'Changing Lanes' drives boomers to theaters

Boomer pics are booming.

Paramount’s older-skewing psychological thriller “Changing Lanes” sped past Sony’s “Panic Room” to open at No. 1 with an estimated $17.6 million in weekend box office.

“Panic Room” had led the weekend B.O. derby over the two previous frames. But “Lanes,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck, was fueled by keen interest from male and female moviegoers age 25 and older — much the same demo supporting “Room.”

“The marketing we did targeted that group,” Par distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen said. “We were also helped by positive reviews, because an older audience will respond more to good reviews.”

Sony’s “The Sweetest Thing,” a femme buddy pic laced with raunchy humor, bowed at No. 3 with an estimated $10 million. As an R-rated release, even “Sweetest Thing” skewed older teens.

Adults were out there

“The adult audience drove the top three releases this weekend,” observed David Davis, a senior veep and B.O. analyst with Houlihan, Lokey, Howard & Zukin in Los Angeles. “Adults are definitely going back to the movies.”

But that didn’t help Lions Gate’s “Frailty.” The psychological thriller, helmed by topliner Bill Paxton, opened in eighth place with a disappointing $4.2 million in estimated B.O.

“We were hoping for a slightly larger opening weekend,” Lions Gate distrib boss Tom Ortenberg acknowledged.

Pic played best with younger males, Ortenberg said. He added that late-breaking positive reviews could bolster future frames.

Artisan’s college comedy “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder” also grossed an estimated $4.2 million to tie for the No. 8 spot in its second weekend of release. Soph-sesher “Big Trouble” from Disney tumbled from the top 10, though distrib didn’t provide B.O. details.

Industrywide, the weekend’s $95 million in total grosses repped a 6% uptick from the same frame in 2001, according to data from B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI.

Ahead of last year

Year-to-date, 2002 is almost 15% ahead of the same portion of last year with a total $2.34 billion in B.O.

Lions Gates bowed Kirsten Dunst starrer “The Cat’s Meow” with 11 Gotham and L.A. playdates and grossed $110,000, or a cuddly $10,000 per engagement. Peter Bogdanovich-helmed drama expands to top 10-markets April 26 and nationwide May 3.

“Exit interviews were through the roof,” Ortenberg enthused. Yarn about an incident involving William Randolph Hearst played mostly to patrons 35 and older.

Fine Line bowed quirky laffer “Human Nature” with 224 engagements and grossed just $300,000, or a flawed $1,340 per playdate. There were no immediate plans to expand “Nature,” penned by “Being John Malkovich” scribe Charles Kaufman.

Time matters

“A picture like this takes time to find it’s footing,” Fine Line distrib Steve Rothenberg said. “We’re hoping for word-of-mouth to take hold.”

Sony opened suspenser “My New Best Friend” in 100 locations and grossed $26,000. Helmed by Zoe Clarke-Williams and produced by Frank Mancuso Jr., “New Best Friend” was a pickup by Sony’s TriStar division targeted primarily for homevid.

Thinkfilm’s “Time Out” debuted in nine Gotham and L.A. theaters with $33,121, or $3,680 per venue. “Time” unspools in three additional markets Friday.

Elsewhere in the specialty niche, IFC Films expanded Spanish-language “Y Tu Mama Tambien” into 14 more locations for a total 194 and grossed $970,798, or $5,004 per site. Youthful laffer adds another 50-60 playdates next weekend.

And United Artists widened its re-release of Martin Scorsese’s concert film “The Last Waltz” into L.A. and Gotham after a week in San Francisco to gross $34,000 from six theaters, or $5,725 per venue. “Waltz” dances into a dozen more markets Friday.

‘Scorpion’ coming

Next weekend’s wide openers include Universal actioner “The Scorpion King.” “Mummy” spin-off is considered an important high-profile release for the studio, even though the all-important summer B.O. season doesn’t officially start until Memorial Day.

That’s because distribs have been placing tentpoles ever earlier in yearly release skeds. So, B.O. watchers will be watching for early signs of seasonal strength for broadly targeted event pics.

Also Friday, Warner Bros./Castle Rock bows “Murder by Numbers,” a Barbet Schroeder-helmed suspenser toplined by Sandra Bullock and Ben Chaplin.

“Changing Lanes” could be undermined more by the new competish than “Sweetest Thing,” as Sony laffer reps more of a genre alternative to the much-hyped “Scorpion” and older-skewing “Murder.”

Also, as Houlihan Lokey’s Davis suggested, “It doesn’t have as far to fall.”

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