georgia-based company whose 330 theaters include sites in Virginia, said, "What's of such huge appeal is the book." But he had also anticipated good business for DreamWorks' PG-rated critter cartoon "Over the Hedge," because "it seems like in our market anything animated like that does real, real well."
The computer-animated cartoon about a pesky raccoon (voiced by Bruce Willis) and his wilderness chums, who fight suburban humans for territorial rights, did indeed do solid business. Opening at 4,059 theaters, it slightly surpassed expectations over the weekend with an estimated $37.2 million Friday through Sunday, averaging $9,172 per screen. Paramount Pictures' Jim Tharp said "Hedge" benefited from being different from the weekend's other big movies. "It's funny, a counter to other movies in the marketplace this weekend. That's the reason it's probably slightly above what the tracking indicated," said Tharp, who previously was distribution chief at DreamWorks and now is president of motion picture distribution for Paramount, which distributes DreamWorks movies.
"I've sort of been calling it the unsung hero of the weekend," Dergarabedian said of "Over the Hedge." "I think that's a solid opening coming up against the 800-pound gorilla that is 'The Da Vinci Code."
The arrival of both movies was bad news for films already in theaters. Tom Cruise's "Mission: Impossible III" dropped off 56 percent in its third week, down to third place. But the $11 million earned by the Paramount action sequel pushed its total gross over the $100 million mark, to $103.2 million.
The dead-in-the-water "Poseidon" plunged 58 percent in its second week, to fourth place. The Warner Bros. "Poseidon Adventure" remake earned only $9.2 million over the weekend, bringing its total gross to just $36.7 million. "Poseidon" cost an estimated $150 million to $180 million; "Da Vinci" cost about $125 million.
Lionsgate's new horror flick, the R-rated "See No Evil," managed only a sixth-place debut with just $4.3 million from 1,257 theaters.
Though business was up 80.1 percent over last weekend, the combined gross of the top 12 movies was down 2.8 percent over this time last year, when "Star Wars: Episode III" opened so strongly.
But it's expected that next weekend -- the extended Memorial Day holiday -- could be genuinely big. Not only is it anticipated that both "The Da Vinci Code" and "Over the Hedge" will continue strong, but Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand" will also hit theaters.