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‘Private’ parties in top spot

So, is Howard Stern a movie star yet?

Paramount’s “Private Parts” led the weekend box office with $14.6 million (including about $800,000 from Thursday previews) and some industry pundits reckoned it should have opened stronger. Still, it’s hard to complain with a weekend screen average of $6,450.

What critics pointed to were an extremely modest 6% Saturday boost and a sharp 38% drop on Sunday. There was also the fact that the pic performed much better in markets where Stern’s radio program is broadcast. In Canada, for instance, it ranked fourth, about 50% behind Disney’s market-leading “Jungle 2 Jungle.”

“Private Parts” was definitely aimed at Stern fans and succeeded in getting them into theaters right away; the big test for the picture and its star begins now. Will word of mouth and extremely favorable reviews bring the uninitiated into multis and megas? Getting that to happen is crucial to the film’s future both domestically and for what the company hopes is a decent showing internationally.

The attitude about “Jungle” —ranked second with $12.8 million — was more buoyant because industry buzz had predicted less than a $10 million debut. It unquestionably connected with a younger crowd that traditionally doesn’t get properly enumerated by box office trackers. Even though weekend projections have been significantly off track on an almost weekly basis.

Current viewing habits have been skewing in non-traditional directions. For the past two months there’s been a virtually uninterrupted stream of big-budget pic bows; however, without exception, those event pics have had significant drops in each subsequent week.

But some arthouse pics have done well in the blockbuster atmosphere by playing the niches, starting slow and expanding cautiously and confidently. The best examples of this rollout include “Sling Blade,” abetted by Oscar buzz, “Kama Sutra” and “Waiting for Guffman.”

However, essential to the scenario is a strong opening, and the past weekend’s debuts of both First Look’s “Jerusalem” and Gramercy’s “The Eighth Day” leave their distribs with major concerns for the future. Both movies stepped out on three screens with respective grosses of $14,400 and $10,000. With an extremely crowded marketplace those figures won’t have exhibs banging on the door. Conversely, there was genuine surprise and new hope given to CFP’s “The Daytrippers,” which posted almost $36,000 from just two screens. It was a very good first foray and a successful leap for the many hurdles to come.

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