Sony pic sends 'Angels' earthbound

HOLLYWOOD — Surpassing even studio expectations, Sony’s modestly-budgeted actioner “The Big Hit” shot to the top of the weekend box office chart with a surprisingly robust $11 million, according to studio estimates.

The pic performed well in traditional urban action houses, suburban multiplexes and even some upscale sites, according to Sony Pictures Releasing president Jeff Blake, who credited the drawing power of rising star Mark Wahlberg and the stylish direction of Hong Kong’s Che-Kirk Wong.

Blake noted that in a year dominated by female-driven pics, “The Big Hit” was the first action film targeted purely at young men to top the box office.

Of course, films appealing to the testosterone set tend to fade quickly, as foretold by “Hit’s” modest 9% increase Saturday over Friday. Still, with a production budget of only $13 million, the pic appears on track to make a sizable profit.

It’s the third time this year Sony has managed to hit the bull’s eye with an inexpensive niche pic: “Wild Things” and “Spice World” both earned nearly $30 million domestically and are well-positioned to enjoy healthy post-theatrical lives.

“The Big Hit’s” debut brought Warner Bros.’ “City of Angels” slightly earthward to second place. Down a modest 27%, the Nicolas Cage-Meg Ryan starrer grossed a still-lofty $9 million, bringing its cume to $46.6 million.

Last week’s No. 2 pic, Twentieth Century Fox’s romancer “The Object of My Affection” tumbled 49% to $5 million, tying for third place with “Titanic.”

Miramax/Dimension’s relaunch of “Scream 2″ scared up just $1.8 million, considerably less than was anticipated based on promising pre-release tracking. Still, the re-issue, which was widely seen as an attempt to push the pic’s domestic cume over $100 million, will succeed on that level: The chiller sequel has now reached $98.1 million.

Meanwhile, the Village Road Show’s “Tarzan and the Lost City” opened with a thud: The Warner Bros.-distributed jungle adventure grossed just $1 million in 1,412 locations, for an unpropitious $708 per screen average.

The overall box office, which appears to have hit the pre-summer doldrums, took a substantial drop from the previous frame. The total for films grossing $500,000 or more was estimated at about $57 million, down 22% from last weekend and 4% from a year ago at this time.

Among limited entries, the Intermedia-Mirage-Miramax-Paramount co-production “Sliding Doors” opened to $820,000 in 117 subway stops, or a crowded $7,009 per station.

The Gwyneth Paltrow-starrer, which examines two possible paths a woman’s life could take — and the two men she could end up with — proved more appealing to the date-night crowd than the inverse equation in Fox Searchlight’s “Two Girls and a Guy.” The Robert Downey Jr.-Heather Graham starrer scored just $636,000 in 316 residences, for a limp $2,112 per screen average.

Sony’s surfing drama “In God’s Hands” crested at $500,000 on 109 beaches for a $4,587 per screen average. The pic, which was aided by a release limited to the surfer-heavy markets of Hawaii, San Diego and L.A., performed in inverse proportion to each theater’s distance from the ocean, according to Blake.

Example: In Irvine, Calif., “Hands” racked up $22,000 whereas in the Inland Empire’s town of Ontario it grossed just $8,000.

Miramax’s “The Truce” bowed to a peaceful $23,000 in five theaters. That gave the John Turturro-helmed pic, which Miramax acquired last summer, an inauspicious $4,600 average.

Among holdovers, DreamWorks’ talking-parrot pic “Paulie” fared best, dropping just 20% to a projected $2.5 million.

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