Theater owners and 20th Century Fox discovered over the weekend that Santa Claus doesn't come from the North Pole but from Kazakhstan, that he doesn't wear a beard but a mustache, and that his name is not really Tim Allen but Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen's Borat rang up an estimated $26.1 million at the box office despite playing in just 837 theaters -- that's $31,500 in each theater. By contrast Allen's The Santa Clause 3, which finished in second place, took in $20 million on 3,458 screens -- or $5,780 per screen. Most analysts -- and tracking surveys -- had predicted that the Disney film would be the big winner at the box office. Some industry observers questioned the wisdom of Fox's decision to cut back on the number of theaters showing Borat following poor tracking surveys. In an interview with today's (Monday) Los Angeles Times, Borat producer Jay Roach commented, "It's amazing that tracking is so important to the industry when it's frequently way off." The movie faces weak competition next week when it is scheduled to expand. Meanwhile, the animated Flushed Away performed better than expected, placing third with about $19.1 million and giving Aardman Animation its biggest opening ever.
The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, $26.4 million; 2. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, $20 million; 3. Flushed Away, $19.1 million; 4. Saw III, $15.5 million; 5. The Departed, $8 million; 6. The Prestige, $7.8 million; 7. Flags of Our Fathers, $4.5 million; 8. Man of the Year, $3.8 million; 9. Open Season, $3.1 million; 10. The Queen, $3 million.