$32 mil weekend caps kidpic's 5-day record

Throw out the tracking studies. Ignore the insight of studio sages. And tell all the pollsters to scram.

You really want to know what makes a hit movie?

Ask an 8-year-old.

Warner Bros. did. And now the studio is riding high with “Pokemon: The First Movie,” the latest wave in a synergistic kiddie tide spanning continents and cultures.

Acquired for just $5 million, animated pic took in an estimated $32.4 million over the weekend and boasts a 5-day cume of $52.1 million. That’s the best 5-day tally of any pic ever released outside of May, June or July.

Toon averaged $10,642 on each of 3,043 screens.

Modest beginnings

“Pokemon” began life as a video game in Japan. Its success spawned toys, trading cards and then a TV show that now airs on the WB net. To release the toon as a feature, Warners did little more than redub it into English and add a soundtrack. That kept studio’s total cost well under $10 million.

Gail Tilden, veep of product acquisition and development for vidgame maker Nintendo, said Warner Bros. was picked to release the film because of Time Warner’s “cross-divisional support.”

Reached at her home outside Seattle, Tilden also answered the question on the minds of many Americans: What is the deal with Pokemon?

Munchkin talk

“Kids love the fact it’s their own language,” she said. “They really enjoy becoming experts at something. It empowers them and builds their confidence. … You become part of the fantasy as you try to become a Pokemon master.”

Warners, too, felt empowered by its second weekend B.O. win in past three frames. Also-rans included “The Bone Collector,” holding nicely for Universal, Lions Gate’s surprising “Dogma” and Sony’s limp “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.”

USA Films’ “Being John Malkovich” took in $2.4 million on 467 screens, for a so-so average of $5,041. Cume is $6.1 million.

Top 10 films did an estimated $84.1 million, up 38% from last weekend’s take but roughly flat compared with the same frame a year ago.

Unstoppable engine

Nothing could slow the Pokenomenon, which started with last Wednesday’s $10.1 million bow, the best B.O. Wednesday by any toon in history.

Promotional partners like Burger King faced massive crowds and inventory shortages. Supplies of trading cards given with each movie ticket ran out in many areas, boosting traffic on Internet auction sites.

Tellingly, Warners creative film execs aren’t doing “Pokemon” interviews. Press releases for the past week have instead touted the efforts of marketers. When Tilden was asked Sunday which execs at Warners worked closest on the pic, she cited marketing prexy Brad Ball.

Speaks to all

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. distrib chief Dan Fellman hailed the “cross-cultural” appeal of “Pokemon.” He said many of the top-grossing sites screening the film are in areas with heavy black, Asian and Latino populations. The two busiest theaters Saturday night were in the Bronx, he said.

“Dogma” may not have a line of plush toys — yet, anyway — but it is destined to be helmer Kevin Smith’s best-performing pic. With $8.8 million after three days, it’ll surely overtake $12 million cume of his 1997 effort “Chasing Amy.” In fact, his three previous films have a combined B.O. tally of $17.2 million.

Ribald, religious-themed comedy’s per-screen average of $6,907 beat any wide release except “Pokemon.”

Protests threatened

Lions Gate picked up star-studded pic after threat of protests unnerved Miramax. Tom Ortenberg, co-prexy of Lions Gate, said debut went off without incident. Catholic and “pro-family” activists had vowed to picket.

“We don’t see Dogma as a controversial movie,” Ortenberg asserted. “It’s a pro-faith, pop-culture entertainment.”

The only other pic to make a real weekend dent was “Bone Collector,” which dropped just 28% in its second week. Thriller starring Denzel Washington served as “the perfect alternative” to younger-skewing fare, said Nikki Rocco, U’s head of distribution.

Contenders slowed

Otherwise, chart shows the ravages of the Poke-purge, as the top seven films are either debuts or second-week releases. Poked out of the top 10 were Universal’s “The Best Man,” DreamWorks’ “American Beauty,” Miramax’s “Music of the Heart” and Fox’s “Fight Club.”

“Fight Club” is beating a hasty retreat just a month after reigning as weekend champ. It managed just $1 million in 745 rings. Domestic cume is $34 million, and Fox will be lucky if pic does half that overseas, based on weak bows last week in 13 territories.

Two familiar titles still linger in the top 10: “Double Jeopardy” and “The Sixth Sense.”

Paramount’s “Jeopardy” dropped just 24%, scooping up $3.1 million for a cume of $108.7 million. On the flip side for Par is “Bringing Out the Dead.” Martin Scorsese pic dialed 911 in its fourth week with a 65% dropoff. Cume is just shy of $16 million.

‘Sense’ still soars

Disney’s “The Sixth Sense” clocked a 15th week in the top 10. The last pic to spend as long there was “Titanic.” Chiller slipped just 15% despite losing 384 sites.

Having passed the $350 million mark worldwide, “Sense” needs about $18 million domestic to eclipse “Home Alone” and become No. 11 all-time film.

“The Insider,” though, isn’t showing such historic legs for Disney. In its second week, it fell just 24% but averaged a tame $2,767 per screen.

Studio distrib chief Chuck Viane said he opted not to platform critically hailed drama for fear it might get buried in holiday blizzard. Mouse House is banking on year-end awards and Oscar buzz for stars Russell Crowe and Al Pacino.

After a couple of blazing weeks, limited-release arena calmed. Artisan bowed “Felicia’s Journey” by Canuck helmer Atom Egoyan to $45,000 on five screens. It’ll add a handful of markets Friday.

Limp ‘Limey’

Another Artisan release, Steven Soderbergh’s “The Limey,” is fading. On 75 screens, 30 less than the previous frame, it collected $150,000 to bring six-week cume to $2.1 million.

Fox Searchlight’s “Boys Don’t Cry” remains durable in urban areas, but rural appeal looks sketchy. It totaled $5,000 at each of 30 sites. Cume is $1.5 million.

Similar story for “The Straight Story,” Disney’s David Lynch-lensed tale of a man’s lawnmower ride through the heartland. In 181 pastures, pic grossed a feeble $410,000. In five weeks, it’s harvested $2.2 million.

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